The Doctor is in. Dr Fate, that is. DC’s premier magical hero guest stars to give Superman the once-over at the Hall of Justice. The Man of Steel is welcomed by extraterrestrial interns Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins.
Soon Khalid Nassour, the latest person to inherit the helm of Nabu, arrives and takes Superman to the other-dimensional Tower of Fate for his exam. It’s far from your ordinary physical.
The patient’s body is fine, but what about his soul? Khalid wonders what prompted Superman to seek him out. It turns out the Man of Steel had to be persuaded.
The thing is, with very little notice to family and friends, Superman revealed to the world that he’s also Clark Kent… of course there would be questions about mind control. Superman opens up to Khalid. Apparently, even beyond his ability to wield the forces of Order, the young mage’s big power is empathy.
And there it is, the last couple of years of Superman stories distilled into one huge decision.
Meanwhile, a DEO agent, Veronica Bissette, has been heading to the Hall of Justice on behalf of her new ‘employer’. The previous day she’d stopped off at the Greenwich Village shop where a humble mystic plies her trade.
When she finally arrives at Fate’s tower, it’s fair to say that all hell breaks loose…
Writer Brian Michael Bendis, illustrator Kevin Maguire and colourist Alex Sinclair, joined by Young Justice artist John Timms, follow last month’s outer space epic with a more intimate, eerier tale. ‘Chaos: part one’ features a new threat from the dark side of the DC Universe, Xanadoth, and while it’s Dr Fate they’re interested in, Superman being on the scene means it’s two-fer time. Magic is one of Superman’s big weaknesses so next issue’s face-off should prove a fun challenge for our hero. Sorry, heroes. Squint and we can all pretend the much-missed DC Comics Presents is back.
Superman will likely welcome the distraction from having to talk about his feelings – he admits that he’s not even opened up wife Lois about quite how devastated he is by the Jon situation, despite them noting briefly at the end of last issue that they missed their son.
Bendis surprised me big time; I had assumed he wanted Jon in a certain place, physically and in time, and that would be that; Jon would spend all his time in the 31st century with the Legion of Super-Heroes and Lois and Clark would move on with their lives. If a Superboy was needed, that would be Kon-El, recently returned from limbo by Bendis in Young Justice.
But no, the weirdness of the last few months has hit Superman hard, and his attempts to normalise it are making things worse. Suddenly I have hope that Jon will return to his original time, visiting the Legion only occasionally; he still has so much to learn from his parents and so much lost time to make up. The kindest thing Bendis could do would be to bring Jon home, and I know he’d have fun with him.
Someone I suspect won’t be able to go home again is Agent Bissette – she seems well and truly bonded with Xanadoth (gender unknown, probably the very idea is meaningless to a nether-demon, so I don’t get to call them ‘Xanadude’… mind, ‘Xanadouche’ remains a possibility!).
I feel for the DEO-doer, who we see saved from Event Leviathan only to become the thrall of a creature of Chaos; I hope she makes it through to the other side, because she seems refreshingly free of the attitude usually thrust on comic book spooks, and more competent than many.
As a huge fan of the recent Doctor Fate series by Paul Levitz and, mainly, Sonny Liew, I’ve been glad to see him in Justice League Dark, but there he’s pretty much personality free. Here, Bendis gives us back the sensitive young medic, more comfortable with his powers now he’s had them awhile, but an actual character again. His long conversation with Clark represents some of the best writing from Bendis I’ve ever seen. It’s nuanced, dramatic, funny, insightful… he walks with gods, but Khalid is still grounded enough to provide Superman with the huge dose of incredulity that makes it OK for him to grieve his recent losses.
Maguire and Sinclair handle the Clark and Khalid scenes beautifully, capturing the emotion of the two against the mystic majesty of the Tower of Fate. Simms and Sinclair work equally well on the flashbacks, with the encounter between Agent Bissette and the rightly wary Madame Xanadu (who knew she liked Chinese food?) a standout. The amount of detail – staircases, jars, streets – put in by both illustrators and colour artist is worth mentioning, and I love that Khalid is apparently experimenting with Dr Fate’s look – he’s outgrown the old utility blue sweatshirt. Plus, sharp haircut.
Dave Sharpe is typically excellent on the lettering front. Flashy fonts against unsympathetic backgrounds can be a problem (see The Batman Who Laughs and his pals, especially The Batman Who Runs or whoever). Sharpe, though, keeps things, well, sharp, with Xanadoth’s dialogue presented via a very readable yellow-on-black, while Khalid-as-Fate speaks with pretty borders. He even digs out Khalid’s unique Doctor Fate logo. It’s thoughtful, under-appreciated work.
The cover is a winner too, a busy but not migraine-inducing piece by Timms and Sinclair. Enchanting.
My thanks, too, to editors Brittany Holzherr, Bixie Mathieu and Jamie S Rich for their contributions – talent needs wranglers! And well done to any unnamed production persons, I can’t believe there’s not one or two involved; DC’s comics, like their books, should credit them.
If I were a comics doctor assessing the health of this issue there’d be just one, easy diagnosis – perfect.
4 thoughts on “Superman #23 review”
Oh, man, a great issue. So much fun to see Khalid act like Khalid again! And Superman’s dilemma — how do you deal with that much frustration, when you’re Superman, and have to set that example — is extremely well thought out. Loved this one!
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I hope the conclusion is as good!
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Someone tell Khalid to just toss Xanadoth the helmet. Isn’t his power source vastly different than Kent Nelson’s and there’s no Nabu waiting in the helm to do awful things?
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I’ve lost track… there’s me saying ‘recent’ Doctor Fate series and it began in 2016. I checked issue one and the cat god gives him what looks like the traditional Nabu helmet but calls it the ‘mask of Thoth’. Probably everything has been Rebirthed by now. Really, it always comes back to Nabu.
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