Mongul is down. The intergalactic despot has been punched to the ground by Superman, enraged that Mongul has wrecked a meeting of the leaders of the newly formed United Planets.
To be more precise, he’s murdered several of them. That got Mongul attacked by the others a few minutes prior to the opening confrontation.
Superman extracted him, presumably not wanting even a monster to be executed without trial. And now, he tells Mongul that he should honour a blood oath from his culture: in return for Superman saving his life, he stops the violence and goes home.
But not before taunting Superman.
Back on Earth, Lois has been doorstepped by reporter rival Bethany Snow of the Daily Star.
The technique may be suspect, but the questions are fair – the snippet of video sent to the Star by an unknown party does give the impression Superman has declared himself Earth’s ruler. And the issue ends with Lois being challenged by someone a lot scarier than Bethany Snow.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis is very good at demonstrating Superman’s character in moments of conflict; the internal narration here demonstrates his frustration, compassion, tenderness and more.
Our look at Mongul comes through his words and actions – he’s cocky, mocking Superman’s pleas for peace. I can see Mongul’s point of view; he’s slaughtered several of Superman’s allies, putting the newborn UP at risk, and the Man of Steel is willing to let him simply leave?
As for Lois, she’s uncharacteristically meek for a moment when caught offguard as Bethany Snow uses her own tactics against her. Soon, though, we see the Lois we know.
Penciller Ivan Reis shows an improving facility with expression, giving us a grimly determined Superman, a nicely nuanced Lois, a Bethany who obviously feels she’s moving into the newspaper big leagues and a delightfully leering Mongul.
And while I’m not a big fan of silent, super-skinny panels, his fight scenes – inked by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert, coloured by Alex Sinclair and lettered by Dave Sharpe – certainly have an energy to them. The opening spread is almost brilliant, but Superman’s a tad lost in the distance.
Mongul referring to Superman as ‘Krypton’ the way Lois calls Clark ‘Smallville’ made me smile. A Thanagarian ally giving Superman a makeshift cape is sweet – it’s like a cape is his security blanket.
And Superman saying the mere presence of J’onn J’onzz is calming is intriguing – is the Martian Manhunter subliminally dampening down emotions?
And Superman telling us that as well as Lois he’s always listening for Jon and Jimmy, that’s nice… but it would have been nicer to have cousin Supergirl included in the mix. Sure, Kara has powers of her own, but she should be on Clark’s “worry list’.
There are two cliffhangers, one involving Lois, the other Clark, and they both have me itching for next issue.
All in all, Superman #21 is another satisfying issue in a very strong run.