Review: Superman #21

Kyle King Kyle King
Expert Contributor
April 23rd, 2017

T. Kyle King is a lawyer, a former sports blogger, a panelist on the "Twin Peaks"-centric "Wrapped in Podcast", and a Superman guy.

Review: Superman #21
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Review of: Superman #21
Price:
Riveting

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On April 23, 2017
Last modified:April 23, 2017

Summary:

The story progresses steadily, but the plot details are neither slighted nor forced, and the artwork is exceptional. Apart from Lois Lane's consignment to a limited role, this issue was pretty close to perfect.

Review of: Superman #21
Price:
Riveting

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On April 23, 2017
Last modified:April 23, 2017

Summary:

The story progresses steadily, but the plot details are neither slighted nor forced, and the artwork is exceptional. Apart from Lois Lane's consignment to a limited role, this issue was pretty close to perfect.

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Superman #21 continued the Black Dawn story arc guest-starring Batman and Robin alongside Superman and Superboy. Patrick Gleason provided the pencils and shared the story credit with co-author Peter J. Tomasi. Expert contributor T. Kyle King, who covers all things Kryptonian for ComiConverse, brings you his review of the most recent issue.

(Warning: Major spoilers follow!)

Superman #21 Review:

In this issue, mysteries multiply with few solutions in sight as the Man of Steel’s methods are called into question. An invisible evil pulls the strings behind the scenes… but is the greater threat the one that has been hiding in plain sight all along?

Superman #21 Synopsis:

Damian Wayne awakens at the Kent family farm in Hamilton County to discover his father slipped away in the night and did not return. A concerned Clark Kent instructs his son, Jonathan, and the visiting Damian to don their suits so the superheroes may commence a search. Their departure is delayed, though, when neighboring dairy farmer Cobb Branden and his granddaughter, Kathy, drop by to deliver milk and exchange pleasantries… and perhaps veiled threats.

Elsewhere, a technologically advanced observer shrouded in shadows and deep purples (as distinct from Mr. Oz’s dark greens) decides to waylay the hunt for Bruce Wayne with a distraction, which quickly materializes in the form of a giant squid attacking the county fair. The cephalopod releases ink, which quickly takes humanoid form. While Robin and Superboy contend with the ink men, Superman sends the squid out to sea and traps it. A renewed offensive by the oceanic creature injures innocent bystanders, prompting Superboy to unleash a fatal blast of heat vision. Disappointed in his son, the Man of Steel leaves Jon and Damian behind when he visits the dark house hidden in the swamp, inadvertently putting Robin and Superboy at the mercy of the suddenly sinister Kathy Branden.

Superman #21 Analysis:

While Superman: Reborn represented the culmination of several storylines that had been simmering since the beginning of Rebirth, it left a number of intriguing questions tantalizingly unaddressed. The mysterious Mr. Oz and the unexplained Watchmen connection topped that list, of course, but Black Dawn — Chapter 2 serves as a valuable reminder that many more enigmas persist. The technologically enhanced cephalopod from the series’ second issue, Captain Storm’s wooden leg from Dinosaur Island, Cobb Branden’s confrontation with Frankenstein, Jon’s encounter with a psychedelic moose, and the shrouded house from Jon’s and Kathy’s nightmarish trip to Deadman’s Swamp all either appear or receive meaningful mentions in Superman #21. Everything is moving in the direction of fulfilling L’Call’s remaining prophecies… although it must be asked, didn’t Hamilton County just have a fair?

Story continues below

Despite its many moving parts, however, this issue feels neither rushed nor overly busy. The pace of Black Dawn — Chapter 2, while suitably brisk, nevertheless is unhurried. The co-authors take the time and expend the page space to show us Jonathan Kent’s fantasies of flight, Cobb Branden’s dark power over animals (including even Krypto), Clark Kent’s fatherly insistence upon teaching Jon the importance of tempering power with principle, and the calculating cruelty of the coldhearted Kathy. The creative team behind Superman #21 could have been forgiven for excluding these nuances due to too little room, but — thanks partly to Gleason’s dual role as co-author and penciller — this tale unspools with careful craftsmanship, mixing the salient bits of exposition in with the subtleties of characterization that have made this series so consistently special since the start of Rebirth.

Naturally, there are occasional head-scratching moments in Black Dawn — Chapter 2, such as the surprising discovery that Hamilton County, a rural community a good distance upstate from Metropolis, is close enough to the ocean to have a beach. Likewise, it comes across as a little strange when Lois Lane addresses her neighbor as “Branden”, rather than as either “Cobb” (which is what Clark calls him) or “Mr. Branden” (the way Cobb calls Clark “Mr. Kent”). It bears noting, of course, that Lois has slipped into a somewhat secondary role since sharing center stage with her husband during Superman: Reborn. While it is likely this development is strictly temporary, as other characters are given the spotlight in particular stories, it is important that the newly restored Lane not be upstaged regularly by her son now that the shoddy treatment she received during the New 52 deservedly has been retconned out of the conjoined continuity.

Those concerns, at least for the moment, are minor, though. A lot of quality work went into setting up the events of Superman #21, and that good writing is put to optimal use through the vibrant visuals produced by Gleason, a trio of inkers, and a couple of colorists. The imagery works throughout the issue, but Kathy’s effortless conquest of Robin and Superboy — especially when contrasted with the beneficent display of power by Sara Duffy toward the identical duo in Tomasi’s Super Sons #3 — is exceptionally rendered. Augmented by perfectly suited moody hues, the artistry consistently sparkles.

The cherry on the sundae of Black Dawn — Chapter 2 is the co-authors’ shrewd decision to enhance the sense of mystery by keeping Batman entirely off-panel and giving the audience only just enough clues about the hidden menace lurking behind the scenes. (Between the villain’s facial hair, the inky refugees from Truth, and the title of this arc, I’m virtually certain he’s Vandal Savage… although I am slightly less confident in my theory that Cobb Branden — who now clearly has animal control powers, and who evidently began his campaign to limit Superboy’s powers after his granddaughter saw the lad fry a couple of creatures with his heat vision — is Fauna Faust.) This was another compelling issue, and it was expertly executed once again.

Are you starting to see the light breaking through the Black Dawn? Let us know what you think by ComiConversing with us in the comments about Superman #21!

Superman #21

  • 5

Riveting

The story progresses steadily, but the plot details are neither slighted nor forced, and the artwork is exceptional. Apart from Lois Lane's consignment to a limited role, this issue was pretty close to perfect.

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