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Mild Mannered Reviews - Special Comics

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #18

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #18

Scheduled to arrive in stores: April 2, 2014

Cover date: June 2014

"The Crack in Creation: The Ghosts of Metropolis"

Writer: J. M. Dematteis
Penciller: Fernando Blanco and Norm Breyfogle
Inker: Fernando Blanco and Norm Breyfogle
Cover: Guillen March with Tomev Morey

Reviewed by: T.A. Ewart (aka liheibao)

Click to enlarge

Atop of a building, Superman looks out over Metropolis, a queer foreboding running through his thoughts. He takes flight only to be accosted by what appears to be the specters of Doctor Light, and numerous unidentified spirits, all pointing at Superman in accusation that he did not save them. Elsewhere, the Phantom Stranger speaks with Zauriel, one of Heavens' angels, regarding events that have recently transpired. Their conversing is interrupted, when Stranger is alerted to a "mystical anomaly... a hairline crack in creation". The Stranger investigates the breach, and finds Superman being beset by the aforementioned spirits. They spirits are banished, and the Stranger tends to Superman. Superman confesses that he believes Doctor Light and the others were right; he is responsible for their deaths. Superman then moves to find Light and the rest, and make it right. In a warehouse on the edge of the city, Superman finds the spirits and agrees to submit to their demands for expiation: he must let them in completely. The Phantom Stranger intercedes, and nearly has to give Superman a "mystical lobotomy," but stops and allows Superman to proceed with what the Stranger believes is folly. However, Superman survives his "possession" and his will, in turn, seals the crack in creation. What appeared to be Doctor Light transforms as it destroys the warehouse, revealing himself as the Sin Eater. Superman asks why the Phantom Stranger allowed him to submit, and the Stranger replies that he had faith... in Superman.

4Story - 4: If you've read the issue, you'll notice that the subplots of the issue was not in the summary, and hopefully that will be forgiven, as they don't aid the main storyline, in for what will be for many Superman readers, a one-shot issue. That being said, the issue garners its rating less for the execution of the story, and more for the fact that the story was executed at all. Superman killing Doctor Light was supposed to be a significant action. It played out as less than so in the pages of Justice League and had little if any consequence for the rest of the DC Universe. Part of the reason is the quick onset of "Forever Evil", which removed the League from it's titular comic, and left no outlet for it to develope. The other half is the overkill, no pun intended, of Superman dealing death in 2013. If it were a stand alone incident, perhaps it would have played more strongly, but with the other occurrences of Superman taking life, Doctor Light's decapitation was very much lightweight as compared to a hand through the Joker's chest. What Dematteis does with this issue, in a manner that is by no means stellar, is remind readers that while it may not matter to them, it does matter to Superman.

Superman and guilt are an odd pairing, as what Superman symbolizes doesn't lend itself to guilt, anger, hate, etc., because Superman is a positive character. Negative aspects on Superman clash roughly, and are very difficult to maintain without inverting the character altogether. However, those same negatives, when used correctly, remind readers of the positive qualities that Superman possesses, the irrepressible and indestructible core of the character that emanates and draws us to him, be it as a character, a symbol, a hero, or what have you. It's not entertaining to see Superman feel guilt, as readers know the demands that he has on him, in addition to the demands that he places upon himself. What we want to see is Superman overcome guilt and angst and anger, so we know that it's possible for us to do the same. However, this is only possible when Superman as a character is in tune with those aforesaid qualities. Superman's readers will all ways excuse him for just about any error or sin, but it's important that he reminds us that he doesn't excuse himself. He doesn't put himself above the values he espouses, just as he doesn't place himself above us.

When Superman submits to the Sin Eater's scheme, it's a self-serving trope that Dematteis uses. Of course Superman will be resilient enough to withstand such an attack. He's Superman. Still, it's how he does it and why he succeeds that's more important. Superman correctly states that guilt eats and ultimately destroys a person, but the crucial aspect of a crisis of conscience isn't for one to wear it as a hairshirt, but to allow it to make an individual better as Superman does. He acknowledges that he cannot save everyone, and that people will die, but that's no cause for quitting or self-pity, but to try harder and never give up. The splash on page 16 is a nice touch, and it's no coincidence that Superman takes on a classic look in countenance, as he is bathed in the light of the sun, while he rises above the foul patina of the Sin Eater's spirits. The play on position with the Phantom Stranger is an apt ending as well, as the Stranger expresses having faith in Superman, while he is what he is for lacking faith in another, Superman.

Dematteis has done this type of story before, most notably on his short Daredevil run, but it resonates more strongly for Superman, and I'm happy that he penned it. Every so often readers need to be reminded that Superman doesn't just save the people, but that he also cares about the people. All of them. Doctor Light's murder, though not by a willing Superman, included. Superman knows that he's better than that: to be dismissive of a life even if the bearer of it has seen fit to misuse it. In the midst of all of the other titles involving Superman, it's queer to find a core moment in another title, but thankfully, it was still there.

3Art - 3: The issue is weighed down by having two artists whose rendering doesn't follow one another's. It goes from a gothic, ghostly feel to "Superman: The Animated Series", almost.

4Cover Art - 4: Picasso would love this.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Except for digital first releases, the month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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