Superman #31 review

On another world. Superman and Superboy face an ancient, undying evil that’s possessing the populace.

Clark and Jon decide to tackle the situation on two fronts – Senior will warn the locals to beware the Shadowbreed, while Junior accompanies the local prince to a lab where, he says, he can produce a useful bomb.

Of course, things aren’t as straightforward as Superman and Son would wish…

Gosh, this feels like a long comic. That could be good, but I’m not a huge fan of stories where it’s all one tone. This is all space saga with pretty anonymous aliens, but I want to know what’s happening, meanwhile, with Lois. She is referred to, though not named, by Jon…

… but he then goes on and on about how great his Dad is, and Lois is never brought up again.

But that’s writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson for you – all in on fathers and sons, less interested, at least in this serial, in other relationships.

And it’s not like there isn’t room, this comic has 30 pages of story, but eight of them go to a back-up strip. I’d love to have seen how things are going at the Daily Planet, maybe have a page or two setting up a future story… but that’s not how things are these days, it’s all ‘write for the trade’. Have one idea and don’t deviate.

We have a theme – fathers and sons – but how about some subplots? Maybe some humour?

To be fair, what Kennedy Johnson does focus on is handled well – Superman’s feelings towards his son (‘Your heartbeat is my favourite sound, pal’) and vice versa, and the threat of the Shadowbreed. And Jon has a new trick, one that’s helpfully explained a page or so after he tries it, which is useful as it’s not at all obvious, from the art, what happened.

I like that Kennedy Johnson’s Superman admits things can surprise him, despite everything he’s seen. Put that together with the nuanced alien language noted last issue, and his tendency to expect the best in folk, and I can just about accept his not seeing straight through one character’s deceit here. Me, I pegged them as a wrong ’un very quickly.

There must have been a deadline crunch this time as unlike last month, Scott Godlewski doesn’t handle all the illustrations: he manages the excellent layouts, but veteran DC inker Norm Rapmund steps in for near half the story. It’s really tough to see the join, Rapmund knows what he’s doing. There’s one page in which the solo Goldewski’s Jon looks as pointy faced as his alien companion, and a Superman head is repeated over a few panels, but, overall this is a nice-looking story, with the ethereal Shadowbreed constituents properly eerie. Colourist Gabe Eltaeb and letterer Dave Sharpe, as ever, make solid contributions.

The Tales of Metropolis back-up strip once again sees the villainous Projectress make monkeys out of minor Metropolis metas. The heroes in question are Loose Cannon and a new, female – and thoroughly annoying – Gangbuster. Sean Lewis writes a decent enough instalment but after three months, really needs to get this thing moving – who is Projectress, why is she messing about in Metropolis? Have all these C-lister heroes really got nothing better to do than sit around a bar in Spandex, waiting for something to happen?

The art by illustrator Sami Basri and colourist Ulises Arreola looks good, and seeing Metropolis made me happy – mind, Bibbo sure has a swanky joint these days. Dave Sharpe letters once more, bringing out the beats of the script.

Neither story in the issue has anything approaching a recap, the creators assume they have us for the ride. Bad idea.

Since last month, DC have announced that this run is ending, and the star of the new Superman comic will be Jon, while Clark sticks around in Action Comics. Tom Taylor will write, with John Timms drawing Jon’s book, which may be why he’s been on cover duty of late. This isn’t his best work, with Superman and Superboy assailed by monster hands and cover furniture. Timms colours the image, and might usefully have chosen background hues other than red and blue, to help the similarly toned Superman and Jr pop.

All told, Superman #31 is a competent comic, but it doesn’t thrill me as it should.

5 thoughts on “Superman #31 review

  1. Oh, man… you’re a lot kinder than I would be to this comic. I feel like the outer-space setting is particularly because Johnson is just marking time here. He’s not touching Lois or the Planet because they won’t be “his” characters in a month or two, and there’s nothing he needs to set up for Tom Taylor in that regard. He just has to play the one note of the love and respect between Jon and Clark, so he put it out in space so nothing else can get in the way.

    With more engaging art, I might be able to forgive some of that. But while the figurework is OK, the layouts and backgrounds are really substandard, wasting a lot of space to give us nothing. Check out page 8: we get a full length panel where half of it is a boring cliff the three characters are standing on. WHY? Because there isn’t enough story to fill the page, or the artist messed up the pacing. But the alien design isn’t memorable, and the design of the parasite isn’t any great shakes either. And the backgrounds are just star-fields, as if this planet has no atmosphere at all…even though we know it does, because of the living beings on it, and the fact that we just had two issues of Jon and Clark not being able to have a conversation without one. We could have had glorious alien colors. Instead, just turquoises and blacks. Everyone’s phoning it in.

    The backup’s a different story. I think it’s possible that Sean Lewis and Sami Basri are trying their best. But their best just isn’t that good. Basri’s figures all seem plastic and posed, and Lewis’s story seems awkward. I don’t know who to blame the herky-jerky fight choreography* and awkward conversations on, but there’s nothing that feels realistic about any of it, and nothing that feels exciting, either.

    *An example of Basri’s lousy composition: Would you know that Gangbuster was being particularly brutal in the fight on the first page if the dialogue didn’t tell us so? It looks like a standard-issue superhero fight against a bunch of thugs. She’s CURB-STOMPING a guy and you can barely tell. And I honestly didn’t realize she’s fighting just one guy who can split — again, it’s there, but not highlighted by the framing at all — until my reread to write this.

    And I’m someone who LIKES to see a backup about a character I don’t know much about — which Loose Cannon and the new Gangbuster definitely are. That’s what backups are for, in my opinion. Show me characters who aren’t being used elsewhere. But with this story, I can’t tell whether I’d like these characters or not if I read them somewhere else. The only thing I get from this story is the feeling that Lewis and Basri were brought up to the major leagues too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I kind of went on a tirade there, didn’t I? And with a little more thought, while I stand by my criticisms of the work, I’d like to walk back my closing comment.

    I ended by saying that Basri and Lewis were brought up to the major leagues too soon, but honestly? If DC sees promise in them, backups and short stories are exactly where they should be honing their craft. The idea of backup stories as a proving ground for new creators is part of what has always given backups a bad name in some circles, but it’s also how creators who become excellent take their early steps. I’m not crazy about this story, and I think it could be told better. But maybe Lewis or Basri will improve. I hope so. And maybe their work is already to some people’s taste. I hope that’s the case, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As ever, thanks for the fascinating thoughts. You’re making me take another look, and I can’t honestly say you’re wrong. The comic could be a lot better…am I trying too hard to accentuate the positive. Perhaps? I’m certainly looking forward to this storyline being over.

    Lord, why can’t I have Tomasi and Gleason back writing and drawing?

    Did you ever see Sami Basra’s art on the Power Girl series pre-New 52? He’s been around a while.


  4. Oh, wow, you’re right! And I think I’ve liked his art more in the places I’ve seen it before, too — not just Power Girl, but also Harley Quinn. And in the issues I’ve read of his, he’s also inked himself, too, so that’s no different. Maybe it’s the colorist, Ulises Arreola, that’s making Basri’s work look so stiff & plastic to me here. (Coloring also could have highlighted both important details I mentioned on the first page, but didn’t.) But you’re absolutely right, Basri’s no newcomer at this point.

    It could also be that Lewis’s script required Basri to make some decisions that resulted in unfortunate shortcuts. That first page is really crammed, and the second page looks like it could definitely have been compressed. Maybe that’s a scripting problem that Basri followed too tightly. Who knows?

    And as for the general dispositions of your reviews, I really appreciate how much you accentuate the positive. I usually do, too! I just have been so unimpressed with this run so far — and not really for plot or characterization reasons — that I had to tease apart why. And I really think it’s partially the sense of marking time. Kennedy seems to want to focus on a single relationship to the exclusion of all others, which will be handled down the line. And I think that dutiful lack of enthusiasm turns up in the craft. I don’t think anyone’s doing their best work here. It’s not horrible, it’s just filler. It’s fine. But “fine” is harder to excuse at $5 an issue.


    1. Exactly. I’m thrilled that the new Jon Superman book looks to be normal-sized and priced. Unless it’s Mr & Mrs Superman, Krypto or Perry White, I’m not interested in back-ups. OK, slight exaggeration, but a quality story at a not ridiculous price will do me fine.


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