Superman #29 review

Beyond Earth’s atmosphere, Superman and Superboy are defending the earth from space shrimps.

A beam from a Star Labs satellite seems to close the breach through which the green monsters have been coming, allowing Clark and Jon to head home to spend downtime with Lois. Meanwhile, Suicide Squad boss Amanda Waller is mulling over information gained.

It doesn’t escape Lois’s notice that her son has something on his mind, but if she plans to say something, she’s denied the opportunity.

The unstable breach allows the shrimps to return, prompting Superman and Superboy back into space for Round 2. This time Star Labs do close the breach properly, and father and son head home. Clark is in the mood for some bonding time with Jon.

It’s not just his lost years that has Jon so doleful. His time in the 31st century with the Legion of Super-Heroes has him convinced that should the breach reappear, his father will die.

Following his recent Future State Superman stories, this is Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s official debut as Man of Steel writer. The focus is as much on Jon as on Clark, maybe more; we look to be heading for Superman being taken off the board temporarily – death is so inconvenient – giving Jon a chance to step up. I hope I’m wrong – I like Jon, but I want Superman to be the star of his own book. Showcase Jon by all means, but in his own mini-series, the Legion of Super-Heroes or a back-up strip. I’m tired of stories that aim to prove how no one can replace Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or whoever by having a perfectly competent character prove inept when it comes to replacing them.

We’ve had hints of this in the Future State: Superman of Metropolis book, where new Superman Jon makes terrible decisions. Worse, last week’s Infinite Frontier had the Spectre predicting Jon would become a dictator. Neither prediction will necessarily come to pass, but either way, I don’t want to follow Jon’s attempts to fill his Dad’s red boots. I’ve been with him every step of the way, since his birth in Convergence, and can’t see him being crushed by legacy – he’s spent enough time with Damian Wayne to know a super-son can forge his own path.

The first half of the story is pretty sparse in terms of script – it’s a very quick read. I know people can’t speak in space, but super-people have ways. Even when we’re back in Metropolis, there’s no chatting. I get that Johnson has a meditation going on, around children and parents, but I’m so used to the Kents as a family of communicators that the silence is weird, and disappointing. The lack of dialogue also makes the transition from apartment to Space Shrimps Round 2 a tad confusing – at one point I thought the musical notes in the art were a call to action.

In Superman: Worlds of War #1 the story is told through Earth people’s impressions of the hero. In Superman: Worlds of War #2 an obituary by Clark Kent plays against scenes of Superman in gladiatorial combat. Here it’s not entirely clear who’s narrating – I guess, Clark, but the caption boxes lack the now-traditional ‘S’ in the corner. Whatever the case, once again we’re watching Superman, and now Jon, in action against a commentary, rather than being with them, in the moment. Used occasionally, a novel narration is interesting, but story after story, it becomes distancing.

A new creative team after an event equals a jumping-on point, but this book assumes every reader knows about Jon’s complicated past, and his present/future as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Also, Amanda Waller isn’t even named, never mind contextualised.

In the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics, the original Superboy would fly into the future for LSH adventures but, on his return to the 20th century, forget details about his own history due to a post-hypnotic suggestion. It’s called Duty of Care. Apparently no such safeguard is in place for Jon, and the consequences could prove intriguing – but that’s something to be explored in a Legion comic.

The best scene in this first story, ‘The Golden Age’, is Superman trying to make a connection with Jon, having missed so much of his childhood. The exchange feels real – hopefully we’ll have more conversational scenes in Johnson’s run.

Phil Hester’s pencils are appealingly open, his Superman is especially nice. He doesn’t manage to make Jon’s (admittedly ugly) outfit look good, sadly. Perhaps that will come with practice. The space shrimps aren’t classic designs, while the Star Labs space station looks like Brainiac business. With luck, that will prove the case – I could do with a good reason as to why the traditionally helpful scientific brand has been so shady of late.

Eric Gapstur is an inker I’ve never come across, but he’s strong over Hester’s pencils, without overpowering them. Veteran Superman letter Rob Leigh remains an invaluable team member while the colours of Hi-Fi are as bright and beautiful as ever.

There’s a back-up story, Tales of Metropolis, and boy, is it odd. Jimmy Olsen introduces proceedings and then becomes a supporting character as we see Superman’s Other Pal, Bibbo Bibbowski, on a date.

Apparently, two intergalactic supervillains, Deadstream and the very Legion-sounding Projectress, don’t believe they can beat Superman, so are targeting Bibbo.

Oh, and Bibbo is a columnist for the Daily Planet.

Nope, me neither.

I’ve no idea where writer Sean Lewis is going with this, but I’m definitely intrigued. It’s just so weird, and has the advantage of lovely art by Sami Basri and colourist Ulises Arreola – extra points for a very natty cardigan on Jim and noting that few men can bear an evening with tie pushed right up to the top of the collar. Dave Sharpe supplies the neat lettering.

Once upon a time the Bibbo business would have been a subplot in the main Superman story; I do miss subplots, they added extra texture and value, but most writers today seem either unable or uninterested in them.

I like the cover by Hester, Gapstur and Hi-Fi, space shrimps are much scarier when you only see their giant hands.

Overall, this first new era issue hasn’t excited me hugely, but I’ll give it a few months to see how things settle down. At the very least, I’m keen to see what madness Tales of Metropolis offers up next.

15 thoughts on “Superman #29 review

  1. Yeah, I get the feeling my return to reading Superman solo adventures is nearing an end. I tend to read them based on creators and Jon thinking he knows when his dad is gonna die, Waller continuing to be a female Snidely Whiplash instead of a nuanced character she once was, and the STAR Labs brought down by Young Justice still having s space station made a meal I didn’t like Hester’s sloppiest art I’ve ever seen didn’t hurt the poor writing but it didn’t elevate scripts like he normally does. And that back up? Someone needs to take a Rozakis master class because a good story is possible with minimal page count and Lewis didn’t even come close. BTW, is Bibbo as columnist out of thin air and inexlicable or did I miss something?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Out of thin air.

      Bob Rozakis really should be employed at DC as a masterclass type, he could whip people into shape. Was it Denny O’Neil who was retained by the company to give weekly writers’ workshops? Someone, anyway.

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  2. The good news about the lack of dialog in sections of the book is that it doesn’t compete with the voiceover, which I also believe is Clark’s.

    I’m too lazy to translate the 4 boxes of Kryptonian data that I guess Kelex’s computer is outputting, but it’s probably nothing we can’t glean from what Kelex tells Superman.

    Apparently when you are vulnerable, your shirts also can tear – otherwise, they don’t? Maybe Jon is wearing 31st century fabric and Clark is just in some old t-shirt.

    The book really ought to mention that the story continues in the next issue of Action – seems like an editorial oversight.

    I don’t know how much “5G” has been abandoned — it seems to me that characters ARE being replaced by younger ones. The Next Batman is running digitally and will be printed in monthlies soon; Yara Flor is here while Diana is dead. Jon, though boring, is moving along in prominence, and perhaps Superman is going to soon be trapped by Circe before emerging as an elder statesman in centuries.

    Maybe tales of Kal-Elder could be told in the backup stories. Wasn’t it awesome when he finally showed up in House of El? Tales of the House of El could also make for terrific backups. I think everyone wants to spend more time with them.

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  3. That’s an excellent point about the invasion of the younger folk, 5G by stealth. I wonder if Teen Lantern will take over the new GL book.

    I thought I’d read somewhere that the story was continued in Action Comics; when I didn’t see a pointer towards it in this issue, I assumed I’d been wrong…

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  4. Great review as always.

    And as always, we pick up opn some of the same beats. I also thought of the post-hypnotic suggestion in the old LSH days so Superboy wouldn’t have to deal with such tragic knowledge. Easy enough to put in here. And can’t DC just leave Jon alone. Between him and Kara you think it would be a curse to be in the Super-family.

    I also don’t like that Amanda Waller, both here and in Suicide Squad, seems much more villainous than usual. I know she has always walked a fine line. But she seems to be a bit too nefarious.

    Love the art. Hester does great expressions with an economy of lines. And his work with shadows is also a nice story telling trick.

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    1. I do like Phil Hester, it was a treat to see his work on the recent Endless Winter event, and again here.

      And yeah, Amanda Waller is so mischaracterised, I wonder if John Ostrander has seen the way she’s presented these days.

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  5. Hmmm… Like most of you, I’m not crazy about this book. The lead story is too airy, and whisper-thin. The backup story provides a lot more density, but isn’t intriguing in the least. I’m going to give Johnson a few issues — after this two-part crossover, his Superman and Action titles take their own paths, and I’m curious where they’ll go — but I want more from a Superman comic than this. This felt more like an outline than a finished story.

    That said, I don’t agree with a couple of the quibbles leveled at this book.

    First up, I don’t think Waller was really written out of character here. She’s letting the breach stay open a little longer to get more data, but that doesn’t seem eeeevil to me — just ruthless and pragmatic. She doesn’t seem to think she’s putting anyone in danger since Superman and Superboy on the case. And her wanting information that could be used against Superman seems entirely in character for her, in whatever era.

    And Mart, Waller *is* named, in the sense that her name appears on her texts. Granted, it’s not her first name, and the texts aren’t immediately linked to the pictures of her in the first panels she appears in (it becomes clearer later), so things could be done better. But she’s not completely without ID.

    Second, I agree that the post-hypnotic suggestion the Legion used to give Superboy was a useful tool. But I haven’t seen anything about the current Legion that suggests they’d think of that on their own, until they realized it was a problem. I love ’em, but on the whole they seem kind of scatterbrained. This story could well be the origins of their realizing that Jon’s foreknowledge is a problem.

    And the backup? Ugh. I like Bibbo a lot, but can’t imagine him writing a column for the Planet. But even more than that, the timing of the pages seemed herky-jerky so that it’s hard to say what happens when, the jokes didn’t land (another timing problem), and ultimately, the story is trite. And if the idea of giving Bibbo a column in the Daily Planet is part of the villains’ master plan…well, how on earth could they predict that? It’s ridiculous. And I wish I could say I like the art as much as you did, but it mostly seemed kind of plastic and lifeless to me.

    Anyway, I’ll be along with Superman for a few more issues, at least. But this is a really weird note on which to start this run.

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  6. Terrific comments as ever! Did you see Waller in the latest Suicide Squad? I’d love your thoughts on her there.

    I…Fanboy rightly pointed out that it’s a disgrace Bibbo says ‘Superman’ rather than ‘Soooperman’.

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    1. Pretty sure I already told you in the comments of your Squad review. But long story short, I wasn’t happy with her there. Waller’s not supposed to be an enemy of the good guys — she’s a manipulator and a liar when she needs to be, and she has a brutal definition of “acceptable losses,” but in that first issue she jails both Conner and Flagg. That’s way over the line, particularly with Superboy, who isn’t in her chain of command — he’s a guy she kidnapped off the street.

      Here, though, all she’s doing is putting Superman and Superboy at a little extra risk…and in her experience with Superman, whatever the threat is that he’s facing, he can handle it. I don’t have a single problem with her wanting to find out what his threshholds are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Superman appearance was kinda innocuous but with her being a villain every place else, it’s hard to just accept that this is the one cameo where she doesn’t intend to do harm to every person not named Amanda Waller…

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