Movie Review: Man of Steel

With the release of Man of Steel the first real superhero of the modern age gets a fresh start on the silver screen and a reinterpretation for the 21st century.  Whereas 2006’s Superman Returns tried to continue the Richard Donner movies’ version of Superman, this movie gives the Man of Tomorrow a brand new day.  It is a bold stroke that pulls no punches and goes for a very earnest overhaul.  As can be imagined, this has been to the delight of some and the chagrin of many.  This movie review will differ from all the ones I have done previously, being quite long and an amalgam review/critique/essay on the film, the source material, and all things Superman that are relevant to the presentation by filmmakers in the massive summer blockbuster.  Considering the considerable length of this critique, I won’t waste more space than necessary introducing it.  Here are the musings of this comic book geek on The Man of Steel:

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Krypton

The Krypton depicted in Man of Steel is amazing because of its amalgam of the many interpretations of that storied, utopian world.  Drawing from the many visions presented in the Superman line of books over the past seventy-five years the screenwriters and filmmakers create a vision, concept, and culture that forms the bedrock upon which the film’s premise is built.  It is because of Krypton’s many flaws and its repressed virtues that this film can exist and be what it is: bold, innovative, fresh, and infinitely moving.

The first thing that hits the viewer as they see Krypton is how beautiful it is.  Starting in the late 30’s with Shuster and Siegel’s first issues of Action Comics Krypton has been shown with beautiful architecture and wondrous looking cities, but the landscape itself is either non-existent, covered in the urban sprawl, or desolate as it was in the 1978 Superman movie and the comics of the 90’s and early 2000’s.  In Man of Steel we see not only Krypton’s verdant forests and vistas, but also a few majestic specimens of its wildlife.  These, while completely unique to the movie’s conceptual designs, I believe owe their existence to comic book legend Geoff Johns’ efforts on the Superman books.  With the “Superman: Last Son” arc of Action Comics, which he co-wrote with original Superman and Superman II director Richard Donner, Johns began a Kryptonian renaissance which really reformed the planet itself and its citizens.  I use the term “renaissance” because of how perfectly it defines what occurred in the depiction of Krypton.  I believe many writers (not just Johns) and even editorial had their parts in this as well, because over many issues in many different titles Krypton went from a desolate, isolationist world with no cultural heritage to a proud, casted society that worked like a well oiled machine fine tuned over millennia. There are the Science Guild that progress and maintain Krypton, the Military Guild that guard and protect its citizens, the Artists Guild that bring beauty and aesthetics to the lives of Krypton’s citizens (because even a society  at the cusp of technological advancement needs beauty), and the Labor Guild which does all the work.  No one said scientific advancement had to go hand in hand with civil rights.  Another change for the better that finds its way prominently into the movie is the costuming of Krypton.  Kryptonians have been depicted in many ways from the nondescript robes they wore in the 1978 film to the strange bodysuits with weird fringes that were predominant through the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s.  The “Kryptonian Renaissance” of the new millennium gave them futuristic costumes that retain a throwback sense of beauty and elegance as seen in the Renaissance culture of Europe.  This comes through in the gorgeous attire of Jor-El, his wife Lara, and the lavish costumes of the Council of Elders, seen in the first half hour of Man of Steel. To me, this represents a culture at its height, making the imminent downfall of that culture all the more poignant.  That is the look of Krypton.

Ceremonial Attire of Krypton's Elder Council

Ceremonial Attire of Krypton’s Elder Council

The people of Krypton are another aspect of this story that drew me in and sent my mind on a cascading trip through the different eras of Kryptonian culture shown over the last three quarters of a century.  For a very long time Krypton simply was a culture that reached its zenith and was destroyed by the instability of their planet’s core.  Simple as that.  Despite their technological marvels birthed from advanced science, they were powerless and even arrogant enough to ignore the magnitude of this coming cataclysm.  So Jor-El and Lara sent their son, Kal-El, to a planet he could grow up and thrive upon.  The last son of El.  The 90’s took this society and did something more drastic.  I do not know who initiated this vision, but during this time Krypton came to be a society that was isolationist in both its terrestrial and extraterrestrial policies.  Kryptonians had been to the stars, but because of their massive scientific achievements wars had erupted and social order had been threatened.  As a result, society was separated and Krypton’s citizens lived in isolated citadels away from one another.  Kryptonians rarely encountered each other and simply lived in their fortress-like homes interacting virtually through holograms and messenger automatons.  Reproduction was achieved artificially and overseen by the Kryptonian government, as was marriage which was obviously not conjugal, but rather political and sociological. To see this vision of Krypton vividly, I would suggest three pieces.  In the 1990’s Starman series by James Robinson the #51 issue, entitled “Midnight in the House of El’, depicts the eponymous Jack Knight, known as Starman, going back in time and meeting a seventeen year old Jor-El and his domineering father, Seyg-El, on Krypton, characterized in the above fashion.  Another version is the Elseworld story written by the late Steve Gerber called Superman: Last Son of Earth in which Prof. Jonathan Kent of Kansas State University discovers an extinction level cataclysm and when ignored by Earth’s leaders, sends his son Clark into space in a rocket that carries the human infant to Krypton where he is found by the young Jor-El and his reluctant future bride, Lara Lor-Van.  Clark is renamed Kal-El by his adoptive father and grows up in complete solitude from other Kryptonians (due to the predominant culture) while forced to wear metal braces on his body backed up by servos to prevent Krypton’s oppressive gravity from crushing him and restraining his human physiognomy.  Kal breaks free of these with a Green Lantern ring that finds him and allows him to save Krypton from the cataclysm that in regular continuity DOES destroy this world.  These evens then leads him to go to Earth to seek out his origins, only to find a post-apocalyptic society dominated by Lex Luthor.  Gerber also wrote a sequel to this called Superman: Last Stand on Krypton in which Jor-El and his loving wife Lara found a hippy-like movement on Krypton that advocates living together in communes, natural childbirth, and embracing emotions.  This heresy to the social order of Krypton maintained over centuries is dealt with by General Zod who consequently has to contend with the returned Superman.  Looking at these three titles, it is obvious that Man of Steel heavily draws from this era of Kryptonian storytelling to depict a culture of stagnation that inevitably leads to the ruin of its people.  A key part of Last Stand on Krypton is the conception of a child by Jor-El and Lara, though obviously it is not Kal-El.  In Man of Steel a Jor-El and Lara very similar to Gerber’s conceive Kal for the same reason; to be the father of a reborn Kryptonian race that will not be hindered by genetic predetermination or blind scientific innovation that atrophy morality and individualism.

1999's Starman #51 co-written by David Goyer

1999’s Starman #51 co-written by David Goyer

It should be noted that the story of Man of Steel was conceived by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer.  The name to look at in that duo who brought us the Dark Knight Trilogy is David Goyer.  Nolan is a masterful storyteller and director, but David Goyer is a comic book writer that has also branched out as a screenwriter in both television and film.  He wrote the Nolan Batmans exceedingly well, but his history with Superman is considerable.  He co-wrote the above mentioned Starman #51 with James Robinson, so his use of Kryptonian eugenics and a dystopian culture stem heavily from his own experiences as a worldcrafter in the comics of the late 90’s.  More recently, he also wrote the newsworthy short story for the 900th issue of Action Comics entitled “The Incident” wherein Superman went to Iran to stand non-violently in a student protest to lend strength to the oppressed Persian youths.  Doing this, Supes nearly caused an international incident leading him to renounce his honorary American citizenship.  Needless to say, Goyer knows how to handle Superman in a modern context and integrate social commentary seamlessly into engrossing plots, whether they are appreciated or not.

A Man with Two Fathers

Superman is perhaps one of the most philosophical heroes in modern mythology and it undoubtedly stems from the fact that he is really the first superhero.  Maybe there were others of lesser note that came before him, but he is the first one that captured the attention of the national audience.  Within the comic itself, his philosophy was born of his two fathers and what each of them left him upon their death.  Therefore, these men’s parts in Man of Steel were pivotal to the success of the story and the resultant character presented in this origin story.

Jor-El, the brightest mind of a civilization at its height of advancement, saw a world and a society that had crossed the threshold into ruin.  His son’s birth was a miracle, but so was Jor-El’s.  In a world where every person was bred for a singular purpose tied into the continuity of that “ideal” society, Jor-El, a man bred for cold science and logic, saw beyond statistics into the improbable.  He conceived of what someone unquantifiable could achieve and the value of free will to his society.  That child, his child, could be the father of a rejuvenated Kryptonian race on another, untainted planet.  Freedom of choice, but most importantly freedom of conscience, was what he imparted to his son.  The Master Ky he gave Kal before departure chronicled all of Krypton’s sins, so Kal could make sure that they were not repeated on Earth, as well as imparting the “hopes and dreams” of a dying race.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jonathan Kent, a simple farmer living outside of Smallville, Kansas.  Though we don’t learn a lot of facts about him, it can be insinuated by the presentation in this movie that like most representations in the past he is a man of  limited education, but deep philosophy born of experience and good old fashion Midwestern values.  Throughout the course of Man of Steel he is portrayed as a very imposing figure that reigns Clark in and encourages him to hide his abilities at all costs.  Sometimes even to the point of seeming callus.  However, as fathers go he is actually one of the best possible that Kal-El, now called Clark, could have had.  His affection for the boy knows no limit and forces him to be as strict and overprotective as he is.  In the course of Clark’s childhood under the constant tutelage of Pa Kent, he learns valuable lessons including restraint that are paramount to his destiny as Superman.

Portraying these two men correctly was of vital importance, because they had to be believable and effective in their roles.  Russell Crowe plays Jor-El in the film and does a very good job.  Despite what people might say about him as an actor, he portrays the analytical scientist quite well, but retains the ability to convey wellsprings of emotion beneath the surface.  This is never more apparent than in the scene where he and Lara put the hours old Kal into the rocket that will take him to his new home on Earth.  In other versions of this origin they depict the scene as somber, but in this movie it is agonizing.  Lara is barely able to go through with it, and Jor-El has to very calmly tell Lara the reasons why it must be done.  Though he is telling her in very calculated terms, Crowe’s performance makes you realize Jor-El is saying these things just as much for himself as for Lara.  Jor-El sacrifices everything for his son, including his life, so that he will have the tools and the opportunities for a better life.  That is the epitome of a father’s love.

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Jor-El

Jonathan Kent was portrayed by Kevin Costner, whose iconic roles in Field of Dreams, Wyatt Earp, and Dances with Wolves made him the perfect choice for Pa Kent.  He plays the rural protagonist very well while still having a wisdom in the way he delivers the poignant lessons that are essential to Clark’s upbringing.  While Pa Kent takes a lot of flack from people for being too hard and oppressive in this movie, he is actually written in a far more complex way and Costner’s acting brings that out.  Clark’s childhood is agonizing, but one thing that is constant is that Jonathan Kent is there.  He is present in the picture of Clark at the science fair. He was present and on the front lines when Clark saved the bus full of his classmates from drowning in the river and people began taking notice.  He was present when Clark was getting beat up outside the mill he was working at.  After the latter event, he asked his son if he was alright and when Clark said they couldn’t hurt him, Pa corrects his question, asking if he was alright inside.  He sympathized with Clark and knew that hitting those boys would have felt great . . . for a moment, and then it wouldn’t have.  Clark didn’t have the luxury of simple things like getting angry that most normal kids had and Jonathan was there to talk to him and try to give him comfort in those moments.  He wasn’t a touchy-feely dad giving hugs, but he was a dad that would do anything for his son.  He made Clark hide his abilities, which seems to make most diehard Superman fans scream in outrage, but his teachings of mistrust for humanity turn out to be sage.  Jonathan may fill his son with fear at being discovered, but it is done out of love.  He loves his son.  This is overtly clear when Clark finds out his alien heritage and asks if they can pretend that he is still Pa’s son. “You are my son,” says Pa, holding back tears.  Costner nails a very tender moment right there.  Then he proves his devotion to his son’s safety as well as his fervent belief that the world just isn’t ready for his son, by sacrificing himself to maintain his Clark’s secret.  If Jonathan Kent weren’t the BEST father in the world and didn’t believe in his bones that this was the right course, would he sacrifice his life as he did?  And if he didn’t have a point backed up by precedent and logic, would Clark have stood there and watched it happen?  I understand that people don’t like this scene, and neither do I.  It’s horrible to watch.  But it’s necessary.  This scene showed Clark the true depth of how much his father loved him.  It taught him self-sacrifice which is one of Superman’s key characteristics.  It taught him the measure of heroism. This final scene of Jonathan Kent with a resigned smile on his face and the silent conversation with his son was both tragic and beautiful, and executed brilliantly by Costner.

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Jonathan Kent

Both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent are original takes on these iconic figures in Superman’s past, but remained anchored to their basic drives through the utterances of equally iconic quotations: “You carry with you our hopes and dreams.” -Jor-El  “Son, you were sent here for a reason.” -Jonathan Kent.  Contained within each is the basis for each man’s motivations.

Jor-El was always a maverick and a voice of reason unheeded, but in Man of Steel he is seemingly a social revolutionary and perhaps anarchist in his attempt to recreate Kryptonian society peacefully through the birth of his son, Kal-El.  Zod is much the same, but seeks those ends through militarism, hoping to maintain the status quo of Kryptonian society.  Both men seek to save Krypton, but have diametrically opposed methods that are abhorrent to one another.  It could be argued that Krypton is the major change, not Jor-El’s character, but in either event, he is no longer just an ignored prophet of doom, but a heretic guilty of treason against the Kryptonian state.  What unites him with the original basis of the character is the above quote.  Kal-El represents the hopes and dreams of his parents and the legacy of the Kryptonian race.  He is like Moses cast into the cosmos with not only himself, but the genetic potential for every Kryptonian yet to be born in his own genome, leading his people to freedom from a society that would birth them into eugenic bondage.

A Father's Love

A Father’s Love

Jonathan Kent was always a man who told Clark to hide his abilities.  He takes a lot of flack for it from critics of the film, but that was a hallmark quality of the character from the start of the Superman saga seventy-five years ago.  The degree of urgency is all that has changed.  Jonathan always advocated caution, but in this film he is vehement about absolute secrecy, because due to the realistic slant filmmakers chose to pursue Clark’s abilities pose a real danger both to his own freedom and safety as well as the world’s collective sense of ease.  Critics of Jonathan Kent’s portrayal in Man of Steel may not be looking at the larger picture, despite both Jonathan Kent and Perry White plainly stating this concern over and over and the depiction of the military and US government’s distrust and outright belligerence towards Superman later on in the film.  Even after risking his life, beating back his fellow Kryptonians, and killing General Zod, they still distrust him at the film’s conclusion.  However, Jonathan Kent, while wanting his son to be safe also recognizes that Clark has the capability to become something incredible.  This leads us back to his famous quote, “Son, you were sent here for a reason.”  He was sent here for a reason and his powers could benefit humanity.  However, the timing has to be right.  People have to be ready for him.  Again, like a prophet, Jonathan knew that eventually people would be ready, but to reveal himself prematurely would be traumatic to Clark and the world, and could unravel whatever destiny Clark might have in store.  Like a martyr, he sacrificed his safety and ultimately his life for that goal, purchasing at a dear cost Clark’s possibility for a future, just as Jor-El and Lara did on their long dead world.

A Father's Concern

A Father’s Concern

Jor-El and Jonathan may be differently from past incarnations, but both cut a very stark and vivid character in a realistic world.  What they also epitomize is the perfect image of the selfless, loving father.  Both men sacrificed everything they had to ensure that Kal-El/Clark grew to reach his destiny as Superman.  Though people may not like them, these men cannot be impugned.

 

A Man with Two Mothers

The maternal relationship is not widely explored in this movie, nor do his two mothers play as integral a part in the film’s narrative as their husbands.  To a degree this was an aspect of the movie that I thought could have been better, but I have tried not to dwell too heavily upon.  I feel that both Lara and Martha Kent are characters that have a great impact of Superman in various tellings of the Superman myth, but rarely are recognized for it.

Martha Kent actually is a very substantial character in her own right.  It seems like she is the human parent that is the more openly nurturing in Man of Steel.  Perhaps it is an oedipal thing, where the divide between the two Kent men stems from the father wanting continuity and the son wanting self-determination, or it could just be conventions of modern masculinity in father/son dynamics.  As stated before, Jonathan does love Clark and makes himself available to his son whenever he needs to, but Martha is the one that engages with him on more level, emotional ground.  Diane Lane is the actress who portrays her and radiates maternal love in every scene.  The most apparent example comes when Clark’s heightened senses kick in with a vengeance at school.  The frightened nine year old takes refuge in the janitors closet and barricades himself inside.  Only Martha can talk him out.  She doesn’t scold him.  She doesn’t bargain with him.  She sits by the door, listening to her terrified child describe his overwhelming experiences and talks him through it.  She is the one who teaches him how to focus his mind and block out all the extraneous sensory information he is receiving.  She has no idea what she is talking about.  There is no “raising your Kryptonian child” book by Dr. Spock.  She does the best she can, driven by pure love for her little boy and somehow helps him surmount one of the largest obstacles he faces as a Kryptonian earthling.

A Mother's Love

A Mother’s Love

Lara Jor-El, mother of Superman, is depicted as a very tragic character.  She and her husband defy Kryptonian law and have a natural, unmodified child grown in her womb and not in the Genesis Chamber beneath the Kryptonian capital.  She literally gives birth to a miracle and is forced to give him up only hours after he is born.  She may not be bombarded with yellow sunlight, but having the strength to part with her newborn son so close to his birth makes her a super-mom!  She is played in the film by Israeli actress Aylet Zurer, whose performance as the benighted Kryptonian woman is truly heart-rending.  In the past, the Els have sent their child to the stars and it’s a somber moment, but in this film it is ROUGH!  Jor-El’s stoicism is apparent and Zurer’s portrayal of Lara holding her baby tightly to her breast and faltering in the final moments before he must leave make it all too real to anyone who has fallen in love with their child.  Amid the scramble to get Kal-El safely away from Krypton her husband also is taken from her in death, sacrificing himself for their son’s freedom.  With her son forever lost to her and her beloved Jor-El dead, she awaits the literal end of her world following the metaphorical one.  Her exit from the film is a morbidly beautiful scene, watching from her balcony as the planet bursts open in eruptions of magma from the planets interior, eventually enveloping her in flame.  Though she is depicted beautifully, Lara is more of a passive persona in the film.  Even though this is how she is often portrayed I was hoping for a little more from her.  That  is probably because I have been spoiled by the Superman line of comics coming out presently.  Under the pen of writer Scott Lobdell, Lara Jor-El (nee Lor-Van) is truly a formidable Kryptonian woman.  In Action Comics she is currently being written as a tough-as-nails military officer engaged to Jax-Ur and the only hope for Krypton’s Science Guild.  In Superman #0 (2012) she is shown as a brilliant surgeon who retains all the martial prowess she gained from her service in the military and as a badass momma bear who defies a kidnapping attempt and kicks the crap out of terrorists threatening her husband and the unborn child growing inside her.  Scott Lobdell seems to get that even though Jor-El is Krypton’s wunderkind, the mother of Superman would have to be one tough cookie.  I am sorry that vision didn’t translate into the film, but the Lara of Man of Steel isn’t without her merits.

A Mother's Farewell

A Mother’s Farewell

Both Martha and Lara are strong women whose love of their husbands and their shared child, Kal/Clark, empower them to great sacrifice and resilience.  Though they don’t take center stage like Jor-El and Jonathan, they are equally important to the depth of the film and the fate of their son. Well cast and well played.

The Eponymous Man of Steel

I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to comment on the man himself, Kal-El, last son of Krypton and the venerable House of El, Clark Kent, Superman.  Superman represents many different ideals, peoples, institutions, and concepts.  That is something that makes him such an immortal character.  He is both a paragon of what is good about humanity and an ideal of what humanity can be.  He is a flawed godlike figure in some tellings and a fallible, albeit superpowered, man with limitations in other tellings whose struggles, triumphs, and failures mimic the travails of the average person on a massive scale demonstrating that even superheroes have problems like ours.  He is an allegory of the immigrant sent to a new world for a better life, caught between the heritage and culture of his old world and that of his new world.  In that respect he reminds me of my grandfather who was raised in North Dakota on a farm, not unlike Clark’s upbringing in Kansas, albeit my grandfather was raised in a German speaking household by his Austrian parents and older siblings.  Come WWII, though a grown man, my grandfather was drafted by the US Army to fight Germans and Austrians.  Sort of like Superman in this movie, he was a man caught between his heritage and the culture he was raised in.  The House of El was one of the preeminent families on Old Krypton that advocated social responsibility, as well as the correct blend of science and conscience.  This is something that Superman brings to Earth, serving as a symbol of moderation so his new home doesn’t suffer the same fate as his old home.  The list goes on.

Man-of-Steel

This film has taken some criticism for its portrayal of the Man of Steel, but in fairness, those that condemn it for destroying their concept of Superman need to ask themselves one fundamental question: which version of Superman are you talking about?  Let us not forget, that Superman is 75 years old!  The original version was pretty much a thug that beat up people that didn’t fall into his view of social justice.  Not tie them up with a bow for the police unharmed to meet justice. HE BEAT THEM UP!!!  He also couldn’t fly, but rather “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  The Superman these people talk about didn’t really come about until the 1950’s when the Silver Age was initiated and most heroes’ comics were canceled in McCarthyist hearings and those that remained, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc, were essentially spayed and neutered.  In the 60’s and 70’s Superman began to get his teeth back.  By the 80’s and 90’s he had gotten to be a very dark character during a period called the “Dark Age” of comics.  So again, when watching the film, the question remains as to what version of Superman is the watcher taking into the film?  This will determine how disappointed or elated the viewer will be.

Panel from Action Comics #1

Panel from Action Comics #1 written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster

Regardless of which Superman you prefer, Superman is going to continue to evolve as a character to fit the times in which he lives.  That is actually something filmmakers alluded to in the film through a quotation from Kryptonian Capt. Faora-Ul: “You’re weak, son of El. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins!”  This comment is a double-edged sword that can describe why Superman is moral in some representations, i.e. 50’s and 60’s, and why he became more hard edged in other depictions, i.e. 1930’s, 80’s, 90’s, etc.  Superman evolves and as Faora so bluntly states, those that cannot evolve, die.  Superman originally stood for “Truth and Justice,” fighting for the little guy, sometimes in brutish fashion, and against corrupt politicians and gangsters.  However, in the 1950’s amid the “Red Scare” and a stabilized society that relied much more on a strong central government Superman worked with authority figures and came to stand for “Truth and Justice” with the addition of the “the American Way.”  This was around the same time that “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Here Superman evolved to fit the times and what American society needed him to be.  He also took on several post-War misogynistic viewpoints that mimed the male sentiments of the time to get women out of the WWII workplace and “back where they belonged” in the kitchen and the home.  As a result he became more overbearing on his formerly intrepid journalist girlfriend, Lois Lane, in those Silver Age issues.  Not a pretty picture, but one that reflected the times he lived in.  The Superman we see in Man of Steel is no different. He is a product of a very real world that is far from ideal.  In the real world post-9/11, paranoia and hysteria have made us afraid of our own shadows.  The government and military are equally distrustful of anything that could  pose a threat creating an atmosphere of fear.  That is at the heart of this film.  Clark is raised on Earth by a very wise, albeit terse father who has a very fair grasp of humanity’s general temperament when it comes to things outside their ken. If you had a son with abilities like Clark’s and you loved him as much as  Jonathan, you would be overprotective too.  Apparently so much so that you would die for your son, assuming you are Jonathan Kent that is.  Witnessing his death and what it meant also put Clark in a shell, not wanting to directly engage with people.  It’s not healthy nor good, but it’s necessary.  Despite how poorly he is treated by the people he meets on his lonely odyssey he never stops trying to save them while still staying cloaked in anonymity.  That speaks volumes as to his character.  He has also drawn heat for not being powerful enough to stop people from dying and for being too somber and never smiling.  These two seem to cancel each other out.  Superman being too powerful would make the movie boring, because he’d save everyone and there’d be no struggle.  If he smiled while all those people were getting killed he would be a monster and not the concerned guardian of humanity he has always been.  He is mistreated for most of the beginning of the movie, sold out by the military, and marked as an enemy when he attempts to stop the Kryptonian army in Smallville and yet he never wavers for a moment or stops trying to help.  Others criticize him for killing General Zod at the end.  “Superman doesn’t kill!” says them.  In Action Comics #583 Superman kills his fifth dimensional nemesis Mr. Mxyzptlk. In the Death of Superman mega-event he kills Doomsday right before he himself succumbs to his wounds and bites the dust.  He even killed Zod in the comics in Adventures of Superman #444.  Superman kills when he has to.  Anyone who says otherwise is someone who doesn’t actually read Superman comics or know what they are talking about.  It’s his abhorrence to killing that defines him.  In this film he wants nothing more than to not kill Zod, but with the clock ticking and four humans milliseconds away from being sliced in half like cheap timber, he makes the hard decision and kills the genocidal lunatic who literally stated he was going to wipe out humanity person by person to avenge his race.  Afterward, when the moment passes and he looks down at the dead body of his countryman he freaks out at what he had to do, overcome with remorse.  I don’t know what else Supes could have done to placate his detractors, but that is a clean depiction of what Superman should be, a man who will do the hardest thing possible, tainting his moral code in order that four innocent people can continue to draw breath.  Maybe he should have let them die so he can say, “Hey, I’m Superman.  I don’t kill.” (Smile to the camera, wink, and a thumbs up.)  Was Superman spot on in this movie?  Close to it.  He was “Super” in all the ways he needed to be and faltered perhaps because he’d gone from holding up oil rigs to fighting a horde of militaristic, super-powered Kryptonians, bearing in mind that he was raised by a pacifist in the middle of the Corn Belt.  He’s a little new at this, so why don’t we all cut him some slack?

The Face of a Murderer?

The Face of a Murderer?

Henry Cavill plays Superman and he does so quite well.  He is very somber throughout the film, but he’s also a man with no purpose or sense of identity.  This movie is about him finding that identity.  As the film progresses he begins to thaw and have some very tender moments where his gentle spirit shines through.  In the scene where he is in an interrogation room talking to Lois Lane and slowly reveals that he can see through walls, hear what is happening on the other side of tinted sound and bullet proof glass, as well as snapping his handcuffs as though they were made from spun sugar, we see a very Zen Superman who is not threatened or irate at his treatment and who very genially offers his assistance.  At the end of the movie when the military, still not trusting him after he saved the world from a MASSIVE invasion and killed the only surviving member of his race (besides himself that is), attempts to locate his Fortress of Solitude with drones, he downs one and again in a very cordial manner asserts his privacy, telling the military he is only here to help, but won’t allow them to interfere in his personal life.  He’s polite but assertive.  Just like Superman should be.  That isn’t to say though that he doesn’t have his darker moments and that Cavill doesn’t nail those too.  The best scenes that convey this side are the aforementioned scene where Kal-El has Zod in a headlock, attempting to stop his heat-vision from slicing the trapped humans in the Metropolis train station and the scene preceding that where Superman downs the ship with the Genesis Chamber in it.  When Superman bursts into the ship carrying the artificial womb filled with Kryptonian embryos he thinks he is attacking Zod’s weaponry.  Upon learning from a very frightened Zod that he is not destroying arms, but rather “Krypton” itself, Superman gets a look of absolute horror on his face as the magnitude of the situation sinks in.  His actions come down to one genocide or another.  If he leaves the ship Earth and every human on it will be annihilated. If he downs the ship to save Earth, he will be responsible for the death of his race . . . again.  In a split second he weighs the consequences and makes his choice.  “KRYPTON HAD ITS CHANCE!!!”  In the train station he has a look of absolute pleading on his face as he attempts to stop Zod from killing four people he has never met before in his life.  He wants them to live.  He will do anything for them to live.  Complete strangers.  When the point of no return comes up, he does what he has never done (and you could tell hoped he’d never have to do) and takes another person’s life.  The cost hits him like a freight train as he collapses in hysterics.  He was raised by good people in Kansas to respect life and he was responsible for killing his own race twice over so that humans, who rarely in the film gave him a reason to, could live and retain dominion of our planet.  Tell me that isn’t a Superman!

Zod as a Hero

Every good story needs a villain.  Every great story needs a compelling villain.  General Zod is that villain for Man of Steel and fulfills the task on every conceivable level. His part in the story ties into the very being of Superman.  Like Ra’s Al-Ghul in Batman Begins, who was responsible both directly and indirectly for Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, Zod’s goals and his one desire are hindered by Kal-El’s birth at the beginning of the film and rest in the last son of El’s existence towards the end. Though he hates Kal-El for what he is and what his birth meant for Krypton, Zod’s goals and his one desire are hindered by Kal-El’s birth at the beginning of the film and rest entirely on the existence
of the  last son of El towards the end. For Superman, Zod represents the darkness of his own heritage.  Raised on Earth by decent parents with Midwestern values, he is shown two sides of his racial heritage.  There is the philosophically good, altruistic visionary Jor-El who imagines his son creating a utopia on Earth by resurrecting the Kryptonian race and guiding the human and Kryptonian peoples into a golden age of harmony and on the other side there is the Kryptonian army of Zod that wish to wipe the human race out like vermin and terraform Earth to support the new Kryptonian race.  Jor-El represents what Kryptonian culture could be and Zod represents what it is.  Jor-El and Lara gave birth to Kal to free Krypton’s future of artificial inbreeding that contributed to the planet’s downfall.  Zod is the epitome of that system, bred to ensure the vicious circle that has his race locked into a future without possibilities.

Dru-Zod

General Zod

Needless to say, portraying such a complex villain that is as integral to the plotline as General Zod you need the right actor.  Michael Shannon is the man filmmakers chose to do this job.  In my opinion, he looks nothing like how General Zod has looked in the past or should.  However, from the moment he emerged in the Elder Council Chamber I did not for one second disbelieve that I was beholding Dru-Zod, general of Krypton’s armies.  Shannon had the commitment and the unerring faith of this genetically predisposed zealot down pat.  His calm in moments of heinous action, his indignation in moments of existential frustration, and his steadfast candor in his intellectual debates with Jor-El all hit the mark.  Michael Shannon’s acting was one of the key factors that made this film soar.

The Passionate Hero of Krypton

The Passionate Hero of Krypton

However, what truly makes Zod such an engaging villain is the fact that he is in point of fact . . . a hero.  That is correct.  General Zod is an archetypal hero.  Let us examine the definition of a hero.  Merriam-Webster defines the classical hero in these terms: 1) Mythological or legendary figure, often of divine descent, who is endowed with great strength or ability, like the heroes celebrated in early epics, 2) Usually illustrious warriors or adventurers, heroes are often represented as fulfilling a quest, 3) Often possess special qualities such as unusual beauty, precocity, and skills in many crafts. Often inclined to boasting and foolhardiness, they defy pain and death to live fully, creating a moment’s glory that survives in the memory of their descendants.   Now taking these one at a time let us examine how they pertain to Zod.  Looking at the first point, his divinity is a concept open to debate, but he is endowed through Kryptonian genetic engineering with both strength, ability, and leadership qualities of the highest caliber.  It is what he was bred to be. The second point is infinitely true as Zod and his faithful followers were cast off their homeworld for his beliefs and then sent on a cosmic quest to rebuild Krypton from its own ashes via the spread out remains of former Kryptonian colonies throughout the galaxy.  That is perhaps the most noble quest any hero could embark upon: resurrecting a dead race from oblivion.  The third requirement fits Zod to a tee.  Zod is a genetically engineered warrior titan that is quite grandiose in his candor and makes no attempts at humility whatsoever.  His goals are singular and he does not waver from them for even the slightest moment.  Even amid the pain of Earth’s overwhelming sensory overload on his heightened faculties, he pushes on, taking a lesson from Superman and focusing his mind, blocking out all extraneous noises and sights.  Clark mentions it took time for him to learn how to do this.  It took Zod a few minutes.  Though it could be said to be his genetic predisposition that lends him that kind of prowess, the more likely explanation is that, as the third hero requirement states:  “they defy pain and death to live fully, creating a moment’s glory that survives in the memory of their descendants.”   Zod isn’t fighting for a moment’s glory to hand down to his descendants   He is fighting to ensure that he and those Kryptonians under his command HAVE descendants.   He pushes through the pain and the frustration to save his race.  When he is defeated and Kal-El destroys the Genesis Chamber housing Krypton’s unborn children, Zod is literally broken because he no longer has the purpose he was bred for.  He says in a moment of pure pathos that, though he is a monster, his whole purpose was to protect his people and ensure their survival.  Without them, he cannot go on living, because he doesn’t have the one thing in his life that gave it any meaning.  That is a powerful statement, begging a second look at his horrific deeds.  Jor-El warned the Council of Elders not to mine Krypton’s core and in ignoring him they doomed Krypton and her people to oblivion.  So Zod breaks from their dominion and initiates a coup to depose them, killing a few right off the bat to establish a new order and salvage what time is left to devise a plan to save what parts of Kryptonian society he can.  He extends a hand to Jor-El, the brightest mind on the planet, to help achieve that end.  When Jor-El fails to comply and the truth of his breach of Kryptonian protocol in the form of a non-modified, naturally born child come to light, Zod is forced to purge this threat to the already fragile society and social order he was bred to protect.  This means killing Jor-El.  Did he want to?  No.  He even tells Superman as much.  It haunts him constantly because of the good man Jor-El was, but it had to be done for Krypton.  For his people.  Then he scours the universe for the means to rebuild their world.  All of this is for Krypton.  All of it is for his people.  Can anyone say that this is not heroic?  We call him villain because of the disregard he has for humanity, and yes that is quite heinous, but if Greek mythology (most notably the Trojan War) has taught us anything, it’s that heroes very often do horrific things in the course of doing their duty to their kings and their peoples.  Odysseus, king of Ithaca and hero of the Odyssey, caved in the skull of the infant son of his rival, Prince Hector of Troy, with a rock after the fall of Troy.  It was for Greece, it was for his people so Troy wouldn’t rise again under a young prince to kill and make war on this massive scale again.  But it was also so the child would not grow up filled with anger and live a life poisoned by vengeance.  Heroic?  Doesn’t sound like it, but Odysseus is still classified as a hero.  When dealing with Zod, one might be cynical and say that the fact that this urgency is built into his genes removes choice and therefore makes his singular drive for the rebirth of Krypton mechanical and unheroic.  However, the fact remains, he is a tragic figure with real feelings and love that are for something outside of himself.  Say what you like, but sacrificing everything, including your very soul for the survival of another person or better yet, an entire race is heroic.  Zod is a hero.

The New Kryptonite

What Man of Steel also did was present new takes on Superman’s Kryptonian biology and how it interacts with Earth’s environment.  His Kryptonian biological makeup is keyed to red solar radiation from Krypton’s sun, an ancient red giant called Rao.  Krypton is also much larger and denser than Earth.  Thus when Kal is exposed to yellow solar radiation from our sun (Sol) and Earth’s lesser gravitational force his body is granted the heightened abilities we are all too familiar with.  However, every titan has their weaknesses, not unlike the great Achilles and his fabled heel.  Everyone knows kryptonite, the glowing green radioactive remnants of his homeworld.  An overused trope.  Lex Luthor and kryptonite are perhaps the most tired Superman conventions ever.  This movie is free of that, thank God.  However, Superman’s weaknesses aren’t limited strictly to kryptonite.  There are a few others.  Magic is one that few people think about and for good reason.  It works alright in the comics, but will NEVER be utilized in a Nolan-produced/Goyer-written film.  As stated previously, yellow solar radiation supercharges Superman’s cells and heightens their functioning.  Conversely, red solar radiation mimicking that emitted by Rao will dissipate the stored energies in his cells and return him to a regular man, no more super than you or I.  This film creates another alternative, most likely to replace the never-to-be-used magic weakness.  When Superman is brought aboard Zod’s ship, he is forced to breathe Krypton’s atmosphere which de-powers him and and almost kills him when he first inhales it.  This actually makes sense and plays off of something that has been done before, most notably in the DC mega-event from 2006 entitled 52.  In that story Superman was exposed to particles that acted like carbon monoxide in human lungs.  Just as carbon monoxide bonds tighter to hemoglobin in red blood cells than oxygen preventing the blood from absorbing essential O2 molecules for us to breathe, so too do some particles bond with Superman’s cells preventing them from absorbing the yellow solar radiation that gives him his power.  Just like a person who has inhaled carbon monoxide, the body can work it out of its system over time.  In Superman’s case, this medical malady cost him his superpowers for 52 weeks while it was metabolized and dissipated.  Krypton’s atmosphere appears to act in the same way, almost immediately leaching the surplus energy from his system.  To be sure, the filmmakers have created a logical, very intriguing weakness.  It may never be utilized again, but sonuvagun, it helped make this story interesting without having to resort to magic or kryptonite.  That’s a major virtue to the film, elevating it above anything that has been done in television or film to date.

Overdone Trope

Overdone Trope

 

Miscellany

The film has many other aspects of note, but the main points that needed to be discussed have been above.  There are also aspects of the film that could have been better.  However, there are scores of people pointing those out that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to list them.  I stated that I feel that Lara could have been more of an active player in the movie.  I feel that though Lois Lane does have her merits, such as finding out Clark’s real identity before he even dons the “S”, she lacked a lot of the hard-edge that she usually was portrayed with and much of the teeth when dealing with certain people.  However, she was a journalist for only a third of the movie, so that can be forgiven until the sequel.  Perry White also didn’t seem like the stern editor with high blood pressure he has always been.  Laurence Fishburne kind of made him seem like a teddy bear.  Again, he wasn’t really a major part of this movie as news outlets weren’t as important to the plot, so this also is forgive until the sequel.  Jury is still out on the glasses secret identity.  It happened, but what can they really do?  Clark has to be a reporter and Superman cannot wear a mask.  It’s an inherent conundrum grandfathered in by the series’ prosaic 1930’s origin.  Otherwise, I feel like I have enumerated in a more than thorough fashion about what this movie did right and why.  The rest is up to the viewer’s taste.


Conclusion

Superman embodies a great number of things and this movie captures most of the important ones that still hold true in a very troubled age in human history.  The most important thing Superman represents (and why this film proves its relevance) is the last scion of a failed race doomed to extinction because of their massive failures and inability look upon their actions objectively.  The hubris of Kryptonian society is inherent in the human condition as well, and that is what Jor-El empowers his son to prevent.  “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”  Both of his fathers know he was born with the capacity to do exactly that.  However, they also know that in order for him to do this the people have to be ready.  The entire film is seeking the answer to that very question.  Are the people in the movie ready?  Are we the viewers ready?

Are we?

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Week 89 (May 15, 2013)

  • Batwoman #20 is yet another game changing issue in a game changing series.  Years ago Batwoman fought a madwoman in the guise of a Religion of Crime prophetess names Alice, who looked like a latex fetish version of the famous Wonderland heroine.  Spoke a lot like her, too.  After defeating her, and only moments before she fell to her “death”, Batwoman realized that Alice was in fact her long “dead” twin, Elizabeth.  Well for the second time Beth has defied death to be found in the land of the living, this time in the custody of the D.E.O., comprising yet another manacle Director Bones has chained to Kate Kane’s leg to assure compliance with the agency’s whims.  On the other side of the narrative are the family and friends of Kate.  Up until last issue they had no idea that Kate was a D.E.O. puppet, being forced into doing their bidding.  Thanks to Kate’s dad, Col. Jacob Kane, the Colonel, Kate’s cousin and one time sidekick Betty (aka Flamebird), Kate’s stepmother Katherine, and Kate’s fiancee Det. Maggie Sawyer all know what she is doing and more importantly WHY she’s been doing it.  Within the close circle of confidantes is a great deal of dissent.  Kate hasn’t spoken to her father since she learned about Beth’s still being alive.  Katherine is livid that her husband has kept the secret of her stepdaughter and step-niece’s nocturnal activities a secret, amongst other things.  Det. Maggie Sawyer is still a little on edge after finding out the woman she loves is in fact the criminal whom she is tasked by Gotham Central to bring in for vigilantism.  All of these quibbles are quelled with the revelation of the horrible situation that Kate has fallen into, for all intents and purposes being enslaved by a shadowy government agency to do their dirty work, as well as the situation facing Beth Kane and her fragile psychological state.  From the looks of it, this could be the turning point from the beginning of the series that will emancipate Kate and turn the book onto a completely new status quo.  I am hoping that it does.  Cowriters J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have kept this series constantly evolving and its readers always on their toes.  For that reason this series has been a must read book and a delight to read month after month for twenty-two straight months (both zero issues included).
  • Batgirl #20 is another issue that changes the entire flow of its series.  With issue #19 of Batgirl the dominoed daredoll seemingly killed her brother, James Gordon Jr. With that she has lost the good grace of Gotham police commissioner and her own father, James Gordon Sr.  But apart from that she has also exacted the heavy toll of having to finally take responsibility for putting her psychotic little brother down once and for all.  If she didn’t, her mother was prepared to, and like a trooper she took the burden of killing him from her mother’s hands.  In this issue she bursts in on her psychiatrist and makes her veiled confessions, keeping the details that would reveal her masked secret, but still attempting to gain some semblence of catharsis. The issue also reintroduces a classic Batman villain, the Ventriloquist, who comes on the scene.  This time around the dummy is named Ferdie, not the gangster doll, Scarface, and the ventriloquist is a timid young woman named Shauna that has lacked the ability for self-expression.  In the past it’s always been hinted at, but never concretely proved that the ventriloquist dummy somehow was calling the shots, yet still maintaining the reality of deep psychosis in the human involved.  However, this version is dangerously close to shattering that by having the doll seem to move by itself with no strings attached in several panels.  I can’t say that I am a fan of that kind of fourth wall tipping.  However, other aspects of the emerging Batgirl mythos merging together in this issue, such as the crippled former gang member that Barbara has been flirting with and the sinister socialite/vigilante Knightfall lends a sense of long term world building under the capable hands of writer Gail Simone.  Definitely an excellent issue.

    Fourth Wall Broken

    Fourth Wall Broken

  • Nightwing #20 has our title character nestling into his new life in Chicago.  It’s not idyllic to say the least.  He is awoken from a sound sleep after a looooong night of crime fighting by the woman who’s apartment he’d been subletting (unbeknownst to her) kicking him in the chest and brandishing a baseball bat over his head.  Not the best way to wake up in the morning.  Then comes the discovery that Tony Zucco, the mobster who murdered Nightwing’s parents, is under the protection of the mayor’s office.  The Alderman who the Prankster forced to burn his amassed wealth to fend off ravenous wolves is found early the following morning alive, albeit with his arm ripped off and being eaten by said wolves.  A confrontation with the masked anti-hero or villain (hard to nail down) is inevitable and culminates in a very intriguing cliffhanger ending.  Kyle Higgins has been writing this series exquisitely since issue one and the fun doesn’t look to be close to stopping anytime soon.  Brett Booth’s artistic contributions to this series have been considerable, lending a deal of smooth, effortless lines that jibe exceptionally well with Dick Grayson’s persona as an acrobat/aerialist.  I look forward to seeing further adventures of the former Robin in the Windy City.

    It's Always Funny Until Someone Loses an Arm . . .

    It’s Always Funny Until Someone Loses an Arm . . .

  • Red Hood and the Outlaws #20 picks up after last issue where Jason Todd, after a month of horrors (told over several months of issues) goes to the Acres of All, home of the All-Caste, and has his memories voluntarily erased.  Last issue, his friends and comrades Roy Harper (Red Arrow) and Princess Koriand’r (Starfire) tracked him down to help him in his moment of need only to find him erased of all his memories and as well as the darkness they engendered inside him.  Angered by this Roy and Starfire accost the gatekeeper of the  Acres of All (also the only remaining member of the All-Caste left alive) for his part in it.  The resultant conversation takes the two “Outlaws” through a tour of the accumulated memories extracted from Jason’s mind to give a sample of just what pain and torment the gatekeeper had expunged from Jason’s mind.  What also comes about is an exploration of who Roy and Starfire are as well.  In the past Roy was in a bad spot with Green Arrow  and life in general and out of the blue, the newly minted Robin (Jason) showed up and with great optimism and kindness helped Roy through a really tough moment.  From that point on, Roy had an anchor that has connected him with Jason compelling him to help out the anti-heroic former Robin.  Starfire’s past is also laid out, albeit far less complementary.  Upon the conclusion of this issue, one thing is certain, things have changed and for good or ill, Jason is moving forward without the keystone events that have thus far shaped him into what we have come to know as the figure called the Red Hood.  In the last couple of pages, new writer James Tynion sets up the intro for what will be the Red Hood and the Outlaws first ever annual, coming out in two weeks.

    A Red Arrow and a Red Hood

    A Red Arrow and a Red Hood

  • Legion of Super-Heroes #20 marches forward towards its blowout conclusion.  Glorith, Ultraboy, and Chameleon Boy escape Rimbor for Sorcerers World only to find that planet also under siege by another member of the Fatal Five, Validus.  The three legionnaires link up with their former comrade and ruler of Sorcerers World, Black Witch, and her legionnaire lover, Blok to combat this evil.  Glorith and Black Witch are able to deal with the ravaging monster, but the cost is quite dear.  It also lands Ultraboy and Chameleon Boy in a heap of trouble.  Elsewhere on the Promethean giant we see further trevails of Legion leader, Phantom Girl, and her surviving colleagues, Invisible Kid and Polar Boy.  Though the true meaning of these events aren’t fully explained, they could mean another tragic end to a valiant hero.  Paul Levitz’s Legion is a testament to the title and its characters and a shining example of the possibilities of such a massive concept populated by round, dynamic characters.  Levitz’s is the best Legion of any run, and I will stand by that assertion.  However, DC is cancelling the series after August’s issue #23, so we are indeed looking at an endgame in the storytelling.  A total shame.
  • Supergirl #20 closed last issue on a very alarming conundrum.  Power-Girl, the Kara Zor-El of Earth-2 exiled to our reality, teams up with Supergirl, the Kara Zor-El native to our universe, and the two convalesce in the latter’s submarine sanctuary called . . . Sanctuary.  However, Sanctuary is comprised of Kryptonian A.I. and one of the key cultural heresies following the clone wars on Krypton is the existence of clones.  Well, both Kara’s are genetically identical meaning that Sanctuary intuits one of them to be be a clone.  Ironically, the one deemed to be a clone is in fact the true Kara to our reality, Supergirl.  Not to say that Power Girl isn’t as perturbed as her other self nor that she doesn’t do her utmost to rectify the situation.  This issue is basically a giant brawl between the two Maidens of Steel and the Kryptonian base they are trapped within.  The issue seems simple in this way, but in fact this conflict is quite complex, fitting within a larger drama.  Supergirl left Krypton as a teenager, unlike her cousin, Clark, who left as a baby, and as such laments a world and culture that were her life.  When she came to Earth she had  to cope with the loss of everything and everyone she knew and loved.  When H’el came on the scene she was tempted with the promise of having that life restored, only for it to come crashing down again in front of her.  Sanctuary was the last shred of Krypton that she had.  In this issue that one last piece of home turned on her and ruthlessly tried to kill her.  She is slowly losing her identity piecemeal, and a situation is developing wherein she will be forced to make a life among the humans and become a completely new woman.  I really feel pity for her, but am enthusiastic at the chance for her to become the incredible character she was pre-Reboot and develop the relationships she had in the past with other superheroes.  Michael Allan Nelson as well as his predecessors Mike Johnson and Frank Hannah have done a killer job writing her in complex, engaging ways that give her leeway to be a dumb teenager doing foolish things without demonizing her or making her any less compelling of a heroine.  Her hero’s journey has been and looks to continue to be something worth watching.

    Kryptonian Sunrise

    Kryptonian Sunrise

  • Vibe #4 begins with the armored intruder in the Ramon household introducing himself as Breacher, the first interdimensional traveller to come to Earth and be imprisoned by A.R.G.U.S.  He came to warn Earth of Darkseid’s impending invasion, but was ignored and incarcerated.  He also warned Cisco not to trust his employers as they are hiding something from him.  Breacher is unable to elaborate as he is pulled against his will to another dimesion, probably his place of origin.  In the mean time, Vibe is sent to catch the escaped inmate, codenamed Gypsy.  Like Kid Flash last issue he fights her but eventually comes to speak with her in private and learns she is not an interdimensional warmonger, as he had been briefed, but just an interdimensional wander who was imprisoned like Breacher.  Finally bucking the system, Cisco shakes his A.R.G.U.S handlers and agrees to help Gypsy get home.  In the process he runs afowl of A.R.G.U.S head Amanda Waller and opens a can of worms that could spell dire consequences of him and his future as a superhero.  Sterling Gates takes over for Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg with great skill, maintaining the feel and excellence which began the series.
  • Wonder Woman #20 brings the family of Zeus closer to all-out conflict.  Artemis is dispatched to England to kill Zeus’ last born child, Zeke, and Wonder Woman yet again comes to the aid of her baby brother.  In the meantime, Lennox returns and escorts Hera and Zola in the attempt to get Zeke to safety.  However, Artemis and Apollo are not the only ones of Zeus’ children looking for the Last Born.  The First Born also knows that Zeke is the key to the throne of Olympus and looks to commune with his baby brother in the attempt to claim what he feels is his birthright.  Brian Azzarello certainly has a vision for this title and pushes onward setting a very sordid, complex gameboard upon which the Greek gods politick against one another.  Ares, or War as Azzarello likes to refer to him, comes off as a blood-soaked philosopher, and perhaps a way of Azzarello inserting himself into the title.  He does bear an uncanny resemblance to the Wonder Woman scribe.  Also revealed is the reason for Cassandra, the First Born’s attache’s, metal throat.  There is some messed up family politics behind that number.  I’ve fought with my sisters before, but I have never ripped their larynges out.  Yikes.  Azzarello with the help of artists Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins, and Goran Sudzuka have knocked this title out of the park.  I think what I like about the series thus far it that it is a completely different take on the saga of the Amazing Amazon than most fans have seen on a large scale.  It really roots her in mythic origins and divorces her from the contemporary DCU events, if only for the moment, to really give voice to the Greek drama that is her life.  Intriguing to be sure.

    Sibling Rivalry

    Sibling Rivalry

  • Sword of Sorcery #8 is finally here.  Though I hate to see this wonderful series come to a close, I am geared up for the incredible finale that has been so wonderfully built toward.  Eclipso has subdued both House Onyx and House Diamond, the two bloodlines that once gave him power.  They again fall under his sway.  It falls to the newly minted lord and ladies of House Amethyst, House Citrine and House Turquoise to stop him.  Amaya has a plan and it is a risky gambit that turns the very premise the first issue was based upon on its head.  Amaya’s ancestor, Lady Chandra, was the one who defeated the undefeatable Lord Kaala (Eclipso) when he first appeared in Nilaa. The question arises as to whether Amaya, young though she may be, can emulate her forebearer and put him down once more.  The course of this title has been circuitous and fraught with medieval political intrigue not unlike Game of Thrones.  It’s strange that this fact didn’t save it from cancellation, but the hope remains that somewhere down the road someone will resurrect it from the pivotal moment upon which it ends.  Writer Christy Marx can be proud of herself with this title and artist Aaron Lopresti presents his usual level of excellence in its depiction.  All nine issues of this series (zero issue included) are well worth reading.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batgirl #20:  Drawn by Daniel Sampere & Carlos Rodriguez, Colored by Blond, Inked by Jonathan Glapion & Vincente Cifuentes

Nightwing #19: Drawn by Brett Booth, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse, Inked by Norm Rapmund

Red Hood and the Outlaws #19:  Art by Julius Gopez, Colored by Nei Ruffino

Supergirl #19:  Art by Mahmud Asrar, Colored by Dave McCaig

Wonder Woman #19: Art by Cliff Chiang & Goran Sudzuka, Colored by Matthew Wilson

Week 88 (May 8, 2013)

  • Batman #20 concludes the second installment in a two issue arc of writer Scott Snyder’s exploration of the character Clayface.  Clayface has achieved the ability to completely mimic, right down to DNA scans, the people with whom he makes physical contact.  In the case of this issue, set up by the conclusion of its predecessor, he has taken on the persona of Bruce Wayne and seeks to impugn the noted Gotham billionaire and philanthropist.  It’s a short story, considering its division over just two issues, but has all the characteristic intelligence, insight, and scientific elaboration that Scott Snyder is renown for in his works.  Here, however, the plot seems a bit hard to hold on to.  Perhaps it is because it lacks the epic scope of his previous “Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family” arcs.  Obviously Batman has run of the mill cases that are by comparison more arbitrary to these overarching events, but they do cast a long shadow on the lesser plotlines.  Snyder does, however, put in an impossible escape for Bruce to elude in this issue in order to maintain his secret and his life, as well as stop the polymorphic villain.  With June’s “Batman: Year Zero” Snyder will be starting another long term story in the Batman title that has all the promise of innovation and long term canon making.  I very much look forward to it.  In the backup feature, writer James Tynion IV concludes his two part story, “Ghost Lights” with Superman and Batman banishing a Will-o-the-Wisp that was accidentally summoned by kids meddling with magicks beyond their comprehension.  A decent story, but not one of Tynion’s best.

    Bruce Wayne and the Batman

    Bruce Wayne and the Batman

  • Batman & Red Hood #20 brings Batman another step closer to complete collapse.  Following the death of his only child, Damian, he has sunk into a psychotic meloncholy the likes of which has never been seen in the Dark Knight’s many titles.  Like last issue a former Robin steps in to fulfill the “robin” portion of “Batman & Robin.”  Here Jason Todd, the Red Hood, prepares to leave the mansion after the events of Red Hood and the Outlaws #18.  Batman stops him and requests that Jason accompany him to the Magdala Valley in Ethiopia to take down a syndicate of international assassins, some of which responded to the hit put on Damian by Talia Al-Ghul.  The mission actually looks to heal the rift between the former mentor/protegee.  However, as with Batman and the most volatile of his sidekicks, the rift can never truly be closed and the attempt threatens to deepen said rift.  Altruism isn’t Batman’s forte and being played (especially after learning the Joker’s part in his tragic existence) is the last thing that Jason is going to put up with.  Peter Tomasi writes this series exquisitely, really playing off the Bat family’s intrinsic traits and flaws to craft a very engaging, emotional drama amid one of the most tragic events within the Batbooks in recent years.  Also in the background is the continued presence of Carrie Kelley, begging the question of whether she indeed is going to take her place as the first official female Robin in the history of the Bat titles.  Every aspect of this book is amazing.  Read it.

    Old Wounds Made Fresh

    Old Wounds Made Fresh

  • Justice League of America #3 picks up following the JLA’s encounter with the robotic versions of the Justice League as built by Prof. Ivo.  These mechanical menaces push them close to their limits while at the same time making them rely on eachother for the first time as a cohesive team.  However, as the team dynamic gets ironed out certain members find their roles to be not quite what they expected.  Green Arrow, after risking his life to expose the Secret Society, is cut loose.  Courtney Whitmore, aka Stargirl, finds herself as a mere mascot and a showpiece member of the team.  Catwoman learns that as a known criminal she is on the team as bait for the Secret Society to latch onto.  Geoff Johns is trending this title in an interesting direction.  It has a darker tone and with the characters and plots he is working with it fits perfectly.  His attempt at darkening the Justice League and shaking things up in that title was initially awful and at present merely passable.  David Finch’s artwork on this title is perhaps the most engaging aspect, really setting the tone and the ambiance.  In the backup feature Matt Kindt shows the revelations granted to both Catwoman and Martian Manhunter when the latter delves into Catwoman’s mind.  He sees her past and what drives her and by virtue of that she is also granted a glimpse at his life on Mars and a quick look at who he is.   Overall, this title is one that seems to have a great amount of impact on the course of the DCU as well as some very interesting and innovative plots.

    Dissent in the Ranks

    Dissent in the Ranks

  • Superboy #20 jumps back in time two months, returning to the introduction of Superboy to the rebooted Dr. Psycho, now seemingly a young boy, teenaged at the oldest.  In Superboy #18 Psycho merely followed Superboy, marvelling at his power and seeking to feed off his telekinetic potential.  In this issue the two characters finally meet and find themselves forced into a shaky alliance of mutual benefit.  Being attacked by a purple ox-like bruiser named Dreadnaught and a green alien looking guy named Psiphon, we are informed through intimation that Dreadnaught, Psiphon, and Psycho are all part of an organization called “H.I.V.E.” and that Dr. Psycho, or Edgar, is a drone in H.I.V.E. that has escaped.  New series writer Justin Jordan takes over the title in this issue from former writers Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco with the help of regular series artist R.B. Silva and guest artists Kenneth Rocafort and Chriscross.  It feels like he picked up the ball mid-air, but Jordon’s work seems conistent with his two predecessors, ensuring the quality we have enjoyed thus far and looking to end in a slam dunk.  Also the “H.I.V.E.”  plot looks to spill over into the Superman title as well, which is penned by Lobdell so that is ramping up to be a must read event.
  • Ravagers #12 provides the final issue of this short lived Teen Titans-esque series.  Really it seemed like a “Teen Titans East” kind of title, but with a distinct edge.  These superpowered youths came together not out of common goals, but as a means of protection as they flee the grasp of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and its sinister overarchitect, Harvest.  This issue shows how fleeting their goals of freedom are.  Last issue Harvest dispatched Deathstroke, the world’s deadliest assassin, to hunt down the escaped Ravagers as well as the two Ravagers who tried and failed to retrieve their errant comrades, Rose Wilson (Deathstroke’s own daughter) and Warblade.  In the end, this series didn’t conclude on a happy note, but it didn’t end on a completely sad one either.  With few exceptions, the cast of characters lived to see another day and a new status quo was set up for many of them.  The fate of Terra and Beast Boy looks to be a perfect setup for a “Judas Contract” plotline, as well as Raven and Beast Boy entering into the Teen Titans title reminiscent of their original membership in the New Teen Titans title in the early 80’s.  And most of all Caitlin Fairchild’s history is revealed giving some very intriguing possibilities for her future in other ongoing series throughout the DCU.

    A Fateful Encounter

    A Fateful Encounter

  • Demon Knights #20 begins a new arc following the conclusion of the “Army of Cain” plotline.  The Demon Knights have helped the Amazons beat the vampiric hoard of the First Damned from the shores of Themyscira and now convalesce after a hard fought battle.  The most pure of them, Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight, had been bitten and now stands on the verge of being turned.  Exoristos is welcomed back by Queen Hippolyta who had exiled her years before.  The new goal of the Knights is to retrieve the Holy Grail from its hiding place and Hippolyta says she can help.  Writer Robert Vendetti resumes the startling factoid of how the Amazons procreate.  I think that it was startling enough when Brian Azzarello first introduced the concept of the Amazons as rapist murders, but the playful way they make light of it in this issue just makes it all the more disturbing.  Anyway, one of the sailors the Amazons raped and murdered in the past told of the location of the grail and it was chronicled in a log book.  Mixed feeling about this issue and this series. 
  • Threshold #5 opens on a very interesting, precarious predicament.  The Collector, whom we know as Brainiac, has descended on the main world of Lady Styx’s dominion, Tolerance, and absconded with a small portion of it.  Left in its place is a gaping wound in the otherwise sprawling urban landscape.  Styx brokered a decent deal with Brainiac and so unlike other worlds he visited, Tolerance remains intact and otherwise unmolested.  The catch is that the residents of the selected area are not to be warned of their impending abduction.  As a result, the disgraced Green Lantern Jediah Caul and space pirate Captain K’Rot find themselves trapped in one of Brainiac’s fabled bottles.  One thing that has been apparent about this series from the first issue was the scope.  Threshold spans over a wide array of characters all being hunted by citizens of the Tenebrian Dominion in a reality show based sport killing.  This issue follows closely the character of Jediah Caul, really focusing in on him as a character.  Since he first showed up in Green Lantern: The New Guardians Annual #1, Caul has been depicted as nefarious.  However, the green lantern ring he wields chose him for a reason.  This issue may not reveal that reason per se, but it does cast a very intriguing look at the former Green Lantern and how he is willing to resolve issues such as the one he has landed himself in.  His answer to this particular dilemma is not one that would immediately come to mind when imagining a typical Green Lantern’s response, but there is some method behind his madness.  Keith Giffen yet again weaves a fascinating cosmic tale in a far reaching odyssey.  And in the final installment of his Larfleeze backup feature Giffen finally reveals what happened in the first installment five issues ago as well as the way in which the departed Guardian, Sayd, perpetrated the perfect crime.  Once all the shadows have been lifted from the proceedings the plot itself is amazingly well crafted and ingeniously executed.  Giffen has a talent for complex, multifaceted storytelling and this five part story of the sole Orange Lantern showcases those talents brilliantly.  So much so that the story will move on from here into its own monthly title.  Both Giffen and Larfleeze deserve nothing less.

    A Whole New Perspective

    A Whole New Perspective

  • Smallville Season 11 #13 begins a new arc that explores heavily one of the barely tapped gems of the “Smallville” TV series: the Legion of Super-Heroes.  It also returns Booster Gold, his computerized aide and sidekick Skeets, and to a smaller degree Blue Beetle.  Clark, as of last issue, has shed the radioactive isotope Lex placed in him that effectively separated him from Lois for months.  Now he is torn from his fiancee again when Booster Gold’s stolen Legion of Superheroes ring malfunctions due to a coded distress signal transmitted through time to it.  In the 31st century Earthgov has turned against the Legion and they find themselves in a bind.  This comes as the result of a new sister planet to Earth, New Krypton, arriving in our solar system.  That world was created by Clark in the ninth season of the series as a home for the Kryptonians under the command of Zodd following the that season’s finale.  The arrival of a planet of superpowered beings puts Earthgov on its heels, turning public sentiment and policy against superpowered beings and certainly the alien members of the Legion.  Clark comes forward and attempts to adjudicate the issue.  Going in, he encounters a newer character to the actual Legion of Super-Heroes pantheon, Earth Man, Kirt Niedrigh.  Niedrigh is the a government minister in possession of a high value prisoner that Clark aims to release.  The identity of that prisoner brings about another resurrection from the show’s illustrious canon.  This issue very aptly introduces a new arc while also emboldening the past of both the comic series itself and the television show that inspired it.

 

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

Batman #20:  Drawn by Greg Capullo, Colored by FCO Placcencia, Inked by Jonathan Glapion & Marc DeeringDanny Miki

Batman & Robin #20: Drawn by Patrick Gleason, Colored by John Kalisz, Inked by Mick Gray & Mark Irwin

Justice League of America #20: Drawn by David Finch, Colored by Sonia Oback, Inked by Richard Friend & David Finch

The Ravagers #12: Drawn by Diogenes Neves, Colored by Tony Avina, Inked by Vincente Cifuentes

Threshold #5:  Art by Tom Raney, Colored by Andrew Dalhouse