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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This week, Gene Luen Yang’s and John Romita, Jr.’s Superman #43 reached the stands, continuing DC Comics’ Truth story arc.
The latest issue is the most crucial so far, as it shows how and why Lois Lane revealed Clark Kent’s secret identity as the Man of Steel to the world at large.
Before Truth – Part 3 opens with Clark awakening, more than a day after Lois, Condesa, and Jimmy Olsen airlifted his unconscious form from the HORDR_PLEX at the end of the previous issue. Lois questions Clark about his Superman identity and rehashes their past experiences together before assuring him, “I’ve decided to keep your secret.”
HORDR_ROOT then appears, using nanotechnology and Lois’s cell phone to order Superman to meet him at an isolated location “or I will reveal you to the world.” Left with no other choice, the hero does as HORDR_ROOT says, but Lois insists on accompanying him to HORDR’s mountain lair.
The villains strap Clark to a chair and surround him with HORDR’s energy storage robots, the Quarmers, one of whom sapped Superman’s strength in the previous issue. Ordered to unleash his solar flare for the Quarmers to absorb and analyze, Superman complies. To eviscerate HORDR’s ability to blackmail Superman, Lois uploads the revelation of his secret identity to the internet.
With HORDR’s hold on him now gone, Superman fights back, destroying the Quarmers and sending HORDR_ROOT on the run. Clark and Lois quickly depart as he expresses his outrage and she defends her actions. A military helicopter appears overhead and casts a spotlight upon Superman as the voice of General Sam Lane calls down for him to surrender. After announcing to Lois that he was wrong to want her to be a part of both halves of his life, the Man of Tomorrow runs away, leaving Lois to call after him, “Clark, wait!”
Superman #43 was the issue for which everyone has been waiting since the Truth storyline started. It was established from the outset that Lois Lane would break the news of Superman’s secret identity, which was easily the arc’s most controversial and divisive decision. (I have been of two minds upon the topic, initially defending the choice before being persuaded later that I was wrong.)
Few comic books could live up to the hype with which this issue was anticipated. Nevertheless, Superman #43 features many strengths. Romita’s artwork has always struck me as a strange fit for the Man of Steel, but his pencils, augmented by the strong lines of Klaus Janson’s and Scott Hanna’s inks, seem suited to this story. Dean White, Leonardo Olea, and Blond bring out the best in the artwork with their bold colors, giving the book an overall look that is as stark and sharp as the story warrants.
Although Yang’s story centers around Truth’s defining bombshell, the script features its fair share of subtle touches. Lois serves the weakened Clark the low-fat microwave version of beef bourguignon, which longtime Superman fans will recognize as the Man of Steel’s traditional favorite meal.
Likewise, Lois’s reminiscence on her association with Superman includes a flashback to the earliest days of Grant Morrison’s and Rags Morales’s New 52 run on the revamped Man of Tomorrow. In HORDR’s mountain hideaway, Lois ducks into Bay 38 as the Quarmers pass by on their way to where Superman is being held in Bay 92. Those numbers, of course, are meant to remind us of 1938 (the year Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane all made their debut in Action Comics #1) and of 1992 (the year Doomsday did battle with the Man of Steel in the blockbuster The Death of Superman storyline).
Some other touches are more hit-and-miss, though. Jimmy nobly shows concern that he may inadvertently have betrayed his best friend’s secret, which leaves him feeling queasy. This becomes a plot point, but it also allows Condesa to tell the fair-skinned photographer that he is pale to the point of being “translucent.” Aside from delivering this clever line, however, Condesa has nothing to do in this issue.
HORDR_ROOT’s “sort of” verbal tic, overemphasized by Rob Leigh’s use of different lettering, has become tiresome. The misleadingly suggestive use of a bed scene between Clark and Lois on the splash page, followed by crude jokes about Condesa’s and Lois’s having seen Superman naked, gave a cheap start to an important issue.
Despite getting the story off on the wrong foot with such clunky crassness, though, Yang soon recovered by giving Lois the opportunity to work through her own conflicting emotional, ethical, and intellectual responses to the revelation of Superman’s secret identity. Over the course of two and a half pages, we got at least a meaningful glimpse of Lois as a person, a professional, and a friend.
This effort to treat Lois Lane as a whole human being was long overdue. She tells Clark that, after appropriate reflection, she will not be divulging the truth to the world at large. She shows her resourcefulness by offering to dig up dirt with which to bring down HORDR_ROOT, reminding her colleague, “Uncovering that sort of thing is what I do.” Perhaps most significantly, in light of Wonder Woman’s uncharacteristic capitulation under similar circumstances, she refuses to let Superman face his foes alone when Clark gruffly tells her, “This is my problem. I’m going to handle it.” Overall, the scene depicts what one commentator accurately described as “Lois and Clark interacting on [an] intimate, honest level for the first time in years”.
Accordingly, halfway through the story, there was hope that Lois Lane, after being so much maligned by Truth thus far, would be given a deserving redemption. By the midpoint of Superman #43, the Daily Planet’s most decorated reporter had come into her own once more. After opposing the Man of Steel’s offer to “carry me like we’re getting married in the ‘50s”, Lois faced both HORDR and Superman with determination. “I’ll figure it out,” she assured her beleaguered colleague. “Now go.”
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there for the two stars of the story, to a substantial extent for Superman and to an even greater degree for Lois.
The solar flare superpower has so worn out its welcome that it now serves as shorthand for unimaginative storytelling. The overuse of Superman’s newest ability inevitably weakens not only the Man of Steel, but also the characterizations of him and of everyone around him.
Strapped to a chair, the defiant hero threatens to “bring this entire mountain down” upon HORDR_ROOT. The chief villain replies that it will take Superman “just under half a second to get to me”, which will give him “more than enough time to unleash your identity into cyberspace.” Rather than seek an alternative solution that relies upon brains rather than brawn, Superman surrenders and docilely does exactly as he is told.
Meanwhile, in Bay 38, Lois discovers a dead body, also bound and seated, and remembers again when Lex Luthor and her father put the Man of Steel in an electric chair. This contemplative Lois then recedes into the background, not to be seen again until three pages later. At that point, she reappears to tell the compliant Clark: “I did it. Just now. I told the world — about HORDR, but also about you.”
In the moment, this saves the day, and, arguably, it saves Superman’s life, but are we really to believe that the planet’s greatest superhero and the Planet’s greatest reporter are so lacking in resourcefulness that their only response to a crisis is to jump straight to unprincipled surrender?
Superman and Lois Lane both are smarter and stronger than that. The Superman who bravely confronted HORDR despite his vulnerability and remained steadfast even as he was taken to the villains’ lair would not be cowed by a mere reminder that the bad guys had high-speed internet service. The Lois Lane who made a courageous decision after thoughtful consideration and resolutely placed herself at tremendous risk for the greater good would not immediately jettison her pragmatic plan and push the panic button just because “she was scared.”
As badly as Superman comes across at the climax of this story, Lois fares far worse. Even if her reaction were credible, her actions are not. Lois arrives at a shocked realization in Bay 38, and, knowing time is of the essence if Clark’s life is to be saved, what does she do? Evidently, she uses her thumbs to type an “inverted pyramid”-style news report on a cell phone with a cracked screen, uploads it to the web (complete with photographs), and proceeds some 54 bays away at such a leisurely pace that she isn’t even out of breath when she arrives to tell him that she has solved the problem by doing for HORDR what the bad guys threatened to do themselves.
Frankly, this just makes superhero comics’ original female character look stupid. Making Lois Lane look stupid is a bad idea under any circumstances. Making Lois Lane look stupid is a particularly bad idea when DC Comics is trying to appeal to a more diverse audience. Making Lois Lane look stupid is an even worse idea in a book whose creative team laughingly imagined having her say, “I’m so stupid.”
No, she isn’t, and neither are we. Because we are not stupid, we can see the fundamental falsehoods that underlie, and undermine, Truth. Due to this story arc’s indefensible premises, Superman #43 builds to an insulting and inexcusable conclusion.
What was your reaction to the issue fans have most awaited?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Due to this story arc’s indefensible premises, Superman #43 builds to an insulting and inexcusable conclusion.