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Mild Mannered Reviews - Smallville Comics

Smallville: Season 11 #14

Smallville: Season 11 - Chapter #14

Released Digitally: August 24, 2012

"Detective" - Chapter 2

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Chris Cross
Inker: Marc Deering

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge

Bright and early, Cookie Monster Otis finds Lex Luthor asleep at his desk. Both of them are surprised to find Lex waking there. They discuss recent events and how they have led Lex to mistrust Superman.

At the Daily Planet, a former intern of Lois's stares at a photo of Lois and Clark, ruminating out loud about Clark's eyes and the secrets they hide as Lois arrives on the scene in a (presumably satellite-detection-defying) super-whoosh before coyly talking about absent Clark in terms of his "powers," calling on the Planet to write about something other than Superman and then starts poking the former intern in the shoulder because he correctly interprets her. Dude even has to straighten up and remove Lois's finger from his shoulder before he can ask where Clark is. (That's actually an objective, if lacking certain specifics and being just a touch insouciant, description of the scene.)

Superman, meanwhile, with the brief help of a boy named Billy, saves a school bus load of children, the bus suspended high above the street and, it turns out, only to distract Superman from the real crime. Not even a bad guy with Lexcorp teleportation technology can escape a Superman who can super-suspend your animation.

"It's gonna be one of those days, isn't it?"

3Story - 3: I was a numbskull last week. Not in my assessment of the first chapter in the "Detective" storyline as the "worst installment so far." I'm not thinking anything differently about that. No, I was an idiot in the way I projected my assessment of the story onto the audience.

Onto you, dear fellow fan.

And especially the girls and women among you, for whom, as a group, I have nothing but respect and with whom, in fact, I stand in solidarity against prejudice and discrimination. Please believe me when I say that I am not sexist, nor racist, and that I do not discriminate in any way. I don't give Cat Staggs high grades for her cover art because she is a woman any more than I give Bryan Q. Miller low grades for his stories because he is a man.

Some of you don't like the way I go about it (and I'll get to that), but I give them both what I think the work deserves.

So, I apologize again, to everyone, but especially misslane - who unnecessarily bore the impact of my initial defensiveness - for being a careless dope. (I would have been more explicit there, but this is a family-friendly site. Let's just say I originally likened myself to a certain part of the male anatomy, using a colorful euphemism and everything. You know? Gawd, is it too soon?) It won't be repeated.

But it has given me reason to spend a lot of time this week thinking (well, more than usual, anyway) - about Superman, of course, but also about storytelling, free speech, women's rights (to be sure), anonymous online commentary, why I do this every week. Stuff like that. All told, it turned out to be a pretty good week, if tiring - because tiring for all the right reasons.

First and foremost, it was waking up last Monday morning on the dark side of an issue I believe in. Let me tell you, turning out to have been the unwitting agent of some force you believe you oppose is extraordinarily humbling. And disorienting. If I can put it in those somewhat distant terms of "agent" and "force" - trust me, I don't blame anybody but me for what I wrote and for my initial defensiveness in the comments. (That was the night before, by the way, and while I was trying to go to bed, so kind of just generally distracted. What a mess I made of that, anyway.) And I'm also sure that not everyone will be persuaded by this, but it's as honest as I can be, here. Until the next sentence, of course, so please don't think I have any interest in stifling you from calling me out again. Even if you think I have "no knowledge or concept of what Smallville is supposed to be."

(Even though you are going to have to support your own assertions if you want me to take you seriously. I mean, I'm an easy target: my review is "official." But it still works both ways. And, by the way, I should also have explained that my extreme dissatisfaction at the Fortress scene is informed by "Finale" having established that it will be another seven years before Lois and Clark head back to the altar. Thus, as much as I didn't need it specifically, having that radiation tag separate them seemed to be trying to make sense of that set-up, which was also, clearly, since we're talking about it, an admission that they under-developed the glasses and the suit. I mean, this is the bed they made. Why should we have to sleep in it?)

Seriously, this has all been very instructive, no less because, at the end of a tiring week, we ended up having a reasonably "adult" conversation about a difficult issue. I'm really not happy about how it started, but I'm very pleased with where it went. It did get really crazy right at what seems, right now as I write this, the end, but I've heard no further word on that last thing as yet and I guess all I can say is: "I'm not a coward, Zod."

Really couldn't resist.

But, through the week while otherwise completely focused on a paper I was writing at work, I also thought a lot about the negative response my negative reviews tend to elicit in some people. I mean, one guy has me "on notice" and says I must "PUT UP or SHUT UP," seemingly not seeing that my reviews and anything I add in the comments are in fact me "putting up" every week.

And the truth is it's usually easy to dismiss this stuff. One gets worked up a bit because sometimes it seems like somebody else really isn't trying to understand (if not really trying to misunderstand), and anyway I don't want to be any kind of writer if I'm not clear when I'm trying to be. I do think those kinds of readers exist, though, and it's because I was once a college-level teacher and have met them. But here, maybe because it's all about Superman, I give the benefit of doubt.

And hope I always will.

I admit to having been totally surprised that Scotty V's Great Scott segment this week went completely into my blunder and the ensuing outrage. He was right about what I was trying to say, though not about why I've talked about quitting the reviews. (It's not because some people disapprove of my tone or question my reviews' bare validity on the basis of these people's evident conviction that I do not "love" Smallville; that's just the scorched underskin on the pan this dish has burned on.) But I appreciate that Scotty took the whole thing on, because I agree that equal rights are important and that conversations about it are critical.

Look, the truth, believe it or not, is I think righteousness on women's rights should be self-evident - in that, to my mind, it is. Which is why I'm so truly embarrassed about the whole thing, and embarrassed is something I just do not get.

But it's also helped me bring into focus something about the kinds of complaints my reviews tend to inspire, which is that, at bottom, the people who make the complaints and I just aren't coming to the thing between us (in this case, Smallville) with the same kinds of expectations. And I don't mean that on a value scale where one set of expectations is somehow more worthy than the other, I just mean that they're different.

Let's look at a few numbers. As of early evening (my local time) yesterday, there were 2,617 unique visitors to the "Detective: Chapter 1" review, which as we all know is not the same page as where the Comments are. On that page by the same time, there were only 1,008 unique visitors. That means some 1,611 people didn't look at the Comments at all. Half again as many as those who did. Meanwhile, the 58 comments that were posted were so posted by a total of 18 people (though I counted only once, so I'm going to say +/- 1), including me. Take me out and you've got less than 1% of the people reading the review commenting on probably the single highest-read and commented-upon review I've personally ever done here.

That's something. Take out the people who rightly gave me the business this week over my apparent sexism (which I'm certain you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the several thousand words I've written for this site) - in other words, those readers who basically think I'm a jerk who has no viable right to this space - and the vocal minority gets much closer to statistical zero.

(I'd go back a few weeks with the data for a proper average if I didn't think this review had gotten long enough already without even yet touching on "Detective: Chapter 2.")

At the end of the day, my sense is that - my numbskullduggery this week aside - those fans most likely to be calling for my head or inviting me to go away seem to me quite possibly not as interested as I am in how stories work - at least, not Superman stories. I'd even go so far as to say that what seems to appeal most to them is more what unfolds in the narrative, less how it unfolds.

And let me be clear, that's all fine. I'm truly not trying to look down on anyone. This issue is not black-and-white, as much as some of you may have become convinced that I think it is.

And anyway I'm also generalizing, but in any case I can't think of any other way that a reader could be truly satisfied with the opening scene of "Detective," given the closing scene of "Guardian." Please help me out on this. Is it that you care so much about Lois and Clark being together that it trumps every other consideration? I care about their love story, too (I really do), but when I don't believe the creators are doing their utmost to help me experience that story, which is what happened last week, I feel cheated. And then I say so.

More to the point, I really don't have a problem if you're not interested in literary mechanics or theory, and I can appreciate you not wanting me or anyone else to kill your buzz (as it were), but I do have a problem with you expecting my review to prioritize your interests and sensibilities over my own. This is my review after all, which I do for free so you can read it for free because of my love for the Superman mythos, my respect for the intellectual integrity of the Superman Homepage and the literary capacity of comic books (which is the part that really gets me excited, if you couldn't tell).

It's just as simple as that.

This review is as much an escape for me as are comic books and superheroes themselves. It's not meant to offend, if anything to challenge, but always to just be as close to exactly what I think about the work as possible. Even if that means stridency, or negativity. Caveat emptor.

That's why I've stuck around the Homepage, by the way - intellectual integrity - and anyone who thinks I'm trying to imitate Neal Bailey probably hasn't been paying any more attention to my work than they did to Neal's. If I identify with him, as Scotty V put it in the week's Great Scott video segment, it's because I understood and appreciated what he was trying to do, not to mention Julian Finn who followed him, and that led me to respect the Superman Homepage for being a place where the application of literary standards to Superman narratives was welcome, even when (or perhaps especially when) those narratives are themselves seemingly uninterested in behaving like literature. I am not otherwise influenced by Neal - in fact, by my calculations I am at least two years older than he is, with a frame of mind and a writing style that were developed long before either of us had ever heard of the other.

So, I'm not going to quit, but nor am I going to let myself be careless again about important things.

Speaking of which, I thought "Detective: Chapter 2" was dull but an otherwise effective second act. The Lex scene was essentially a "Previously, on Smallville" recap, from which I am prompted to predict we will learn toward the end of this arc that Lex doesn't remember falling asleep at his desk (which we will surely see more of, probably escalating to more incriminating situations) because he is being nocturnally controlled by Tess, which will bum me right out. The scene at the Daily Planet confused me on a couple of levels, first for just who owned what dialogue at the beginning of it (I mean, I figured it out but I had to go back over it) and for the apparently continuing willingness to have Lois and Clark together if it's convenient to the plot. He did super-speed deliver her to the Planet, didn't he? Am I missing something? I think that's what first confused me about the dialogue, come to think of it. No idea if Billy on the bus is going to turn out to be Billy Batson, but that's where my head went. I did like that scene, too - Billy's a hero! Maybe he'll recur.

It's worth its own line to say: Superman instructing Billy and the kids on the seriousness of guns was perfect. I believed his every word.

Also, the sequence where Superman catches all the bullets and makes one big ball of them, rather than just standing there with his hands on his hips while the bullets ricochet, was a cool bit I've never seen before. Not so much the part, though, where Superman freeze-breaths teleport-suit guy and the guy doesn't realize it, despite standing there encased in ice up to his chin - meaning he was, what, so frozen that he loses consciousness but suffers no apparent consequences and is able, effectively, to loudly assert his rights to due process, still encased in ice up to his chin, while Superman hovers there pensively, all but admitting he's above the law? Um, yeah. Suffice it to say that the easy liberties with the nature of consciousness that are taken in Smallville: Season 11 are themselves almost enough to cause me to lose my patience. But they're not why I do - why I do is how this stuff is handled. Here, man, at least melt all the ice so there's no evidence and dude really would have to ask for confirmation. Or, even simpler, turn his interrogative into an indicative: "You froze me!!!" (The whole business with Tess's actual consciousness transferring to Lex, meanwhile, gets only extra weird when you recall that she was wearing gloves in "Finale," obviously to prevent her own exposure to the neurotoxin. And you know what, fine - fine, maybe the gloves don't matter, but unless that's explicitly addressed, what I see is completely unnecessary retroactive continuity. It sometimes helps to spell it right out like that.) Finally, I'm not one of those fans of the Donner films who especially likes that scene of Superman smiling at the camera as he flies by. This issue ends like that, too, though here he also speaks. I think in both cases what I don't like is that the scenes are stylistic anomalies within the larger pieces of which they're a part (i.e. they occur within pieces that don't otherwise pierce the "fourth wall" and speak directly to the audience); as choices, they seem geared more toward gratifying the audience than in honoring the integrity of the narrative. Funny, because of how I find an honored narrative (meaning, one that lives and, more importantly, dies by its own rules) much more gratifying than a nudge-nudge/wink-wink from the narrative.

Oh well. 3 of 5. Bring on the disagreements.

3Art - 3: Still no genuine fidelity of likeness from panel to panel - not with the cast members but with the very designs on the page, which have generally strayed pretty far away from the cast on the whole. That's really odd for what is otherwise pro-level comic book illustration, in terms of the framing and technical execution. Maybe I should go with a 4, but it's just such an apparent flaw that I can't do it. I'm happy to entertain disagreements over this, too.

Cover Art - N/A:

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