Review: Superman #42
August 2nd, 2015 | by Kyle King
DC Comics’ Truth storyline continued this week with the release of Superman #42, in which Gene Luen Yang and John Romita, Jr., showed us the powerful and controversial moment when Lois Lane learned for certain that Clark Kent was secretly the Man of Tomorrow.
While the other titles in the game-changing story arc have depicted the aftermath of the revelation of Superman’s secret identity, Yang’s and Romita’s Before Truth – Part 2 gives readers the second installment in the tale of the events leading up to the earth-shattering news being made public.
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Superman #42 picks up shortly after the end of the previous issue, with Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and mysterious confidential source Condesa on the run outside Metropolis. Clark’s powers returned shortly after he was shot, so the team is able to focus on Condesa’s explanation that the senator’s illegal weapons sales are being backed by HORDR, a criminal syndicate that unearths deep secrets for sale and for blackmail.
HORDR’s “solidified shadow” zombies attack and are quickly dispatched by Clark, prompting Lois to confront her colleague about patterns she has observed, excuses she can no longer accept, and coincidences she can no longer overlook. Out of a “need to know for sure”, Lois rips open Clark’s clothing to reveal the blue uniform and S-shield underneath, confirming her suspicions.
Aided by identification masks programmed by Condesa, the Daily Planet reporters sneak onto the criminal organization’s hidden cloud campus, the HORDR_PLEX. Upon their arrival, the nefarious leader HORDR_ROOT sends security to capture the snooping journalists, reveals that Condesa was forced through extortion to lure them into the trap, and announces that Superman is expected to join forces with HORDR.
The Man of Steel fights back while Lois and Jimmy clear the campus. Once everyone is safely away, Superman unleashes his solar flare power, in the midst of which he is attacked from behind and left unconscious and, evidently, injured. With no choice but to rely on Condesa to help them escape, Lois and Jimmy load the inert Superman aboard one of HORDR’s buses and depart. The issue closes with Lois muttering, “Be okay, Clark… Please be okay…”
Many theoretically promising elements are present, but, in the end, Superman #42 is less than the sum of its parts. In the abstract, much of it ought to work; the book contains fast-paced action and vivid fight sequences, introduces a sinister and mysterious new villain next to which “Lexcorp is last century,” and features snappy banter between Condesa and Jimmy interspersed with tense exchanges between Lois and Clark.
The pieces are there, but the whole falls apart. Too much of Before Truth – Part 2 is too neat: Clark’s near-fatal gunshot wound from the climax of the previous issue is dispensed with via a cursory cop-out in the first two panels of the story, and the super flare’s overuse as a plot crutch in lieu of thoughtful superheroics already had become tiresome before the new superpower was trotted out yet again to get Supes out of a jam in this issue. The flare rapidly is wearing out its welcome as the go-to escape hatch anytime the Man of Steel confronts adversity.
Those, though, are minor troubles, which might have been overlooked, had it not been for the fundamental flaw plaguing this entire arc.
The problem is the Truth storyline’s shabby treatment of Lois Lane.
Seconds after surviving an attack by a pack of ninja corpses reanimated by HORDR, Lois brushes aside Condesa’s sensible insistence that they move to safer ground because “Clark and I need to talk.” Once her suspicions are verified, Lois is indifferent to his explanation (“You’re Superman! Why would you want to be normal?”) and jealous that Clark told his best friend before her (“So Jimmy gets the truth and I get the lie”).
The following morning, after having had the opportunity to sleep on her discovery, Lois rebuffs Clark’s effort to let her know how much it means to him to have her be “a part of both halves of my life.” She tells him to stop and says she no longer considers him a partner or a friend. Tellingly, the issue ends on a close-up of Lois’s face with the word “BETRAYAL!” superimposed in red over her black hair; what was presented in the solicitation for Superman #42 with a question mark has now been declared, emphatically, with an exclamation point.
As writers, we all write what we know, at least from the outset. Gene Luen Yang grew up in Silicon Valley as the son of Chinese immigrants, and his “life is a springboard for many of his stories.” Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese earned him a National Book Award nomination.
Consequently, some of the things Yang said in a recent interview came as no surprise. Yang noted that, for him, Superman “embodies the whole identity of a lot of immigrants to the United States. He has two different names, two different cultures.” Furthermore, Yang’s experience as a native of Silicon Valley led him to want “to show the dark side of its culture” through the diabolical HORDR, which he describes “as a tech company crossed with a gang.”
It is entirely appropriate for Yang to draw on his own background when writing stories for the Man of Steel, and the viewpoint and villains his insights have provided demonstrate the benefits to the comics industry of broadening the base of creators to include a more diverse artistic array. The notion of merging Superman’s distinct underlying identities of the Kansan Clark Kent and the Kryptonian Kal-El is a powerful and thoughtful idea that Yang is to be commended for bringing to the forefront.
Lois Lane, however, has not been afforded anything like a similar degree of sensitivity.
At a time when one of the central conversations in comics culture concerns the need for publishers to give women their due as creators, characters, and consumers, “Truth” is doing a damaging disservice to the most enduring female persona in the history of the medium.
Lois Lane was there, quite literally from day one, appearing initially in the original superhero comic book, alongside Clark Kent and Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Before there was a Jimmy Olsen, a Perry White, a Daily Planet, or even a Metropolis; before there were a Jonathan and Martha Kent, a Jor-El and Lara, a Lana Lang, or even a Smallville; before there was a Doomsday, a Darkseid, a General Zod, or even a Lex Luthor; before there was a Justice Society, a Justice League, a Batman, or even a Wonder Woman… there was a Lois Lane.
Lois Lane starred in her own comic book for more than 15 years and more than 135 issues; at the height of the publication’s popularity, Lois’s solo series was the third-bestselling comic book in the United States, and fans want to see a new version of the book brought back today. In 2013, Lois was featured in her own 75th anniversary hardbound edition, alongside that given to the Man of Steel. In Grant Morrison’s epic DC One Million, the original Superman emerged from the sun in the year 85,271 A.D. — one million months after Action Comics #1 hit the stands — in order to be reunited with Lois Lane.
That is the Lois Lane who has inspired comics readers, including but not limited to generations of girls and women, for more than three-quarters of a century. That is not the Lois Lane being depicted by Yang and Romita, the latter of whom has referred to her as “annoying”, “stupid”, and “a bitch.” Although the Superman penciller said those things jokingly, such a mindset sets a tone that does not do justice to this venerable character.
In order to offer insights into Superman’s status as the ultimate immigrant, DC Comics turned to a first-generation American. In order to offer an authentic take on Batgirl, the current creative team turned to street fashion blogs when designing her costume. Unfortunately, the courtesy shown to Clark Kent and Barbara Gordon was not extended to Lois Lane, who has been disrespected and reduced to a petty, selfish, insensitive, untrustworthy, and shallow shadow of her former self.
Lois Lane deserves better than this. For that matter, so do the rest of us.
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.