Ten out of ten for a striking cover design as Ed Benes follows Aaron Kuder’s lead on this month’s Action Comics to give us an especially earthy treatment.
But can you judge the book by this cover? Could the interior actually live up to the exterior, especially after the horror served up by writer Scott Lobdell last time? As it turns out, this issue features the other Scott Lobdell – not the guy who ignores 75 years of characterisation for the sake of ‘drama’, but the one who admits to knowing the real Superman.
So instead of putting Lois Lane at the mercy of the murderous Parasite for entirely selfish reasons, Superman remembers he’s supposed to be a hero, and rushes to Lois’ side when he hears she’s in trouble. It’s Lois who opens this issue, as a ride-by with Metropolis PD looks set to end in disaster, until she instinctively saves the day using her supposedly spent psychic powers. While relieved to have ended a shootout, Lois is perturbed, to say the least.
Meanwhile, Superman is investigating a mysterious door that has appeared above the Earth. He goes through it – knocking politely first, thank goodness – but there’s nothing there. Super-scientist-and-villain-any-day-now Dr Shay Veritas is also around, via hologram. Superman is all set to take the door – a very pretty stained-glass number – to Earth for further study, but she gives him a cock and bull story about moving it being terribly dangerous to global safety blah blah.
Still, as the son of a super-scientist himself, Superman is awfully impressed by anyone with a few certificates, so he takes Veritas at her word, accepts that she’ll monitor the situation and let him know of any change to the door. Developing …
Back on Earth, Superman changes to Clark to investigate an apparent intruder in his apartment – either his x-ray vision is suddenly rather limited, or there’s been a run on lead paint in Metropolis – but it’s only Jimmy Olsen, complete with a nice sound effect gag for fans old enough to remember his Superman-summoning signal watch.
The recently rich redhead is tired of life as a poor little loaded lad and missing his old mucker. Clark agrees to let his former roommate move back in, and as he’s noticing Clark’s many bills, Jim’s obviously thinking, ‘and not a moment too soon’.
It’s late, but Clark’s newsblog partner Cat Grant calls round with the solution to his financial woes. Their old boss Morgan Edge has offered to buy ClarkCatropolis.com >snicker< for a cool $13m. Clark, who's as schizophrenic (pop culture usage, send no letters!) as his writer, says no to a buyout, because the site means sooooo much to him. This is the guy who contributes perhaps one NIB per month, but suddenly the blog is a symbol of truth, and justice, and Cat being deeper than something very shallow indeed. Cat, while she'd hoped to have money for food, is thrilled by Clark's show of faith. It's Jimmy, though, who points out the real reason they shouldn't sell …
I love this moment, as Lobdell has Jimmy casually display the intelligence he’s put on the backburner since the DC relaunch of 2011.
Elsewhere, Lois’s dad, Senator Sam Lane, is glowing from good girl Gladys, which is rather alarming after seeing the younger Sam so lovey dovey with his wife in this week’s Lois Lane special. Still, at this point Ella Lane has been dead for years, and a Sam has needs … not that the two heavies hiding in his apartment care, they want a word with the old military man. Unperturbed, the elder Lane displays some nifty knife throwing even as he reaches for the weapon he’d sheathed while with Gladys, but the lead baddie – a guy with a weird eye and Mr Mxyzptlk hat – says they’re there to give him information on the enigmatic Tower.
Back in Metropolis, Clark’s super-hearing is proving more reliable than his x-ray vision – he’s picked up ‘police chatter’ and learned that Lois is at the 23rd Precinct after the Suicide Slum shootout. Genuinely concerned, he rushes down and finds Lois touched to see him, but evasive – she doesn’t wish to get into the returned mentalist hoodoo. As Lois rushes off, a cop tells Clark that the gunfight was just the latest incident as someone bids to ‘start a war on the streets of Metropolis’.
Out in the South Pacific, the Outlaws of ‘Red Hood and …’ are alarmed by an alarm. Roy Harper drops his ice cream, while Starfire flies off, knowing that the alarm can mean only one thing! Yes! Er…
Over the page, Superman is somewhere, and threatening someone. Lobdell doesn’t give us any context – a page back, Clark was talking to a cop and presumably heading homewards, now he’s doing the cliched red-eyed posing bit in his silly super-armour. After a moment or two he dampens down the peepers, and turns on the Poundshop x-ray vision to spy on something behind his new foe, Man at Desk, when FWABOOOM!, a burst of star energy announces the entrance of – no, you’ll never guess – Starfire!
OK, so Lobdell loses it at the end, forgetting that stories shouldn’t go from A to P, and that if someone is going to make a surprise appearance on page 20, it’s best not to show them heading there on page 17. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about this issue: the Patio Door of Space; the renewed concern for Lois; movement on the Tower sub-subplot; and best of all, the Clark, Cat and Jimmy scene. His pals make Clark seem almost interesting, and I’d be disappointed were we not to soon see the birth of ClarkCatJimmytropolis.com. How snappy is that?
I’m not a big Starfire fan. Actually, I’m the Ant-Man of Starfire fans – but hopefully her presence will reveal Shay Veritas as the villain she is. After all, Veritas has Tamaranean colouring, likes to experiment on people, sports a gammy leg – surely she’s really …
… Starfire’s eeeeevil sister Blackfire?
If the revelation isn’t made, and Veritas turns out to be Hawk or Captain Atom, well, Scott Lobdell reads this blog, obvs.
What else? Lobdell continues to write Lois as a determined, good person, making me almost forget a weird bit of business an issue or so back. And guest artist Brett Booth turns in a vibrant pencilling job, proving as adept at moody drama (the Sam sequence) as high comedy (the Clark, Kat and Jimmy Show). It’s the latter that has me hoping Booth returns soon, as he seems much better suited to Superman’s world than the oddness that was Teen Titans. Just look at the nicely observed body language here.
Booth loses focus when he draws characters in long shot, and background figures can get distinctly weird – is that the ghost of a gorilla behind Clark in the final panel, below? – but I rather like the effect.
He might, though, have Clark disguise his ultra-buff bod when friends are round – they’ve seen Superman up close, but never heard of Clark going to the gym.
The reliably sinewy inks of Norm Rapmund and carefully chosen colours of Andrew Dalhouse give Booth great support, while letterer Rob Leigh spells things real nice.
While none of the ongoing storylines are resolved, and new ones are introduced, this is a solidly satisfying issue. I enjoy spending time in Metropolis when Lobdell is on form, and the intelligent work from Booth only makes things better. Next month we could be back to the lesser Lobdell, so I shall enjoy this while it’s here.