Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Superman #688

Superman #688

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Renato Guedas
Inker: José Wilson Magalhães
Released: May 28, 2009

The monthly Superman book holds no significant meaning anymore. This may be a bold indictment, but I feel it is an accurate one. Upon completion of this particular issue, an issue I felt to be an improvement over last month's - which is akin to saying a cold sore is an improvement over a genital wart - I could not shake the feeling that what I had just read meant nothing to me, both as a reader and as a follower of the DCU. I could have left my copy of issue #688 to languish on the dusty, chipped shelf of my local retailer and been no worse for wear for it. I learned nothing of any substance, nothing not already touched upon in previous issues, and I was not particularly moved by the creative endeavor of the whole, so on both storytelling and artistic fronts, this issue was meaningless, hence, insignificant. 

Last issue left off with our substitute hero Mon-El plummeting from the sky due to a sudden and previously unsubstantiated loss of powers. This issue gives us the deus ex machina explanation that a previous deus ex machina is to blame. Basically, a little magic potion that suddenly appeared out of nowhere which Superman used to save Mon-El's life is now responsible for slowly killing him. He will have only about twelve to sixteen issues to live. This is a predictable out for the character for when all of this World Without Superman nonsense is finished with and DC editorial no longer have use for Mon-El in the monthly title. There is nothing revelatory here as common sense predicated from the beginning that the substitute teacher was never going to take over the class. All these second-tier characters will be pushed aside when the Big "S" returns. 

Just like the mysterious magical life-saving potion, too many things have had the feeling of being too convenient. How lucky that when Mon-El loses his powers he is over water and therefore doesn't become street pizza on a strip of Metropolis asphalt. How lucky that The Guardian happened to be following him on camera (a camera named Lucky, apparently) and is able to fish him from the drink in the nick of time. How lucky that his powers return just in time for him to put the hurt on Squad K, yet another government-sanctioned strike force assembled to bring down Superman in the eventuality he needs bringing down. None of this feels earned within the context of the story.

The scene with Squad K is yet another sequence used to demonstrate that Mon-El is not Kryptonian and therefore has no vulnerability to Kryptonite, facts already so deeply established it makes no sense for them to be repeated here again. Robinson seems to understand this to some degree, and so the fight part of the fight scene is not actually shown. However, it still feels like wasted pages that would have been better spent moving the real story, whatever that's supposed to be, along. 

Ultimately, the real problem with Superman is that there appears to be no actual story being told. Everything has the feel of a prologue, a set-up for something still yet to come. The pace is so slow that when story threads that have been dropped are picked up again, much of the scene is devoted to refresh the reader's memory of something long forgotten. Zatara's scene with Jimmy Olsen several issues back served only as a recap of events in the Return of Atlas arc of last year. Much of the dialogue could start with the phrase "Remember that time..." 

Characters that were meant to have significant roles in this World without Superman, such as Steel and Zatara, have made such trifling cameos as to be almost entirely useless. Even Dr. Light suffers from being poorly used. Doctor Kimiyo Hoshi, known for her strong personality and biting wit, in her scene here is reduced to giving the medical bullet as if she were an extra on ER. Why use her for this scene when any generic STAR Labs doctor would have sufficed to give the same dry expository monologue? Her presence proves to be an unnecessary serif on an already bland piece of type. It adds nothing, only further highlighting the dreariness. Not even the good doctor can shone brightly out of this dark void. 

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