Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Superman #700


Superman's "giant-sized anniversary issue" doesn't suffer from any of the problems that made Batman #700 such a frustrating mess. While it carries the same inflated $5 price tag, we get a full 42 pages of story, instead of a thrown-together bullshit pin-up gallery at the end. And instead of a high-concept convoluted tale spanning past, present and future, we get three fairly simple but contrasting stories, each by a different creative team. It's not as ambitious as the Batman anniversary issue was, but it ends up being a much more satisfying read.

First story: "The Comeback"
by James Robinson and Bernard Chang

The first story is a sort of epilogue for James Robinson's epic run on Superman, which lasted a couples of years and culminated with the "War of the Supermen" (a.k.a. the 100-minute war). I haven't followed any of this sprawling epic, but I know it involved Superman going away on a big intergalactic mission for a long time and this story deals with his return after that long absence, focussing on his relationship with Lois Lane. In a long opening scene that takes up about half the story, Superman saves Lois from Parasite, punching him through several walls and knocking him unconscious. This random fight feels a bit inconsequential, as it's merely a device for setting up Lois and Superman's dramatic reunion. The second half of the story shows the couple relaxing in their apartment and talking about their relationship, and then going out for a night-time romantic fly over Metropolis. Although nothing groundbreaking happens in this story, it's a nice little character piece and a pleasant read.

Second story: "Geometry"
by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund

This was my favourite story of the three in this issue, which says a lot about my own biases, considering it's mostly set in Gotham City and Superman is almost more of a guest character in it. It's set in the early days of Dick Grayson's career as Robin. While Bruce Wayne is busy at an important stockholder's meeting, Robin disobeys his orders and goes out on his own to stop an illegal shipment of weapons coming in from Metropolis. Of course, Robin gets in trouble, and Superman shows up just in time to save him and stop the bad guys. There was a nice laugh-out-loud moment at the end when Superman helps cover-up Dick's escapade by finishing his geometry homework for him at super-speed behind Bruce's back. Then in the last scene, Clark Kent is back at the Daily Planet office and receives a hand-written note from Bruce, showing he's not easily fooled. It's another nice light moment, giving us a glimpse of the always-interesting dynamic between Bruce and Clark, which is something like a playful rivalry/partnership. Bruce's note is perfect, because it's his way of saying "thanks for saving Robin" without saying it, while at the same time pretending to put Superman in his place and telling him no to pull this kind of shit again. The smile on Clark's face is also perfect, showing that he doesn't take Bruce's posturing too seriously.

Third story: "Grounded prologue"
by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer

Just as the first story served as an epilogue for the previous creative team's run, this last one is a prologue for the new team's big story arc, which starts next month in Superman #701. I was pretty curious about Straczynski's run on Superman, and one of the reasons I picked up this issue was to get a sense of what to expect from him. Unfortunately, this pretty much convinced me not to put this title on my pull list.

The concept behind the year-long story arc "Grounded" is that Superman is going to walk across America in an effort to get closer to his roots and reconnect with the people, after spending all this time away on his intergalactic epic. Based on that description alone, I'm already feeling pretty skeptical about the whole thing, but this prologue confirms just how cheesy this is going to be.

At a press conference, Superman gets slapped in the face by a grieving woman whose husband died of an inoperable brain tumor while Superman was away. She says that he could have saved her husband with his X-ray/heat vision. Then Superman chats with Batman and the Flash, then flies into space to contemplate the Earth from above, then flies back down to a parc, where he grabs a handful of dirt from the ground and contemplates it with an intense look on his face. A couple of boys look at him and wonder what he's doing. As he's walking away, they wonder why he's not flying away. "I don't know," one of the kid says, "but it must be important." BARF!

To make matters worse, there's going to be some kind of interactive aspect to this story, as readers are invited to send essays to DC explaining why Superman should visit their home town. I hate interactive art and this whole thing just sounds like a terribly lame gimmick. It's really too bad, because I actually want to read a Superman comic right now, but I have no interest in this year-long arc and he's not going to feature prominently in any other titles for a while, as Action Comics is going to focus on Lex Luthor instead (which, admittedly, sounds like a better story than "Grounded").

In any case, this anniversary issue was all right. I enjoyed two of the three stories, and I'm glad the third one was included as well, as I can now save my money and avoid buying #701. The art was decent on all three stories and much more consistent than on Batman #700.


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