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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DC Comics is wrapping up its Justice story arc, in which Superman, after having his powers reduced and his identity revealed, attempts to piece together the conspiracy connecting plot-lines from multiple comic book series. Our Man of Steel writer, T. Kyle King, brings us his review of the latest installment in Superman #47.
In Infiltrated, Gene Luen Yang brings to a close his part of the Justice arc, explaining who HORDR_ROOT actually is and setting the stage for the story’s climax in the forthcoming Superman Annual #3. Be forewarned that spoilers follow.
Jimmy Olsen, struck down by Superman’s sand clone, is badly injured but still alive. Condesa gets the Man of Steel’s pal to a hospital while Clark Kent outwits and defeats his more powerful doppelgänger. Aided by his metahuman colleagues at the Thousand One House, Superman confronts HORDR_ROOT, who dares the Man of Tomorrow to slay him.
Superman refuses to kill the villain, rendering him harmlessly unconscious instead. Condesa locks away HORDR_ROOT’s incorporeal identity in a portable hard drive, then Clark realizes that Jimmy’s body had been serving as HORDR_ROOT’s latest node. Superman gives Condesa’s hard drive to Mr. Terrific for safekeeping, and, on the way back to Metropolis, Jimmy reveals that he retains HORDR_ROOT’s memories and knows the villain secretly is Vandal Savage’s son. Savage attacks Mr. Terrific in order to take back his electronically imprisoned heir.
Infiltrated offers a great deal of visual variety. Between the cover and the contents, the issue features a combined eight artists and colorists, and that’s without counting Lee Bermejo’s variant version. John Romita, Jr.’s cover showcases an odd depiction of a scene appearing nowhere in the story, but Howard Porter, Raymund Bermudez, and Tom Derenick effectively divide up the interior artwork in Superman #47.
While the stylistic differences between the pencillers are somewhat jarring, the shifts from one artist to the next occur between scenes to minimize the disruption, and it is interesting to see different takes on the same characters within a single book. As primary artist, Porter continues to provide page layouts, camera angles, and character depictions that are solid, vibrant, and well suited to the tale Yang is telling.
The last few issues have made it clear that Yang is hitting his stride as a writer of the Man of Steel’s adventures, and Superman #47 furthers this salutary trend. This story starts mere seconds after the previous issue ended, with Clark holding Jimmy’s limp body, horrified that he cannot hear his friend’s heartbeat. Then, though, the hero realizes “it’s not him, it’s me. No super-hearing.” That was an elegant way of reminding us what the reduction of Superman’s powers means for him in the real world.
Yang was handed the Last Son of Krypton as the Truth arc got underway, so the boundaries within which he was able to work were circumscribed from the outset, but he has been inching Superman incrementally in the direction of the classic hero. Outwardly, the Man of Steel challenges his clone with bluster, shouting, “Come on! Let’s see what you’ve got!” Inwardly, though, Clark confesses to himself that his calculated bravado is purely tactical. He admits to overusing his solar flare when he had all of his powers, and to enjoying being wholly human when he had none of them, before expressing the vain hope that his clone’s similar reliance on the flare will restore Superman to full strength.
It doesn’t, but it was encouraging to see the Man of Tomorrow err on the side of hope, and the other half of his intended objective was accomplished when the combination of the clone’s composition of sand and the heat of his solar flare turned the non-sentient Superman duplicate into glass that Clark could smash. After too many recent stories have reduced the Action Ace to an angry brute who addresses every problem with sledgehammer force, such a strategic and sympathetic Superman was most welcome.
Yang sustains this tone throughout the issue. At the hospital, Clark accepts responsibility for Jimmy’s injury. At the Thousand One House, Superman has Mayari surround the combatants with a signal-blocking dome to confine HORDR_ROOT to the node he occupies. In the fight, he makes rational decisions, protects his teammates, and correctly opts against fulfilling his threat to repay any harm done to his friends.
Admittedly, Jimmy’s service as HORDR_ROOT’s node for the confrontation in which we will learn whether the Man of Tomorrow will take an eye for an eye is somewhat telegraphed by the Highland Hospital nurse’s promise to “keep an eye on” Jimmy for Superman. Even so, the scene is a powerful one as the Mythbrawlers urge Clark to do his worst. Crow exhorts him to kill HORDR_ROOT for Haemosu; Mayari wants him to do so for Apolaki; Superman considers doing it for Perry White and for Jimmy Olsen; even the villain himself challenges him: “Go on. Do it.”
There is, of course, a glaring omission from this roll call: Lois Lane. It previously has been made clear that she revealed his secret identity for the noblest of reasons, and that she saved his life by doing so. Clark should not continue to cling to his anger at Lois in the midst of his return to older and truer attitudes, especially while trusting Condesa to get Jimmy to safety despite her earlier betrayal of him to HORDR. Lois may not have sustained physical injuries like Jimmy or Perry (though perhaps she has), but she certainly has suffered the consequences of HORDR’s machinations, and she should not be exiled from the Metropolis Marvel’s cadre of confidants like Leon Trotsky being scrubbed from official Soviet photographs.
As with other wrap-up issues in the Justice arc, Infiltrated had a lot to do in a limited space, so some sequences are a tad too on the nose, such as Shahrazad’s summation of Superman’s story. Nevertheless, the pacing of Superman #47 does not feel rushed, and, even though prior revelations about the paternity of Wrath and the Angle Man sapped any surprise from the announcement that HORDR_ROOT also is a child of Vandal Savage, the villain’s origin was told in a compelling way in just a pair of pages.
Like any superhero comic, Superman #47 has its imperfections, but the overall package is solid. Yang’s writing is consistently clever, and he understands that the Action Ace can be psychologically complex without being moody or indecisive: Superman, in the end, always does the right thing, but that doesn’t mean he can’t wrestle with his choice on the way to getting there. Yang’s restoration of the recognizable Superman is nearly complete, and this latest effort puts us a Vandal Savage takedown and a Lois Lane reconciliation away from bringing about Clark Kent’s long overdue redemption.
As Justice verges on its conclusion, are you looking forward to the annual that ties it all together?
Do you think Superman’s powers will be restored in the end?
Let us know what you think in the comments, where we welcome your contributions to the ComiConversation!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
There is still room for improvement, but Gene Luen Yang’s restoration of the Man of Steel is nearly complete.