Oh. My. Word. If there’s a page in this week’s comics more likely to make you jump out of your chair than the full-page shot of Superman flying towards the reader, I don’t wish to see it. Here I’ll show you … no, I’m not sure you’re ready. Get a stiff drink, bear with me as I witter on awhile and then I’ll show you. Maybe.
So, Metropolis has been shrunk and placed inside a bottle by the Collector of Worlds. Superman is on his ship, in a hall of similar cities and sundry souvenirs of dead planets, trying to persuade the alien to return his city to Earth. The Collector, though, wants to conduct a Nature vs Nurture experiment – Superman can save either his adopted home, or Kandor, last surviving city of his homeworld, Krypton. Which will he choose?
You’ll not be surprised to learn that Superman’s answer is a resounding ‘Neither/Both’, that he uses his wits to win the day. He also employs a fair bit of brawn against the multi-formed creature which Lois Lane, in the same way she named Superman, christens Brainiac.
To be honest, I found the battle with Brainiac rather confusing, full of patented Grant Morrison alien/machine talk that I suppose is clever, with myriad layers of meaning. It’s great that Morrison credits the audience with the brainpower to get what he’s doing, but sometimes, after a hard day at the office, I’d be happy to be spoon-fed some. So, any sharper readers who can tell me just what happened with the Kryptonian crystals, and why, will have my gratitude (well, more than you already have for reading my ramblings). I did get that Superman learns Kryptonian, represented in amusing phonetic form as a lot of la-de-da.
The parts of the story after the big battle, once Metropolis and sundry other cities are restored, are what grabbed my interest this time. There’s a touching conversation between Clark and Daily Star editor George Taylor paving the way for a new chapter in his career. Clark’s chat with landlady Mrs Nyxly about secrets brings a surprise nod to Morrison’s Superman Beyond. Superman telling the people of Metropolis about his origins and getting the key to the city, setting his thoughts on an interesting path. John Henry Irons has a decision to make, Lois asks Superman a tough question and Luthor has a lot to ponder. We learn the fates of Metallo, corrupt businessman Glenmorgan and Brainiac’s ship. Clark returns to Smallville to talk to the Kents. And the manipulative little man who hung around Glenmorgan finds a new pot to stir.
It all makes for a wonderful multiple coda to Morrison’s story of how Superman went from the tee-shirted vigilante of five years ago to the solid – indeed, armour-plated – citizen of today. I’d actually value a few more stories of Clark’s early years as an anti-authority crusader, but either Morrison or DC don’t fancy going down that road. Not to worry, so long as Morrison continues to populate Superman’s stories with compelling colleagues and crazy concepts (some of which I might even understand), I’m not too fussed about where in Superman’s timeline we are.
Despite all this goodness, my favourite moment in the issue comes mid-fight. It comes and goes in an instant, but it’s significant (and especially good to see after the most recent issue of Wonder Woman).
So it seems at least one DC hero comes with a built-in moral compass, traceable back to his people. For the first time in decades Superman’s innate goodness is attributable not just to the Kents, but to Krypton too.
Rags Morales is joined by recent Action back-up artist Brad Walker on pencils for this 30-page conclusion, and most of the pages look good. The action sequences are nicely choreographed, the designs for Brainiac are creepy as heck, and Smallville and Metropolis are a treat. What doesn’t look great are Superman and Clark Kent, which you may agree is a problem in a Superman comic. Often, Superman appears awkward – his head ill-proportioned, his mien rubbery – while Clark seems about ten years younger and shorter than his alter-ego. You’d have no problem at all believing this Clark and Superman weren’t the same person. By the time he reaches Smallville, it’s not a question of looking too young – Clark has morphed into a gnarled lunatic.
I don’t think the problem is due to this issue’s inkers, as Rick Bryant and Bob McLeod are both talents. No, I think Morales and Walker are actually trying very, very hard to give Clark life, and occasionally get carried away.
And Walker – well, I think it’s Walker, as no page credits are given – does deserve credit for having a crack at giving us an iconic Superman moment – not the usual ‘Superman at peace with the world’ splash, but a real in-your-face, never-saw-it-coming image.
But my gosh, it scared me for a second.