Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Superman #24

Superman #24 came out this week, the next chapter in the Manchester Black storyline, and I have to say this was one busy issue, filling in a lot of answers over what has been happening in the sleepy town of Hamilton all these months.

Since Rebirth, I have had some concerns and questions over what has been happening around the town. Why would an alien be posing as Lois' editor? Why would giant squids be erupting from the ground? Why does farmer Cobb seem evil? Why did Jon immolate his kitten? Why???

It turns out that this has been a true long play for storytellers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Almost every question I have been asking can be answered with 'because that is what Manchester Black wanted'. And that makes me happy.

I often complain about how in this day and age, books are written for the trade. How lingering subplots and strong supporting casts seem to be cast aside to tell a neat 6 issue adventure. I doubt that the layered approach that Paul Levitz brought to his Legion could survive these days. To find out that since day one, we as readers (and the Kents as characters) have been strung along by villains posing as friends is frankly ingenious. And, I'll say it again, it is also rare in this era of comics.

Now the issue isn't perfect. The reasoning behind all the chaos seems to come out of left field a bit. I felt like I needed to reread the issue to make sure I understood what was happening. And maybe just a wee bit of exposition might have helped things. But overall, the very idea of having all the prior mysteries come together in this thread is pretty slick.

The art on the issue is mostly Doug Mahnke and he brings a sort of frenetic, over-stuffed, 'what the heck is happening' feeling to some panels which add to the chaotic feel of the story. But he also pulls back at times, giving us splashes and larger panels when the action dictates. There are some pages by Patrick Gleason as well giving us a quiet moment of strength for Lois, showcasing just how defiant she is during times of danger.

On to the book!

We start out in deep space where a ship lost in hyperspace rift is battling the alien race the Kroog. On board is a young girl alien who is forced to witness the decimation of her world. The Kroog have killed everyone she has loved.

On board the ship is Manchester Black. he spouts his usual propaganda about how justice needs to be harsh. Truth and justice are won with fang and claw. The Kroog should be erased from existence.

Scared and homeless, the alien crew ask for Black's help and are willing to do anything to not live in fear anymore. And just like that, they are working for him.

If you recognize the body shapes and sentiment of the grandfather and granddaughter, you should. It's Cobb and Kathy. I suppose this means my guess that Kathy is Halo is wrong.

But what is more interesting here is that both sides of this battle seem to think the other violated an armistice. Perhaps Black was the one who instigated all this to prove a point. And that explains why the Kroog posing as the editor was in Hamilton, to track down these 'war criminal'.

The 'quantum rift' the ship is in is collapsing. There is little choice for the crew but to ask Black to save them and bring them to an inhabitable planet. He agrees, calling his new friends The Elite and vowing to teach them to grow fangs and fight for themselves.

Obviously they head to Earth.

This is where just a smidge of exposition might have helped. How did Black get into space? The crew looks like a diverse group of aliens ... are they all from the same planet? How did this Kroog war start? And why fight in an unstable quantum rift? Okay ... I'll roll with it.

Back on Earth, Cobb are starting to question what they are doing.

Cobb suddenly sounds like the reasonable farmer we first met. They went along with Black to be safe. They didn't mind the mission to watch over Jon. But the danger in Hamilton is real. All that has happened in Hamilton goes against their desire for safety.  The giant squids are monsters from the quantum rift leaking into this world. Manchester Black is the only thing holding back a complete collapse of reality at that point.Perhaps it is time to question what they are doing.

The rest of the Elite are not on board. They remember what happened when they acted 'weak'. They stand with Black and his tactics.

I like that Cobb is somewhat conflicted and not all evil.

Meanwhile, Clark has brought Lois to the hospital. Remember her leg was severed last issue. Clark is suddenly unsure of himself, wondering how he could have let danger hide so closely.

It is Lois who steels herself. She reminds Clark of who he is and the strength of their union. He needs to find Jon and end this.

Clark flies off as Superman.

We then get this great panel of Lois quietly lying in her bed, near frowning. She has lost a lot here. And yet she was the one who needed to be strong despite those feelings. Brilliant.

Back in Hamilton, Superman heads to the Cobb farm and discovers a maze of underground tunnels. Before he can investigate, Jon shows up. He is distraught with concern for Lois and that he had to watch that carnage. He wonders why Superman didn't do more. And then he reveals it is Black behind it all.

Now we see how Black's mind games work. He forced Kathy to watch the death of her parents and her world. He forced Jon watch Lois get maimed and the town get leveled. If only someone had done something more demostrative ... more lethal ... maybe they would have survived intact.

Of course Black and Superman have a long history and so we get a couple of pages of brawling before Manchester get control and monologues a bit.

He has been grooming Jon to be the Superman the Earth needs. He has been tinkering with Jon's abilities from afar. He made Jon roast Goldie! (Hooray!) He has been trying to show Jon that his father's ways gentle goodness won't work.

So now Jon's 'on again/off again' powers make more sense. It was Black manipulating things. Very nice.

And rather than simply kill Clark and Lois, he'll have them fail in front of Jon. Then he can truly mold his new apprentice.

I had to chuckle at Black saying that killing Superman would make him a martyr and spur Jon to goodness. After all that is what comic books say.

Anyways, we again hear that the quantum rift is bubbling just under the surface of reality and ready to pop at any moment. Does this explain all the weirdness with undead animals and weird swamp emissions?

Cobb finally has had enough of Black's evil. He attacks Black and is killed.

As he dies, Cobb apologizes to Kathy that he once again failed.

Enraged, Kathy lashes out.

Hmmm ... so much to dwell on here. What are Kathy's powers? She looks formidable? And now that Cobb is dead what is going to happen to her? I doubt she'll be adopted by Lois and Clark. I guess she isn't long for Earth once this story is over. Too bad. I liked her and Jon hanging out.

But despite Kathy's powers and Superman freeing of all the beings kidnapped (Batman, Damien, Frankenstein and his bride), Black is able to hold them all off.

And again, Black's focus is on Jon, making him into the 'hero' the Earth needs, someone who will kill the villain and scrub the world clean. Using his powers, he overwhelms Jon and takes control. Chilling.

One thing I did like is that throughout the book, Black gets irate ... violently livid ... when someone mentions the very name of Superman. This is clearly a weakness, a flaw that can be exploited. But it also shows just how threatened Black is of Superman. He's afraid of him and what he stands for.

So overall, I have to say that I very much like how Tomasi and Gleason really tied a lot of the threads of the first 24 issues of this book into this one major arc. From Jon's powers to the alien Elite townfolk, to the squids, to the Kroog looking for an alien war criminal, it all fits in. That said, it all came at me so quickly in this fast paced issue that I flipped back a lot to make sure I was picking up everything that was being flung at me. In some ways this is a good thing ... lots of story and trusting the reader to keep up. But the reveals are so good, I'd like to savor them a little before the next is revealed.

These are good problems. And brilliantly rendered art wise.

Overall grade: B/B+


Anonymous said...

I have to praise Tomasi for his long-term thinking and plotting. Most of writers nowadays don't expect last long at the helm of a book so they don't seed so many hints with the intention of a long-term pay-off.

Still... Manchester Black was always a lame villain. He worked for a single story. Thus, his constant changing of goals. First he wanted to impose his brand of justice and Superman got in the way. Later he wanted to prove Superman could be pushed to the limit (back then such a terrible idea was called bad fanfiction. Now it's called "high-selling alternate universe line"). And now he wants to indoctrinate the future Superman? Get over it, loser!

"And now that Cobb is dead what is going to happen to her? I doubt she'll be adopted by Lois and Clark. I guess she isn't long for Earth once this story is over. Too bad. I liked her and Jon hanging out."

It reminds me of Adventure Comics 410, when Kara took Judy in after Judy's evil stepfather died.

"But it also shows just how threatened Black is of Superman. He's afraid of him and what he stands for."

Yes, it's like the Joker getting afraid of Batman being right when he said "Life isn't a joke and people aren't a bad day away from becoming you. It's YOU who couldn't take it"

Anonymous said...

P. D.: Preview pages for Supergirl 10!! And is that witch who I think she is?

Martin Gray said...

There was indeed a load of stuff going on. I think it'd be nice if Kathy were offered a place at the Crucible school, where she could be trained in the use of her powers and, more importantly, make new friends.

Great callback to Judy, Anon, I was just re-reading her last story last week.