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Mild Mannered Reviews - Smallville Comics

Smallville: Season 11 #40

Smallville: Season 11 - Chapter #40

Released Digitally: March 29, 2013

"Haunted" - Part 12

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Jorge Jimenez
Inker: Jorge Jimenez

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge



Lois Lane isn't expecting the knock on her door while talking on the phone to Superman, who says he doesn't think he'll be doing the flybys anymore. That's Clark Kent at the door. They embrace and Clark explains about Bart's super-speed eliminating the radiation. Lois offers thanks to Bart but tells Clark to change back into the Superman costume as they have work to do.

At Lexcorp, Lex Luthor finds the lights aren't working. He calls out to Otis but is greeted instead by the red glowing eyes of Superman. Green Arrow is there, too, and remarks that Lex used to buy nicer scotch. The two heroes have come for Tess, whom they now know to be alive and well. But it's Lois who does the dirty work of rendering Lex unconscious.

When he wakes, Lex demands to know where his sister is. He finds a note, which features Superman's S-shield and the words "thanks for the memories."

Meanwhile, Emil Hamilton has developed the means to upload Tess into a hologram projector. She proves grateful to be free of Lex at last. Clark then notices that Chloe isn't around, and finds her on the balcony. They talk about the Crisis and Chloe tells Clark about the pregnancy and how she and Oliver have to leave Metropolis at least until the baby is born. Clark understands, as usual, and everyone but Lex is happy.

2Story - 2: Seriously? Do my eyes and mind deceive me or did all of that long, drawn-out, frequently motionless and redundant plot thread involving Tess's accidental post-mortem inhabitation of Lex's mind really just culminate in a holographic Tess who cries tears that we can actually see?

Rhetorical question(s): How many synonyms for stupid will I need to use to make my point about this? How about I just keep calling it stupid, over and over, no synonyms at all? And will I be able to do it without resorting to calling you stupid, dear reader, for having now read this ridiculous excuse for a concluding chapter?

Well, in the latter case, yes, count on it. We're in this together, for better or worse. Believe it. (I know some of you don't. Nothing I alone can do about that now. Sorry.)

But, so, I'm going to deal with the Tess business first (because of how truly stupid it is) and then clean up any other loose ends afterwards. The chronology of this review, thus, will not match the chronology of the issue. Undoubtedly, it will appear to some as over-reaction; in some ways, it purposefully is - rhetoric, and all that. But either way it's my honest response. That's all I can do. (And if you laugh at times, then you and I understand one another. Cool.)

First, the "heroes" break into the villain's house, beat him unconscious and, though it happens in the off-camera dark, mentally assault him. That's the stupid version of heroism, if you were wondering. They also rationalize this in dialogue that incorporates some actual objectification of a female character (for stupidity's sake) under the guise of clever banter: Superman says "We're here to take back something that belongs to us," which Arrow, upon Lex's protestation of ignorance, rephrases to "We're here to take back someone that belongs to us." Does the gap between these two lines create any entertaining drama that you can detect? Because I can't.

It gets better, by which of course I mean worse. We know that Tess, disembodied or not (and whether we care or not), is still technically alive. She has her memories and everything. All she lacks, really, is autonomy of manifestation. But does that mean, in the meantime, she "belongs" to Superman and Arrow? Is this just lazy dialogue writing or evidence that the feminism in Smallville's larger narrative still has some progress to make? Is it no longer "girl power" once the girls have grown up, died, and come back to life as pure sentience inside their estranged murderer-half-brothers' brains? And did I just write that sentence? Am I about to be mistaken for a sexist on the Internet for having pointed out something in a popular cultural artifact that strikes me as not just feminism's but indeed humanism's exact opposite? Ok, let's just call it lazy writing and recommend George Orwell's timeless essay classic, "Politics and the English Language," to the entire Smallville writing team, whoever they are.

You might be inclined to argue that, in both this and the something/someone distinction, they're just playing with Lex, deliberately provoking him for the fun of it. Could be, and indeed I'd be inclined to agree with you, in which case I repeat that this is the stupid version of heroism. In this scene, Superman, Arrow and Lois are effectively the cool kids ganging up on the awkward kid. He may well have set fire to those ants with his magnifying glass, cool kids, but they were never your ants to begin with. You're just being mean old bullies now and, therefore, not much to recommend yourselves. Kind of stupid, really. I can't recall the good guys ever even talking about Tess, never mind planning her recovery from Lex's hallway maze of a sub-conscious. They've been entirely unheroic in their treatment of Lex this whole time - most specifically in this case, enjoying Lex's torment far too much. It bothers me. Not that Lex necessarily deserves any mercy (heh, get it?), but the "heroes" do deserve better than this ongoing lousy characterization - if they aren't better than the school-aged peers who, we have been shown, tormented and/or shunned Lex, why are they the good guys?

Second, though more a matter for the Art, Lois's posture is all wrong to have created a "crack" sound when she strikes Lex and draws blood. Everything from the angle of her shoulder to her elbow and her individual fingers add up to a slap at best (though you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as a kind of clawing), but slaps don't make "crack" sounds, punches do. Slaps make "slap" sounds. Stupid.

Third, why is Lex's initial reaction to ask where Tess is? I mean, I get that it's rhetorical and whatever, and is probably supposed to convey some kind of shock, but it's like all those times when Clark lost his powers and didn't know it until he tried to use them, as though a person whose dense molecular structure that absorbs yellow solar energy to grant him incredible powers would not detect such a drastic change in the functioning of his basic biology. We already understood, Smallville, what the heroes wanted from Lex. The turgid clarification that they are there for someone did all that work for you. So what was the purpose of these next seven panels other than to show that Lex knows Tess is no longer in his head and that he isn't happy about it? We've thought of this entire thing as stupid all along, Smallville, you didn't actually need to prove it. And now Lex is kind of stupid, too. Grand.

He, brilliant genius they keep telling us he is (but haven't shown since the radiation thing back in "Guardian"), should have been saying: "Where did they take her?" (Otis: "What? Who?") "Where the hell did they take her?!" There's all the difference of Lex's character in that simple variation on what would otherwise be structurally identical dialogue - he would have known what happened, and who did it. Is it really just me, or does this kind of thing not happen in Smallville all the time?

Fourth, Superman has shield-/logo-inscribed stationary, complete with little envelopes, for leaving behind mildly taunting notes? Superman taunts now? Envelopes? Nice to see characters are as malleable as ever on Smallville when that's what the plot or some cute gag demands. (Heh. That was just me being stupid for effect. It's not nice. Not at all.)

And then, fifth and finally, the hologram who cries. This has got to be right up there on the list of stupidest things ever on Smallville. Will we also get to see her urinate and fart, just like real girls do? Eat Sloppy Joes and have to wipe her mouth? Or how about just putting on her make-up? Because, come on - if the devil is in the details, that is one devil of a detail. And they even make a point of calling attention to it with the initial close up on her right eye. It's one thing to stretch the bounds of the imagination with sci-fi stuff like consciousness transfer in the first place, but it needs to be grounded in believability at some level and here they just went one giant step too far (not that the means of transfer, through leather gloves no less, wasn't already over the edge). Because, of course, Emil would have had to have programmed those tears, for some unfathomable reason. In which case, why not a runny nose? Maybe that's why, despite the ability to visibly cry, she's not wearing any clothes? Not enough RAM left for a smart, professional pantsuit? Oh, enough questions, I'm not the one who included all those little text boxes with "Uploading" and "Rendering" in them, drawing attention to the designed artifice at the heart of this. And I know how to account for it: Stu. Pid. It. Y.

Ultimately, as I feared, this entire arc was a complete waste of potential and time. Not only did it squander every opportunity to teach the characters anything, it also failed to teach us anything. If any feature of this story had the potential to play out beneath the superficial surface, this was it. But, no. It was a huge, long, distended, aimless arc that just, poof, ends. And at the climax of it here, we get (yeah) stupid, easy tears and a "Thank you" from Tess, full stop. Talk about your emotional short cuts. I'm absolutely certain she's here to stay, and that there will be plenty of conversation on what she just went through. Nor am I saying I was looking for subtle interrogation of Martin Buber's dichotomy of the I-It and the I-Thou, but that was one heck of a lot of protracted being and nothingness (oh yes I did) to no other end than bringing Tess back to serve, no doubt, as a full-time, not-exactly-AI Watchtower command center just as (how wonderfully convenient!) Chloe finally seems set to leave Metropolis. Again.

Whatever, enough about that. What else is there? The reunion scene was nice, even with the corny, clich "Honey, I'm home" - hell, for some, that might have strengthened the whole, so let's just leave it at nice scene. My only objection to the business this concludes is that it was ineffectively used right from the start. The radiation and subsequent Lois and Clark separation was surprising and made a certain kind of sense, given the 7-year delay thing from "Finale," but it was immediately nullified and thus, empty of drama. Still, nice scene, even if I'm having to rely on my emotional recollection of the best of Lois and Clark on the show to fully appreciate it.

As for the final scene, well, that was pretty Smallville (except for Clark putting on the glasses to go talk with Chloe) in the way it put a nice big bow on the final package, card inscribed "Conclusion!" But all I mean by that is it's formally predictable, and useful to similar ends. One thing stuck out - Chloe refers to the flashbacks she was having as "messages in memory" from Chloe-2. Really? How did that work? Is that what the revisited and refocused scene from last week was supposed to convey? (If so, I missed it.) That somehow Chloe-2 chose the memories that Chloe would "flashback" on? Why is this necessary? How does it help, especially when inserted in passing like this? Isn't it enough that we already understood them to be messages chosen by Smallville? Isn't it enough that Chloe-2 had the capability to find her way to a parallel reality and communicate her warning, while meanwhile also seeming to be an even better marksman than the guy who's supposed to be the best marksman in the world? No? She has to have powers, unspecified in their operation, to transmit select memories to her trans-dimensional doppelgnger as a way to extend the communication? Why, guys? Why?

My verdict: apart from the rampant stupidity in the conclusion to the Tess+Lex arc, there was too damned much all at once in this issue. Two arcs ended, neither of them all that organically. Why the rush? Is there even going to be a twelfth season? What point would that serve now that you are a comic book, Smallville? Please don't make me cry. Because, of course, someone will have to draw that in.

4Art - 4: The art has slipped a bit this week, exhibiting a certain lifelessness in some panels (e.g., Lois and Clark, "miles to go before they sleep" [nice Frost quote, can't tell if the generally accepted meaning is understood here or if it's just more hack-reference Smallville dialogue, probably the latter], with Clark and Lois both looking off into the semi-dramatic mid-distance and seeming to be more walking down a fashion show runway than heading out on the wackiest rescue mission ever) and, very surprisingly, ineptitude in at least one other - the likeness of Helen Slater in Lara at the end when Clark is reminding us about his parents' sacrifices for his safety. That... just isn't Helen Slater. You can see Julian Sands in Jor-El, but not Slater in Lara. The issue otherwise is usual high-quality Jimenez.

Cover Art - N/A:


Mild Mannered Reviews

2013

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

January 2013

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