Sunday, April 12, 2009

Missing In Action: The Super Books! Part II - World Without Editors!

As is so often the sad truth in life, the child birthed has not been worth the pain of labor. The four Super Books have emerged out of the New Krypton saga with new creative teams, new characters, and at wildly varying levels of quality.

Action Comics and Superman now feature 100% less Superman, both titles now focusing on C-level characters who are taking up the mantle left by the big guys absence. Only Action seems on track to pull this feat off.

Starting with issue #875, writer Greg Rucka and penciler Eddy Barrows take over the helm to tell the story of Kryptonian escapees from the Phantom Zone secretly planted on Earth as a sleeper cell. New heroes Nightwing and Flamebird embark on the mission to haul these Zoners in. #875 is the first issue in months to have a sense of forward momentum and a sense that what is happening on each page has consequences to the characters in the present. It feels like story, not endless prologue. Things actually happen. 

What makes this approach work for Action is that it captures the spirit of the title and what it represents, that being the greater characters and myths that make up the extremely large Superman Universe. Rucka's Action Comics without Superman doesn't feel empty or like a pointless editorial experiment. He isn't concerning himself with the trivial question of what the world would be like without Superman. He is telling the stories of those heroes and people who live, love, and fight in a world forever changed by the existence of Superman. This book feels relevant much in the same way Green Lantern Corps feels relevant to the greater Green Lantern Universe without needing to have an appearance by Hal Jordan to validate it. 

Where the absence of Superman serves to free up Action to broaden its scope, it serves to bring an emptiness to the book that bears his name. How can it be a Superman comic without Superman? The answer is simply, it cannot be. It's not that the characters of Mon-El, The Guardian, and Steel are not interesting, colorful, and capable of supporting a monthly book. The problem is that this is the wrong book for this approach. Superman is the legacy book of the original superhero and DC have subtracted the "legacy" from the equation. DC have turned the flagship into a tugboat. 

It does not help that writer James Robinson's scripts have felt tedious with underwhelming cliffhangers. Issue #686 ends with a splash page of hero Mon-El sporting his brand new military style buzz cut. That's the image that is supposed to leave the reader excited and primed for the next issue. It's a before and after moment of a hair style and it's completely ridiculous. Penciler Renato Guedes provides lifeless art with his thin lines giving no solidity or weight to the characters who appear to rest flat on top of the page. 

The simple math is this: the point of a solo book is to tell the adventures of the title character. Readers buy Superman to follow the continuing adventures of Superman. Telling stories without the title character makes the book something it is not meant to be.

Enter Superman: The World Of New Krypton.

So the Man of Steel has jumped ship into a mini-series, co-written by Rucka and Robinson with art by Pete Woods, now slated to run 15 issues. This is the comic that serves to follow the continuing adventures of Superman and if it seems unnecessary to create an entirely new comic to do what the solo title is supposed to do, it's because it is. 

I won't get into the specifics of the story nor any critical analysis of New Krypton here. Whether or not this book is any good or showing potential of being any good two issues into its run is as irrelevant as the books very existence. These stories should be in the main solo Superman title. No amount of editorial rationalization changes this. 


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