Reviews: Superman v1, Superman: Earth One Volume Two, Penguin v1

Superman Volume 1: What Price Tomorrow? HC

By George Perez, Jesus Merino, Nicola Scott

Collecting Superman #1-6 (Nov 11-Apr 12)

DC Comics, $22.99


I’m conflicted about The New 52 Superman.


On the one hand, I understand almost intuitively that changes are needed for the Man of Steel. He was imagined in a different era – of politics, of society,  of technology, of journalism, of science fiction. And, unlike Batman (who keeps updating his wonderful toys), Superman hasn’t changed all that much over the years, and is in danger of no longer connecting in any meaningful way to modern audiences.


On the other hand, when DC does make some changes, I’m invariably disappointed. They don’t seem to go far enough, or they don’t appreciably improve matters, or I just don’t like them.


A classic example is the red panties on the classic Superman suit. After Superman debuted, the panties seemed to become part of the standard super-suit, as many other characters included them in their outfits. But, really, we all know they look silly, and most characters have abandoned them – Batman, Robin, Captain America, etc.  Look around, and you’ll see that the panties have almost disappeared, and now they have on Superman, too.


But on Superman, they looked right. That’s one place the panties didn't need to go away, at least to me. But maybe I’m just an old fart. Maybe to today’s audience, the red panties are painfully old-fashioned. Maybe they needed to go, or risk alienating succeeding generations. Even though it’s the suit that previous generations instantly recognize, the original super-outfit of the original super-guy known and loved worldwide. Ow, head hurts!


Which brings us to Superman. There’s plenty of stuff that hasn’t changed, and I don’t like that. But there’s also plenty of things that did change … and I don’t like that, either.


First, the not-changes. One holdover is George Perez, who’s been  a  player at DC since at least the early 1980s. And, while I apologize to Perez fans, I think that was a bad choice. Both his writing and his art say to me “1980s comics!” Which were fine in the 1980s, of course. But it’s 30 years later. I don’t wear the same clothes, I don’t listen to the same music, I don’t have the same haircut as the 1980s – and I don’t need to read the same kind of comics, either. Storytelling has changed, but I don’t think Mr. Perez has changed with them.


Which is not to say there’s no place for George Perez in comics. But he shouldn’t be the lead creator on the lead character in a deliberate break from the past that is The New 52. Superman #1 seemed instantly dated from the very first page, and that is the opposite of what DC wanted – and the opposite of what *I* wanted.


This been-there, done-that feeling only intensified when Superman went into action, and fought … oh, a fire monster, and then an invisible monster, then some other kind of monster. Wow, monsters. Also, Superman’s powers were just as they were before. Oh, look, heat vision. Oh, look, punches. I didn’t expect a complete makeover, but let’s lift a page from the endlessly inventive Grant Morrison. In his Superman stories, he has the Man of Tomorrow being literally that: A guy who can do things that we haven’t even thought of yet.  A  guy who can HEAR texting and e-mail. A guy who can push his way into dimensions we haven’t discovered yet. A guy who can do things that are as astounding to us as heat vision was to audiences in the 1940s.


So I was disappointed in the not-changes. But I was disappointed in the changes, too. I know better than anyone that journalism is changing, but did we really need to invent a job for Lois Lane that doesn’t really exist in actual journalism and doesn’t really make any sense? And did she have to bend or break virtually the entire journalism code of ethics on her first day on the job?


And what about her new boyfriend? Honestly, we all know it’s just a matter of time until the old status quo returns. Everybody on Earth knows that Superman and Lois Lane are an item, not Lois Lane and what’s-his-name, the “old flame” or whatever he is. Why bother with the head fakes?


Now a couple of things I do like: 1) Lois Lane is unquestionably Clark Kent’s friend. That’s nice to see, after so many years of abuse! And 2) Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent are peers. That’s nice, too, because removing the age difference makes the “Superman’s pal” business a little less creepy.


Overall, though, this just seems warmed-over material with few, if any, positive changes. And Superman deserves better.


Superman: Earth One Volume Two

By J.Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis

DC Comics, $22.99


Speaking of warmed-over, when you’re already rewriting Superman’s origin and status quo for a new generation, why do we need a series of graphic novels whose raison d’etre is rewriting Superman’s origin and status quo? With the advent of The New 52, Earth-One feels like a faint echo of what’s already happening in Superman and Action.


And, as those of you who read my review of Superman: Earth One Volume One might guess, as many complaints as I have for The New 52 Superman, Earth One Volume Two isn’t as good.


Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

By Gregg Hurwitz, Szymon Kudranski

Collecting Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #1-5 (Dec 11-Apr 12)

DC Comics, $14.99


This was pretty good, but really held no surprises.


Virtually every version of the Penguin has hinted – or boldly spelled out – that he was an ugly, abused child who grew up to be an ugly, abusive adult. This story spells out specifically what happened in Oswald Cobblepott’s childhood, and shows us precisely what kind of adult he has become. And it's very well done.


So it’s kind of an ugly story done very well with, as I said, no surprises. Well, except for my wife’s reaction: “He seems to have some issues with women.” That he does, sweetie, that he does!

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