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 has lost his secret identity and most of his powers, but not his fighting spirit. Clark Kent came through Truth to confront Vandal Savage’s fiendish master plan, and the latest chapter was released this week in Superman #48. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel writer, T. Kyle King, is here with a review.
Writer Gene Luen Yang and pencillers Howard Porter and Ardian Syaf teamed up this month to bring us Treatment, in which Superman seeks Steve Trevor’s assistance in the effort to regain his Kryptonian powers. Will the help Clark wants cure him before it kills him?
After being healed by the gods on Mount Olympus, the Action Ace tracks down Agent Trevor with an idea for restoring his superpowers. Since the kryptonite-powered Metallo suit temporarily revived his alien abilities, Superman wants to use A.R.G.U.S.’s storehouse of glowing green meteor rocks as a form of radiation therapy to bring back his superpowers permanently. Despite his skepticism, Steve agrees.
Meanwhile, HORDR_ROOT helps transfer the consciousness of one of his brothers, the Puzzler, into a mechanized Puzzlerbot, in which he proceeds to attack A.R.G.U.S. in the hope of accreting the agency’s advanced technology onto his automated form. As the Puzzler’s assault enables the villain to become steadily stronger, Clark’s exposure to kryptonite makes him increasingly weaker, but he decides to give his risky plan a final try.
Porter’s and Syaf’s pencils, augmented by the work of a trio of inkers, look good on every page, but the stylistic shifts between sets of visuals are jarring. Although the graphics are well crafted when viewed as discrete units, the whole is a bit of a hodgepodge, and this mixing and matching is made more glaring by the changing representations of Clark’s and Steve’s often interchangeable figures and faces. Both men are rock-hewn slabs of muscle with hard-edged features, sometimes distinguishable only by their attire and hair color, and the similarities are underscored by this issue’s consistent inconsistency.
Porter’s part of Treatment is solid, as is Syaf’s, but these two talented artists are two great tastes who may not taste great together. The saving grace of how this book looks, not coincidentally, is the one area in which the broth was not wounded by too many cooks: Hi-Fi is the lone colorist for Superman #48, and the result is a visually uniform vividness that builds as the issue progresses to its emerald-irradiated conclusion.
The premise of the story requires quite a leap of logic – Clark could fly while wearing armor charged by kryptonite, so direct exposure to the deadly mineral can give him back his powers naturally – but the Man of Tomorrow offers a plausible explanation for his theory, which manages to provide a fresh take on an aspect of the Superman legend so long established (and occasionally overused) that kryptonite has become entrenched in the lexicon of popular culture even among Americans who have never picked up a comic book.
This is the essence of Yang’s strength as a writer: Superman, as the oldest superhero in the pantheon, presents difficulties for modern creators, who must keep the character moving forward without veering into the deep ditches on either side of the road by deviating too greatly from the norm or by merely rehashing classic material. The Man of Steel challenges his authors to travel a narrow path while still staying inventive and innovative, which few artists are able to do.
In Treatment, Yang remains true to kryptonite as the ultimate threat, literally and symbolically, to the well-being of the Last Son of Krypton, but the writer also turns the venerable mineral on its head by transforming it into a restorative remedy directly analogous to the therapy given to cancer patients in reality. We do not yet know whether kryptonite will prove to be a panacea or a placebo, but, in Superman #48, Yang gives new life to this old element, and to several others, as well.
Yang’s cleverness and creativity make it much easier to overlook this issue’s brow-furrowing features. For the umpteenth time in the last couple of months, a new bad guy turns up and is revealed – at this point, it doesn’t even qualify for a spoiler alert – to be one of Savage’s offspring. This story conceit has been done to death, so much so that it seems Superman could solve numerous problems by giving his immortal enemy a Vandal vasectomy.
Likewise, the gaps between stories since Savage Dawn debuted remain unexplained, leaving yawning chasms of unanswered questions from one issue to the next. Wonder Woman saves Clark’s life, then the Man of Steel goes off on his own to convince Steve Trevor to take him to A.R.G.U.S. headquarters and expose him to the world’s largest storehouse of kryptonite.
In all of this, Diana is… where, exactly?
She didn’t feel inclined either to convince Clark that this was crazy or to go with him to help persuade Steve, whose motivation to aid the Action Ace would seem rather questionable?
In the midst of all this, has Vandal Savage decided to discontinue his attack on Metropolis and just hang out in his Stormwatch Carrier in order to give Superman a sporting chance?
When Clark and Diana were lying unconscious in the street, Savage seemed highly motivated to press his advantage, dropping Black Mass bombs on the City of Tomorrow and gathering up the last of the stolen superhero energies needed to power his slowly unfolding master plan.
What happened after that to allow Superman the luxury of hunting down Trevor at a candidate debate to win the A.R.G.U.S. agent’s trust by helping him capture the Kingslayer?
Do immortal caveman supervillains take extended coffee breaks just before conquering the world?
As with the artwork in Treatment, though, the individual increments are compelling and convincing, even if all the pieces do not fit together neatly and seamlessly. Yang continues to be a master wordsmith in all aspects of his craft, from exposition to dialogue to his lead character’s internal monologue. The exciting opening sequence has a lot to accomplish in four and a half pages, yet it fulfills all of its objectives, connecting this chapter to the previous installment, establishing the current state of the strained relationship between Superman and Steve Trevor, and explaining why the Metropolis Marvel has followed the A.R.G.U.S. agent to Central City. The scene is capped off when the demagogue J. Wilbur Wolfingham, after the day has been saved by the Man of Steel he just moments before had been bashing, sheepishly justifies his hypocrisy with the observation: “Well… yeah, but… he’s still Superman.”
The only part of Superman #48 in which the writing came across clunkily was the scene in which Clark’s welcome breakup with Diana was confirmed. What was intended to be Steve’s heartfelt emotional expression to his onetime romantic rival fell flat, felt false, and served only to highlight the inexplicable ongoing delay of Lois Lane’s long overdue return to center stage. Every bit as much so as the impending return of the Action Ace’s powers, the normalization of relations with the unjustly ostracized first lady of superhero comics is crucial to the genuine restoration of the Man of Steel.
The missing pieces are meaningful, but Yang’s assembly of those that are there is methodical. The wait is difficult, but patience is a virtue, and Superman teaches us virtue, so reader fortitude is in order. The message that the historic Man of Tomorrow is on his way back to the present is the most heartening news Treatment has to offer, and Yang underscores that encouraging bulletin with a closing wink at the audience.
Yang is putting it all back together, so the puzzle pieces with which the villain physically assails A.R.G.U.S. in Superman #48 serve as a useful metaphor. In the course of Treatment, a novel gloss is placed not only on such familiar elements as kryptonite, Wolfingham, and the Kingslayer, but also on another old foe, the Puzzler.
The principal villain of this issue initially appeared in 1942, in Action Comics #49. The final words of the Superman story published last Wednesday are these: “The story continues in Action Comics #49”. Gene Luen Yang, I see what you did there – and I like it.
What did you think of Superman #48?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Gene Luen Yang continues to reinvent the resurgent Man of Steel in creative ways.