What with the Covid-caused delay to comics, it feels as if Superman has been fending off Mongul’s latest attack on Earth for ever. Happily, the space conqueror hasn’t reached us, we’re still unvanquished, and here’s the Man of Steel back and raring to go.
Seriously, this is among the best battles with Mongul I’ve read; stories featuring the big yellow goon are rarely hits with me because of all the hitting – he’s basically a big bruiser with little in the way of personality or motivation. This one I’ll remember, because writer Brian Michael Bendis does such a great job with the dialogue.
Not dialogue between hero and villain, mind. There’s nary a single exchange, what with the fight taking place in airless space and no communicators to be seen. Nope, the soundtrack comes from back on Earth, as Lois and FBI agent Cameron Chase talk Superman’s new role on the galactic playing field. Chase lays down the law as regards Superman electing himself Earth’s representative on the newborn United Planets. The visuals flip between Superman’s situation and the Metropolis meeting, with dialogue from the latter also layered onto the space scene.
We do hear Superman’s thoughts on the fight, and Bendis makes them compelling.
While Supergirl has had terrible treatment from DC lately, mostly, but not solely, due to the horrible Infected storyline, Bendis has always treated her well. And here she’s the key to Mongul’s defeat… without appearing in a single panel.
As Superman Family members would say way back when, ‘How ironic’. That the solution refers back to the best Bronze Age team-up of the Super cousins is the icing on the cake. And when Clark admits he was ‘professionally jealous’ of Kara way back when, I grinned like a loon… why can’t Supergirl always be treated with this level of respect by DC Comics?
Cameron Chase’s liaison with Lois took me by surprise; I was expecting the heavy-handed attitude that usually accompanies comic book G-men, but the United Nations position Chase passes on turns out to be intelligently nuanced. Similarly, Lois dials down her usual feistiness, listens and is rewarded with clarification.
Later, after Chase has left and Clark has returned, we have a wonderful scene between Mr & Mrs Superman as they get ready to retire for the night.
Clark yawns, Lois catches it, they relax into one another’s bodies, she emotionally exhausted, he physically, both missing son Jon. Adorable. It’s great work from Bendis, partnered with the superb Kevin Maguire. Rightly renowned for his facility with facial expressions, this issue’s work is up there with anything the artist has done. While a visit from Maguire is always welcome, I’ve lately longed to see him with an inker once more, to provide that extra sharpness, that final gloss, to his work. No longing here. Colourist Alex Sinclair is the perfect partner, his modelling with light bringing out the best in Maguire’s work. Every page is a mini-masterpiece of storytelling, whether it’s Superman’s struggle to stop Warworld, Lois and Chase chatting in the Kents’ delightfully detailed kitchen or the increasingly frustrated Mongul. Sinclair’s shades work so well that for probably the first time ever, I really enjoyed a page being given over to an explosion.
And if you’ve been hoping for a sexy Superman, Maguire gives our hero the full shirtless Neal Adams Batman love god look, and it rather suits him.
The on-page creative team is completed by Dave Sharpe, whose quiet, yet firm, lettering is spot-on for an issue that’s talkier than it looks from a distance. Behind the scenes, editors Bixie Mathieu, Brittany Holzherr and Jamie S Rich deserve a big hand for their unheralded, but vital, contributions.
These would include commissioning the trade paperback-worthy cover by penciller Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado and Sinclair. I especially like the mildly muted red and yellow of the logo, and that red keyline really makes a difference.
While the divisions of Superman arcs often feel a tad arbitrary – there’s rarely a feeling of finality – this last chapter of Truth does feel more satisfying than most. Superman has had a definite win, his relationship with the United Planets and United Nations has been defined, he’s made peace with his big reveal and he can finally get a good night’s sleep. Perfect.