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Mild Mannered Reviews - Smallville Comics

Smallville: Season 11 #18

Smallville: Season 11 - Chapter #18

Released Digitally: September 28, 2012

"Detective" - Chapter 6

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Jamal Igle
Inker: Marc Deering

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge

Superman has constructed a makeshift Bat Signal to lure Batman to a rooftop, where they talk about the situation with Joe Chill and agree to join forces to bring down Intergang, an agreement sealed with a handshake. They do not talk about why Batman assaulted Superman at Stryker's Island.

While watching surveillance video of the Stryker's Island incident, Lex Luthor is interrupted by Oliver Queen, who has traced the unusual emails he has been receiving back to Lex. Luthor denies he is involved, but the late-night time stamps on the message log pique his curiosity and he sets Otis a task.

On another rooftop, Superman and Batman discuss tactics in their pending plan to locate and interrogate Joe Chill. Batman disappears while Superman is in mid-sentence, but the two reunite later at Chill's cell. Chill, it turns out, is enfeebled in his senior years, confined to a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen tank. Batman appears to be surprised.

Back at Lexcorp, Lex rises and walks, seemingly still asleep, to his office, where Otis records Lex's actions into a tape recorder and Lex, we are shown, is revealed to be acting under Tess's control, who is indeed sending emails to Oliver.

In Chill's cell, the veteran criminal issues an apology for his crimes against Batman's parents, which Batman refuses to accept until Superman intervenes and exercises the principle of might makes right. As the two unlikely crime-fighting partners begin to truly question Chill about the advanced weaponry he is alleged to be brokering in Metropolis and Gotham, in walks Oswald Loomis, sometimes known as The Prankster, with a very dry-humored Mr. Freeze at his side.

It's about to get collllllld.

1Story - 1: A NOT-SO-FUNNY THING HAPPENED on the way back from the commercial break: Smallville let its weakness for plot-centric expedience crowd out the character development that the very same plot, as structured, makes possible. Oh joy, oh bliss, oh happy week.

Let's take a look, in only a sort of particular order (mostly in parallel sequence with the issue, though I may digress, here or there):

First: Totally a matter of taste, but Superman neither actually inventing nor fetching the Bat Signal was a bit weird for me. Is it that he already knows about the original one or is this just a happy coincidence? It's small potatoes, for sure (that we don't know he knows being one of the things I'd agree we don't need to know in order to believe that he knows, you know?), but I'd have preferred the striking display of power in the super speed required to retrieve the actual signal from Gotham to the vague display of artistry here (that, yes, I'm sure depended on [unwitnessed] use of the heat vision).

It would have been more impressive, is all, witnessed or not.

Second: Still no further mention of the teleportation suit. Seriously - the search has become all about these "advanced" weapons we've seen exactly once (a rifle-sized thing that was powerful enough to burn a hole through a building, so, basically, lasers) despite the fact that we've also seen teleport-frickin-tation technology in public use that no one is talking about?!?! Is it just me who thinks this is a much bigger deal, whether or not Toyman is involved, than lasers or somehow managing to buy up all of Metropolis's water rights? Remember that hilarious escapade ("Prophecy"), and how nothing really ever came out of the water rights, the Bow of Orion or the mind-control device?

Bryan Q. Miller shares a writing credit on that one, you know. Just another shift at the MacGuffin Drive-Thru, hm?

Third: The stupid grin on Superman's face in the handshake scene - because, I love the idealistic, forgiving, sees-good-in-every-one Superman, too, but I think, before making friends, the Superman who emerged from the ten years of televised Smallville would surely at least ask a one-time assailant why that assailant put an incredibly specific technology to work in assaulting him. This Superman, by the way, is the same one who at the beginning of this season was still treating Clone Lex like a pariah for all the stuff Original Lex did but that Clone Lex isn't supposed to remember. For my part, I can't remember whether Superman is supposed to know about Lex's cognitive conundrum or not, but the point is the treatment (Superman's of Lex), which is suspicious and adversarial, not redemptive. After the radiation-tagging, yeah, time for Supes to suspect Lex and consider him an adversary. Before that, why would he? Because that's just who they are?

Here with Batman, anyway, it's opposite land: far from there being past history to explain the conflict such that they might actually and believably come to an understanding this quickly, the conflict is the past history. And they don't even mention it, save obliquely in Superman's request that the red sunlight be deactivated (more on this below). Was Batman, in fact, trying to get the full measure of Superman or was he motivated by something else altogether that we haven't even considered? More to the point: Is it that this detail is irrelevant or is it so relevant they're saving its resolution for some twisty dramatic future moment? If so, it had better be monumental.

If the former, though, why not just dispense with it?

The more I think about it, actually, the more this particular piece of expedience strikes me as the most obscene in the whole chapter. Not only does it support the unhappy possible conclusion that the fight was a mere MacGuffin of plot, it likewise exposes both Batman's and Superman's characters to all kinds of unbecoming (if speculative, but I sort of think that makes it worse) flaw interpretations - such as gullibility (S), stupidity (S&B), laziness (B), complacency (S), deceit (B), moral cowardice (S&B). And what have you.

None of which, of course, fits, right? You see my point? Why I keep on about the reason for the fight is that it is basic - fundamental in that... fundamental kind of way, where it's the center and needs to hold if we're to believe in any kind of Superman/Batman team-up at this point. In other words, we (read: I) are eventually going to need not only to know why Batman took unprovokedly to blows but also to see the matter actually resolved. Otherwise, we're running on the fumes (again, Smallville, again?) of all our multifarious, prior, extra-narrative experience of Superman/Batman team-ups that have exactly nothing to do with Smallville.

You know, fan service. Not speaking for you, but that doesn't satisfy me.

Fourth: Superman asking Batman to turn off the red sun tech, which from what I can see isn't on anyway (not if, as before, when it's on it glows red), which might be a point against the art instead of the story but since Batman's response is non-specific (though I do appreciate the irony in it insofar as characterization of Batman is concerned), we don't actually know whether the tech is turned off at all. Thanks for keeping us guessing, Smallville. This will be especially relevant when they confront Joe Chill.

Fifth: Just, bam, and Tess is in nocturnal control of Lex and is using that, um, time, to send incomprehensible emails to Oliver? Two set-up scenes, rather far apart, and now this? Thanks, Smallville, for the vote of confidence. Really. I actually liked the juxtaposition of Lex reflected in the computer screen and then Tess seated in the chair, I just wish I cared enough (or thought you did, Smallville) about the whole Tess/Lex-possession business to spend more time than is strictly necessary to write this sentence imagining where it could possibly be going (the possession business, I mean, not the sentence - guffaw), and why. Also, I'm not sure if you're trying to misdirect me with the "No rest for the wicked" line from Tess, but it's clearly meant to refer both to Lex's body and Tess's soul.

Smallville, thou art like a chocolate fondue fountain of subtext and theme. Oh, wait, that isn't chocolate, it's... yeah.

Sixth: The ease with which Superman gets Batman to stand down in the confrontation with Joe Chill. Batman goes from shouting "YOU STOLE MY LIFE" at Joe Chill and (presumably) growling "Don't you dare" at an intervening Superman to complete cowed subservience in seconds flat - post one super-swat that kind of looks like it might actually have missed. Yes, I'm sure Batman now realizes he's thoroughly outclassed, but that (apparently still functioning) red sun tech did work for a bit last time and since we still haven't seen a proper resolution to last time (see above), it wouldn't be completely illogical for another tussle to break out here. It would, in fact, make perfect sense.

Thus does Smallville choose to read a page from the And Now For Something Completely Different book of development and show this sequence of events instead: Superman puts a steadying hand on the aged, invalid and only mildly repentant murderer Chill's shoulder as the scene hangs momentarily on some perfectly reasonable and okay exposition before an all-too-natural team-up combo of dual offensive abilities and shared/completed thoughts is triggered by the concluding reveal of The Prankster and Mr. Freeze, an inter-city villainy duo to rival our similarly inter-city pair of heroes. Which, you know, cool. I'm listening. The shared/completed thoughts thing, though, I'm having to guess must be an effect of Bats and Supes having shaken hands while not actually resolving their differences and sharing the air in a roughly three-foot radius with the color blue but not also concurrently thinking about the airspeed velocity of African swallows or chewing gum (Stride, of course, groan, lockjaw, blargh).

Don't you just salivate at the mere thought of fondue? Mmmm, choco-la-ta?-ack! This was the place for the fight between Superman and Batman. Not earlier, seemingly randomly and to no clear and evident purpose. Not, at any rate, if you want to avoid unnecessarily complicating your story with shallow and convoluted plot twists that spiral off into nothing rather than to the end of, say, a good straw, with which you might drink a refreshing ounce of, I don't know, artful entertainment.

Seventh: The Prankster shows up with Mr. Freeze but, frustratingly, he's not packing any of the advanced heat he's presumably responsible for creating and introducing to both the Metropolis and Gotham black markets and around which this whole "detective" story had been revolving for weeks. If nothing else, that's a missed opportunity, but it's a big one. The nature of these weapons is seriously under-developed, assuming we're to feel the urgency of the need to get them out of circulation.

Unlike that most-fascinating teleportation technology that could have applications far beyond blowing stuff up and implications from here to, well, forever.

Sigh. Am I starting to repeat myself? Mmmm, fond-euwwwww...


It wasn't a total loss of an issue. Batman's line about cutting a deal not being justice is strong. The video playback not being able to enhance for Luthor struck me as a wry little inside joke on the shenaniganny overuse of that very device/effect on the show. Luthor rubbing his temples at seeing that Otis totally doesn't get what's special about Supes was similarly precious. Batman doing his disappearing act for Superman was a tad predictable, but, though Superman really shouldn't be able to miss it, you have to give Bats credit sometimes.

That's about it, though. Not enough to elevate this above a 1 of 5 - the minimum you have to get even to play at this level, it seems to me. Meaning, if I'm thinking you don't even rate a 1, maybe you shouldn't be gainfully employed writing high profile comic book stories featuring major characters. Smallville is not that - on the whole, it's competent, sometimes it's original, but startlingly often it seems to function as though the definition of good writing had been expanded to include at least everything that is accurately spelled.

As though Lois Lane hadn't already disabused us of literally that very thing. Played for laughs, and well, on Smallville.

Oh, and did I mention there's a spelling mistake lurking in and around all of this? A typo, to be sure, but still... Batman's fault ("Let him coime" for "Let him come"). How fitting.


No grey text labels identifying characters that are already, sometimes a bit painfully, recognizable. In the full story recap review I'm going to begin implementing in the final-chapter reviews (see Comments last week for the emergence of this idea, with a nod to Homepage member tiberiuscan for spurring it), this will be something to look for. As I've said, I'd be ok with these labels if they were used consistently, such as once per arc the first time a character is seen. Or something. To date, they have been used haphazardly and have shown a perplexing tendency to identify specifically Chloe and Oliver almost every time they have been shown together. So weird.


I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to give that chapter a score. So much of this is tied up in my confusion over the impetus for the Batman-Superman fight, which now seems far, far off indeed. If that is never resolved, chapter 3 gets a 1 for yet another Smallville bait and switch. Otherwise, it's still up for grabs.

4Art - 4: Pencils are holding at the 4 they were elevated to last week on the back of much greater (but still lacking) internal consistency in the character's faces. Not sending it all the way to 5, though, owing especially to the awkward series of panels in the Ollie-Lex scene where they use that direction arrow and a bit of border unevenness as a way to deal with having crowded too much onto the page. There's also some misalignment in the bit where Superman has to get between Batman and Joe Chill: in the first panel, Superman moves in from "stage right" to intercept the wheelchair, which Batman has just front-kicked back toward the wall, and is looking straight ahead, clearly at Batman; in the next panel, he's sped back across from "stage left" (or so it seems from the angle on the speed lines) to stand directly in front of Batman with his hand out in a traffic cop kind of pose but which, for some reason, sings to me "Stop, in the name of love!" (background harmonies and everything). Pulled me out, in other words, not that there was much chance of ever really being in, this week.

The update to the design of Batman's cowl is cool, though, with the reduction in the amount of armor encircling his neck, revealing the cheek protectors to look less like peculiar flaps and more like a natural and integrated feature of the equipment.

Cover Art - N/A:

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2012

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