Every issue of a comic book is somebody’s first, as the saying goes, and DC’s New 52 revamp was supposedly built around this principle. Forget continuity, focus on characters, make superheroes relevant for a 21st century audience. Measuring by their own yardstick, DC ought to be ashamed at the current state of what by rights should be their flagship title– Superman.
This book sucks. Reading through issue eight of the recently relaunched Man of Steel title was such a painful experience that I only have middle school vocabulary left in my mind to describe it: It totally sucks. It sucks hard.
You know those straight-to-video superhero movies of yore, the type of comic adaptations that got so little right about a character it made you wonder why they even bothered licensing the name? Superman #8 reads like one of those movies. From the corny, seen-it-a-million times S.W.A.T. team voice-over of the opening pages to the equally corny, seen-it-a-million times villainous taunting of Helspont, every beat, every panel in this comic feels tired. New 52? More like the worst of the last 20 years of comics, condensed and blended into a strange puree of fail.
Veteran creators Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens share co-plotting credits on this issue, nothing short of baffling considering that nothing happens whatsoever. Seriously, I could not make out what actually happened in this story. Superman flies around, breaks through some walls, has a lengthy chat with Helspont, and…that’s it, really.
Giffen and Jurgens are DC mainstays and both have done work much, much better than this. As a reader, I was excited to see what these two would be bringing to the table on this title. Both have had memorable runs on a host of superhero titles, and Jurgens’ Superman work has a special place in the comic pantheon. The Death of Superman storyline, spearheaded by Jurgens, remains one of the most engaging and daring things ever done with the character. “Gotta stop Doomsday!” still has a nice ring to it, nearly two decades later. Unfortunately, there is none of that chutzpah to be found in Giffen and Jurgens latest take on the Last Son of Krypton. Reading this issue, I got the feeling that the book is more of a gig than a labor of love. The whole thing has a heavy varnish of editorial production–words of paper, art in panels, color on art– Ship it out, boys!
That kind of workman approach might be acceptable on a title like Red Hood and the Outlaws, but I’m of the breed that thinks Superman deserves better treatment. This is the one comic character known by everyone, and I mean everyone, in the world. I’ll back that claim up: I was recently traveling through South America, and while sporting a pair of black framed glasses (more for durability than fashion) had several people call me out to me “Mira! Clark Kent!” Even if in the most remote barrio, people know who Superman is and they even know his alter-ego. They know where he lives. They know his girlfriend’s name. Go ask those same people what Wolverine’s name is or who Hawkeye is–They won’t know what the hell you are talking about.
But Superman–Everyone knows Superman. Everyone.
That’s the biggest problem with this book. It doesn’t read like a comic anyone could pick up and enjoy. In fact, it reads a lot like a mid-90s Wildstorm comic: a lot of frenetic “action”, a lot of word balloons overlaid on art that does not seem particularly well meshed, a lot of Helspont.
Let’s talk about Helspont, or rather, let’s talk about how Helspont talks. It took me a second reading of the issue to pick up on it, but once I did it was unmistakable–Helspont is Skeletor. This Jim Lee creation is being position as the new chief bad guy in the newly reformed DC Universe, and he reads like a one-dimensional character from a 25-year-old cartoon show. I dare you to pickup this issue and not read Helspont in Skeletor’s voice.
This comic wouldn’t be all that bad if it were, say, given away free with an action figure or stuffed into the back of video game. But the fact that DC is sending this to the racks and expecting people to spend money on it is just sad. That sadness is amplified by having the other monthly Superman book, Action Comics (oozing quality at the moment–go read it!), standing in stark contrast to the dreck that is Superman right on the same rack.
Given the hoopla surrounding the New 52 and the perch that Superman holds in global pop culture, having his eponymous title feel so worn and passionless is just plain mystifying. Forget about winning over a new generation of readers–If DC keeps producing comics like Superman #8, it risks losing whatever aging readership it still has left.