KindleDownload iBookBuy Now

Mild Mannered Reviews - "Special" Comics

Divergence #1

Divergence #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: April 29, 2015

Cover date: June 2015


Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Penciller: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson with Scott Hanna
(Superman art on) Cover: John Romita, Jr. & Klaus Janson with Laura Martin

Reviewed by: Jeremiah Boor

Click to enlarge

Clark and Jimmy grab a cup of coffee at a Vietnamese food truck. The mobile vendor has become a favorite of Clark's. The owners live close to his motel and never park in the same spot two weeks in a row.

Jimmy is concerned for Clark. He offers him money and asks about the status of his slowly returning powers. Though not one hundred percent, Clark insists he is fine.

Clark is trying to keep a low profile. He is wearing sunglasses and a sweatshirt with the hood up. But a large man in a pair of shades and a green bandana approaches anyway. Jimmy insists that his friend is not the infamous Clark Kent. The man walks away.

The man moves to the food truck instead. An elderly Vietnamese couple own and operate the small business. He orders them out of the lorry. He "needs the truck." He takes off his shirt. Green, glowing, ribbon-like tattoos cover his torso. He picks up the truck and throws it at Clark and the elderly couple.

Clark stands in the breach, between the innocents and the projectile truck. He intercepts the vehicle and tosses it safely away.

Receiving confirmation of Clark's identity, the tattooed man introduces himself. He was a common criminal that Superman had put away years ago. But he has since gotten metahuman abilities. (Presumably tied to the glowing tattoos). The man had felt humiliated and is now seeking revenge.

Upon being grabbed by the man, Clark strikes back. He whips both arms around and clocks the villain. The 'bell ringer' knocks the thug unconscious.

Clark checks to see that the proprietors are ok. Jimmy snaps a picture. Clark flees as emergency personnel arrive.

As he soars through the air (in what looks suspiciously like a leap) we see a smattering of social media. Tweets and blogs from random citizens. They run the gamut on the spectrum of popular opinion. Some love the fight, others consider Clark a dangerous alien, while one simply laments the destruction of her favorite food truck.

A news anchor reports the story. She recaps the 'outing' of Superman, "Superman has largely kept out of the limelight since Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane exposed his secret identity to the world."

Lois knocks on a door at the Getaway motel. Clark answers, surprised that Lois was able to track him down. She offers him money. She says he looks like crap. She wants to know how long he has been living here.

She is met with a cold reception. Lois apologizes for the story that she ran on him. She "should've looked for another way." And "had no right." Clark says there is nothing to apologize for. She made her choice. The door closes, Lois is alone.

4Story - 4: The headline for Superman fans on Free Comic Book Day is clear. New writer, new status quo.

Gene Luen Yang is a Chinese American comic book writer. His work is critically acclaimed. And he has a reputation for bringing diversity into his work. That diversity of talent and content is a stated goal that DC has had for years. Frankly, the company has struggled to deliver on that promise. But Yang makes good in his very first panel.

Clark has Jimmy try Vietnamese coffee at a food truck. Then says he frequents the vendor (partly because they do not stay in the same place for long, a reference to his need to keep a low profile) but he also makes it a point to mention that the owners live down the street from him.

This panel says a lot. Clark opens himself up to exotic things, but he also supports his neighborhood. He is both a global citizen, and a man firmly entrenched in his (American) community. Not unlike Yang and his character in the book, American Born Chinese.

As far as the new status quo, Clark's life has been drastically altered. Many disagree with the change (I don't blame them) but it may accomplish some positive things. Three of the four characters in this story are Clark, Jimmy, and Lois. The pressure put on Clark will create a need for a support structure. Many have argued that he needs Lois (and to a lesser degree Jimmy) to gain a window into his humanity. If this is true, he may now need them simply to keep a grasp on it.

There are fears that this story will effectively erase the Clark Kent persona. If everyone knows his secret identity, then what good is it? Others fear he will lose touch, since he is at odds with Lois. But this story hints to the contrary.

Jimmy and Lois are both reaching out to him. Clark is pulling away. He refuses money. He leaps away from Jimmy when things go bad. At the motel, he gives Lois the cold shoulder. We can even see Clark's face emerging from the literal shadows of his room.

From these examples it may seem that Clark is slipping away. These vignettes may be evidence of the direction the story is headed in. But I do not think so. This is merely a starting point. Yang has placed Clark at his lowest point. Now (after going back to explain how we go here) the writer will begin building the character back up. It gives Superman an opportunity to grapple with the hand he has been dealt. He can be upset with Lois, or be frustrated at the help they are trying to give him. In other words, he can show his flaws. Something he is not often allowed to do. The writers are excited because they have created something in Superman that he does not often have. Room to grow.

To be clear, I am not endorsing the upcoming plot. I am merely saying it may end up well written despite the questionable character choices.

But regardless of where the character starts, all is not lost. We see glimpses of the real Superman. Aside form the aforementioned support for his community and open-mindedness, Clark reminds us of what he does best. He saves people.

An image of Superman, speeding bullets ricocheting off his chest, is powerful. To me, the most powerful and iconic Superman image there is. He steps in and takes the pain and peril meant for us. He saves people, not knowing them or owing them a single thing. Instead of a bullet, Yang uses the very thing that drew the couple to the United States in the first place. Economic freedom. The American dream. Their life's work, a small business. It is literally thrown back at them. It was meant to destroy them, but Superman steps in. The upcoming story may be titled 'Truth,' but here Superman does his part to preserve the American way.

There is even a quiet panel that shows Clark checking on the couple before leaving.

With the exception of Lois' grave mistake, she is not otherwise changed. She is concerned for Clark, but she does not hesitate to speak her mind. She gives Clark some harsh truth. The type she would have gotten from her father. "You look like crap, Clark!" (AKA 'You aren't ok, let me help you.')

But I know what many will say, "Who cares, she betrayed him. That's not Lois!" And they would be right. I will not defend that decision, the plot point on which the entire arc and new status quo is built. But I would like to give my best effort to explain DC's thought process. And in doing so, further explore why the move is a mistake.

I believe a common criticism of the handling of Lois is about the respect and understanding of the character. Or lack thereof. I often argue that DC does not understand Superman and the universe built around him. But I do not believe that this decision has stemmed, from a misunderstanding of her character, but rather, her profession.

DC editorial and their creators likely believe Lois to be an intense, career-minded, go getter. A bulldog. A brash independent woman who speaks her mind. A thoughtful, intelligent, successful woman. Though I'm sure many could describe Lois more eloquently and accurately, my clumsy definition will have to suffice for the sake of argument.

As a reporter, Lois values the truth above all else. She speaks that truth to power, and disseminates it to the people. Not only is it her job, but it is who she is. Therefore, there are only two reasons Lois would have to not report Superman's secret identity. National security. Newsworthiness.

It would be easy to make the argument that Superman is the most important tool in keeping both the country and the Earth safe. If his secret is revealed, his, and the nation's enemies could kidnap, compromise, or jeopardize his loved ones. It is the same reason an undercover agent's identity is kept secret. It is the same reason the secret service works so hard to protect, not just the President, but his spouse and children as well.

But to me, the more interesting argument is newsworthiness. If Superman's secret identity were newsworthy, than Lois would have a dilemma. Her journalistic integrity would demand that she report the truth. But if it is not newsworthy, than that same integrity would demand that she not report it. To present the non-newsworthy as legitimate news, is journalistic sensationalism. (It is a huge problem with our media today) And it is the last thing a Pulitzer-prize winning writer should do.

So is the story legitimate? Say Bill Gates wants to donate a billion dollars to a worthy cause. His only condition is anonymity. A reporter finds out it is Gates that made the donation. Even if the revelation would not stop the donation, would it be a legitimate story to run with? Answer: No. Just because the public wants to know something does not mean they have the right.

But Gates is a philanthropist. Superman, while being the most iconic hero in fiction, could be construed as a law breaker. He could be seen as a danger. So how does that change the equation?

The closest real life parallel, is Banksy. An infamous graffiti artist, who has gained legitimacy. His work is so renowned, it has been featured in art galleries around the world. The catch? No one knows who he really is. He is known as Banksy, and nothing else.

You could make the argument that Banksy is a criminal because he defaces public property. But despite the letter of the law, his actions have been accepted by the community at large. Just like the DCU has long accepted the actions of Superman. Therefore, if a journalist ran a story exposing Banksy's real name, would it be news? Or gossip?

I say, gossip. The hard news anchors would not break the story. TMZ would.

And that is the problem with Lois Lane revealing Superman's ID and calling it news. It mars her reputation as newswoman. It puts her on the level of Perez Hilton.

For anyone who wants to enjoy this run despite the controversy, my only suggestion is to accept the Lois/outing situation and move on. To be clear, I am not saying everyone should swallow it and move on... Each fan must decide for themselves what is more important. To fight for the character (even if in silent protest) or try to enjoy the stories we get.

Even in spite of my criticism and concern for the premise, I did enjoy the story. It is well written. And it is exciting to have a fresh and talented author tackle the Superman universe. I gave this story a 4 out of 5 because of the problem with Lois. I will (likely) leave the controversy out of consideration if I review future issues. But felt it was appropriate to contemplate every angle since this is the first story in what may be the new normal.

4Art - 4: John Romita is an enigma. He is both loved and loathed by fans. It just depends on who you ask. Other writers and artist genuinely seem to respect his work. So I have tried to really examine his art. Even give him the benefit of the doubt. But it is tough. Many of his body and face work is simply displeasing.

If this were a younger artist, I would see potential. I would just hope they ironed out their deficiencies with time. But Romita has been drawing comics for forty-five years. (He got in way young because of his dad) He is clearly not going to get any better, but again, he is beloved in many circles.

Searching the internet for his work, I found some stuff I really liked. The two page splash in Superman 32 is great. But some of the panels in this issue come off as lazy.

Go back and look at Divergence closely however. You will see, Romita puts the work in. His background detail is impressive. On the first page, there is a chainlink fence. He doesn't miss a single link. I know that is meaningless compliment when held up to the criticisms levied against him. But it goes to show, he is not lazy. Just maddening. I get the feeling that he does not do much erasing. If he makes a mistake, he goes with it, unless he deems it an emotionally important panel.

One encouraging thing I will say, is Yang and JRJR seem to work well together. Yang is a writer/artist. He is used to telling his story visually. He lets Romita do the heavy lifting in small subtle panels and big action sequences alike. The last page, the Lois/Clark encounter is particularly well drawn. The emotion is conveyed in the art.

Since Yang trusts Romita, he does not burden the piece with heavy dialogue. In fact, ten of the thirty-four panels are silent. The dialogue is light and sparse. The story has only two scenes, and eight pages. But it did not feel tenuous or unsubstantial. That is a compliment to both creators.

Comic books are a visual medium. The best work results from good chemistry between writer and artist. Despite people's understandable distaste for JRJR's style, the more Yang lets his artist tell the story, the better.

1Cover Art - 1: Divergence is DC's big offering for this year's Free Comic Book Day. It consists of three eight page stories. A Batman, Superman, and Justice League story. The cover, therefore, is a photoshop job of the three artist's three main characters. Darkseid, Bunny Batman, and Superman.

Focusing on just Romita's Superman, I am not impressed. They took a shot of Superman using his new solar-flare power. The glow makes him look mis-colored. He is hunched and not blended into the picture as well as Bunny-Bat.

They could have given both Superman and Batman a better pose and angle. (Even the mighty Batman got a bit of the shaft on this cover. Although it might not count since it's not Bruce!)

Anyway, just photoshopping the two standing there waiting for a bus would have looked better. As I said earlier, Romita does have some decent shots of Supes. I am not really sure why they chose this one.

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.

January 2015

February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015 November 2015 December 2015

Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.

Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2015.