Superman is still battling Atlas, for the third . . . fourth? Fiftieth issue running?It seems like it’s been a while, but the run-in concludes here as Krypto lends a hand. Or rather, a jaw; I’ve never seen the Dog of Steel so fierce, but good folk have no reason to be scared. Nope, all Krypto cares about here is defending his master, and despite the Titan’s blows, despite being pounded with all kinds of unknown energies by Atlas’ unseen patron, he doesn’t give up. He prevails.
Krypto has help, though, as Superman manages to drag himself back onto his feet after last month’s pounding from Atlas and realise that two Kryptonians aren’t enough – against a magical being, he needs magical help. Who to call on but fellow Justice Leaguer Zatanna, currently performing in Metropolis – well, that was the idea. Turns out she’s been already been called away by other needy superheroes. Happily, her slightly arrogant, ever-so-snotty cousin Zachary Zatara, a Teen Titan for about a minute and a half, is filling in. Writer James Robinson here gives us the best scene in an enjoyable book as Superman, having no time for teenage arsery, looks at him with super-stern vision and advises him that this is his chance to prove he’s as good as he says. And bless him, he does.
It seems Zatara is going to be sticking around awhile and I couldn’t be happier – Metropolis has a grand tradition of short-stay super-second stringers (Guardian, Crimebuster, Sinbad, Booster Gold) and it’s always interesting to see how they interact with the man they believe is better than they could ever be. Zatara is different – he knows he’s good, in an area Superman can’t touch. Already he’s bringing out a different side to Superman . . . the no-nonsense hero who’s far from the boy scout he’s so often painted as by lazy writers.
The other great moment this time is Superman’s introduction of Krypto to Metropolis, with a mixture of pride, anger and sappiness.
Less good is the continuation of the flashback-subplot showing Lois Lane’s resistance to Krypto. Her negativity towards the idea of Clark’s Kryptonian pet (a splash page legend makes it wonderfully clear that yes, this is the dog sent to Earth by Jor-El, not a Kandorian lizard with an identity crisis) coming to live with them makes her seem shrewish and stupid. Here’s someone her husband loves and trusts, who could protect her when he’s away, and she’s filled with jealousy? Nah, that’s not Lois Lane – Lois Lane, no fool herself, trusts her husband’s judgement, so would at least give Krypto the benefit of the doubt. The realisation of her idiocy/mischaracterisation leads to a really nasty bit of dialogue: ‘How could I have been such a fool?’ I know Lois originated in the Thirties but she doesn’t have to speak like a character in a bad black and white melodrama.
Not that Superman escapes the odd bit of klunky characterisation. At the start of the issue, as he lies, powerless, he thinks: ‘Where is she? My lady, the sun. She makes me strong. She gives me her light and her life and I am forever grateful.’ And a panel or two later, Superman gets all paternal about Metropolis, proud about Krypto. Which is fine, but this is how he expresses the emotions: ‘They watch — the people — my city sees him be everything I hoped.’ These examples are truly horrible, far from the traditional voice of Superman, and any voice he could be conceived of as having. Let’s assume Robinson was experimenting, will realise said efforts didn’t come off, and not do it again. I shall speak no more of it.
It helps that the page these miscalculations are on is excellent, a fine example of writer and artist working together to set scene and mood. Said artist is Renato Guedes, with inker Wilson Magalhaes, and they’re getting better on this book every month. Boy, do they draw a great Krypto, and their flashback Superman in a tight tee shirt is one of the sexiest depictions of the hero ever. Lois looks whiny, but as that’s how she’s written here, that’s how she should look. And Atlas looks scarily powerful, Zatara suave and tricky, and Jimmy Olsen . . . a bit weird, but you can’t have everything.
Jimmy is well-characterised, mind, and that’s without having a single word in the book; he’s standing in the crowd, by Lois but not interacting. No, he’s in the photographer’s zone, focused, looking around, camera ready to capture anything unusual apart from the fight scene his pal is involved in. And he does, something which will likely feed into the upcoming special he’s been awarded.
Atlas is still an unpleasant shade of pink courtesy of Hi-Fi, but they do an otherwise commendable job, especially as regards the colour holds when Krypto is ray-blasted.
Alex Ross’s cover shot of Krypto is gorgeous, though far too washed out in the colour department.
In all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable comic book, one which shows that the new creative team is finding its feet and is likely to bring us great things, soon. The final page alone is worth the price of admission. Good writer. Good artist.