T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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Superman #16 wrapped up the Multiplicity arc in an issue combining a variety of talents: Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason crafted the story, Tony S. Daniel and Clay Mann shared the pencilling duties, and Sandu Florea and Seth Mann teamed up to do the inking. Are these dualities, are are they only symmetries? ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King brings you his review.
(Warning: Major spoilers follow!)
Superman #16 Review:
Prophecy has the pre-Flashpoint Superman in his grasp. With his powers gone and the Ultima Thule grounded, can the Rebirth Metropolis Marvel save his fellow Men of Steel? Who in the House of Heroes will sacrifice himself to save the day . . . and what looming threat may grow greater yet when Prophecy is defeated?
Superman #16 Synopsis:
After purposely placing himself in harm’s way, Superman is subjected by Prophecy to the same energy extraction process previously suffered by Captain Carrot. The gargantuan villain explains to the weakened Kal-El that the multiverse faces a threat, which Prophecy intends to meet after he has stolen the strength of the Supermen and Superwomen of every universe. The Man of Tomorrow is put to work digging his own grave alongside his colleagues while the inert Ultima Thule emits nothing but a tune.
The Justice League Incarnate reunites at the House of Heroes, where the valiant champions pick up the musical signal coming from the missing ship. Despite knowing that he will be required to compress more time than his body can withstand, Red Racer of Earth-36 sacrifices his life to build another Ultima Thule with all the speed he can muster. In Prophecy’s encampment, Clark Kent inspires Captain Carrot, Superwoman, the New Super-Man, and the rest, while Calvin Ellis leads Etrigan, Overman, and others in the new ship to the older vessel’s beacon. Together, with the kidnapped Kryptonians’ stolen powers restored, the Supersquad conquers Prophecy, who is transported away in defeat… and, like Doomsday before him, is caged by his enemy, Mr. Oz.
Superman #16 Analysis:
Although the story takes up a standard 20 pages, Multiplicity — Conclusion feels bigger than that. The issue’s epic sense of scope begins with the cover of Superman #16, on which Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Marcelo Maiolo foreshadow the tale’s final battle by depicting an assault on Prophecy by the pre-Flashpoint Superman, Kenan Kong, and the Man (or Woman) of Steel analogues of Earths-3, -6, -11, -23, -26, -47, and -50, among others. There are a lot of S-shields and red capes coming to the rescue in this one.
Of course, because Multiplicity was a three-part arc in an ongoing title, rather than a line-wide event of greater length but predetermined scope, the adventure that reaches its climax in Superman #16 doesn’t quite have the literal or metaphorical heft of Final Crisis and The Multiversity, the ambitious Grant Morrison metanarratives of which Tomasi’s and Gleason’s latest tale unabashedly is the continuation. That, though, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Morrison, after all, is one of the most polarizing creators in comics for a reason. His work invites questions about what his stories mean, causes even fans who enjoy his stories to concede that his epics sometimes are pretentious messes, requires placing a new offering in the context of his ongoing oeuvre, actively works against analysis, and occasionally includes political implications the author almost certainly did not intend. None of that means it isn’t good, naturally, but it can produce confusing mixes of messages that may muddle the storytelling and offer an impenetrable density to readers who understandably lack enough affinity for obscure minutiae to catch many of his deep-track callbacks — all of which makes Morrison a tough act to follow.
In Superman #16, Tomasi and Gleason deliver a finale that, while consistent with Morrison’s vision, eschews unnecessary complexity without sacrificing depth. To the contrary, Multiplicity — Conclusion is absolutely true to the upbeat baseline theme running through Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, offering a deceptively straightforward echo of its simple central message when the Man of Tomorrow defiantly promises: “They can’t kill me.” His incredulous coevals remind him his powers are gone, prompting him to clarify that Prophecy “might be able to kill me, but he can’t kill us.” The Last Son of Krypton speaks these words while standing in his own grave, a setting designed to put the reader in mind of the tombstone engraved: “To be continued”.
In a stirring sequence alternating images of Calvin Ellis coming to the rescue with Clark Kent exhorting his conquered comrades, Superman explains that, while any individual one of them might meet his or her end in the coming confrontation, the indestructible ideal the Man of Steel iconically embodies will endure “as long as there’s one person left taking a breath with an ’S’ on their chest.” Still unconvinced, one of the prisoners reasonably asks why he is so certain the Justice League Incarnate even will be able to find them. The Action Ace answers: “Little bit of planning and a lot of hope.” In short, Superman #16 is about putting others first and never giving up — which is the essence of every good story about the Big Blue Boy Scout.
Admittedly, it is less than completely clear precisely how the new Ultima Thule breaking through the Bleed reverses the energy extraction process and recharges the Superfolks’ powers, but, hey, we’re in multiversal interdimensional space-time continuum Orrery territory here, so there’s only so much sense the pseudo-science is ever really going to make, and colorist Dinei Ribeiro’s glowing S-shields look cool, so the audience is advised just to roll with it. Multiplicity — Conclusion gets the big picture right, so Tomasi and Gleason deserve to be cut a little slack on the fine details.
The story of Superman #16 certainly is more direct than those of Morrison’s antecedent opuses, but the latest installment does not lack for allusions to earlier classics. Calvin Ellis cradles Red Racer’s lifeless form in a panel that recreates the cover image from Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. The musical motif from Final Crisis plays an equally critical role in Multiplicity — Conclusion, while the discharge of the Superfolks’ stolen powers from Prophecy’s raised fist is evocative of The Multiversity’s Empty Hand, the Silver Age story Superman’s New Power!, and All-Star Superman’s homage to that 1950s adventure… and that is before the villain’s hand is severed in a grisly nod to the unfortunate dismemberment trend in comics. Finally, the whole thing is brought full circle when Clark and Kenan return to Earth and spend time chatting with one another in Shanghai while sharing a meal on a rooftop, a la the New 52 Metropolis Marvel and his pal Jimmy Olsen in Superman #39.
Much like the TARDIS, Superman #16 is bigger on the inside; for a standard-sized issue in a regular publication, Multiplicity — Conclusion involves a lot of characters, advances existing plotlines within the series, and incorporates broader themes from earlier overarching event comics, all while keeping the core of the starring character in a stirringly central role and concluding the particular story arc in a way that rang true, in spite of its lack of painstaking explanations. Personally, I’m not going to vivisect this unicorn — or, more exactly, try to love the pieces — when I can just enjoy the whole that was at least as great as the sum of its parts.
Did the Ultima Thule sing a song sung blue for you, or was your reaction to Superman #16 to give it a hand?
Follow the beacon through the Bleed and ComiConverse with us in the comments about Multiplicity — Conclusion!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics