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.