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 #8 began the latest story arc for the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel and his son, the new Superboy. In the opening chapter of Escape from Dinosaur Island, co-authors Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason teamed up with penciller Doug Mahnke for an adventure inspired by Darwyn Cooke, who passed away earlier this year. ComiConverse’s Superman reviewer, T. Kyle King, brings you his thoughts on the newest issue.
Review: Superman #8
Following a relaxed family outing to the county fair in the previous issue, Superman #8 dials the action back up to eleven. How big does this issue get? Would you believe World War II ordnance, Krypto the Superdog, and dinosaurs?
(WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW!)
Superman #8 Synopsis:
In spite of Krypto’s best efforts to distract them, Clark and Jonathan Smith are busily working on the youngster’s school science experiment at the Fortress of Solitude. Jonathan’s flying saucer springs to life, assimilating some of the Kryptonian crystals before transporting Superman, Superboy, and Superdog to Dinosaur Island.
There, the Kryptonian trio encounters oversized fish, pterosaurs, wrecked World War II tanks and planes with the remains of soldiers and airmen nearby, and an endless cloud bank cutting them off from the outside world. Inside a heavily fortified cave, the Man of Tomorrow finds the inscription left there by Johnny Cloud in 1945.
Superman #8 Analysis:
As with any issue featuring Mahnke’s pencils, Jaime Mendoza’s inks, and Wil Quintana’s colors, it is virtually impossible to comment on Escape from Dinosaur Island and not start with the art. Stylistically, Mahnke’s visuals owe more to the exaggerated photorealism of the Neal Adams school than to the Jack Kirby-inspired graphics of squared figures bursting with kinetic energy that typified Cooke’s work, but the homage to the late creator’s DC: The New Frontier is more felt than seen, and the closing image of Superman #8 elegantly captures the spirit of that series’ opening image.
Although Mahnke’s more detailed delineations of facial features and Mendoza’s more deeply darkened inks do not mirror the clean simplicity and bright openness in Cooke’s original story, there is a nice symmetry to Superman’s and Superboy’s efforts to reconstruct the scene after the fact being imbued with greater heft than the source material necessarily possessed. Cooke’s work celebrated Cloud’s life; Superman #8 follows both the creator’s and the character’s deaths, so it is suitable that the artwork conveys solemnity through solidity — and that Quintana’s streaks of sunlight spilling onto Cloud’s remains poignantly provide genuine rays of hope.
Body language and facial expressions do much to establish the mood of Escape from Dinosaur Island, and Rob Leigh’s lettering makes the action almost audible as it unfolds on the printed page. Tomasi’s and Gleason’s story economically sets the stage before immediately setting the plot into motion, methodically reconstructing the Losers’ final mission while interspersing it with outsized superhero action, reasonable individual reaction, and some fine lines of dialogue from both father to son (“We’re not in the Arctic Circle anymore”) and boy to dog (“What is it with you and getting eaten all the time?”).
The neatest aspect of Superman #8 is the way it operates on multiple levels. On the surface, it’s a straightforward superhero adventure in which the Man of Tomorrow and the Boy of Steel are whisked away to a mysterious and dangerous place through a pseudo-scientific deus ex machina. In the background, Escape from Dinosaur Island revisits the scene of Cooke’s magnum opus to pay respect to the beloved writer and illustrator. If this issue accomplished only these two objectives, it would have achieved more than enough for one comic book.
There is much more to it than that, though.
Dinosaur Island, after all, has a history in DC Comics that stretches back farther than Cooke’s Eisner Award-winning 2004 limited series: Clark Kent found himself endangered there six decades ago, in the 1956 story The Secret of Dinosaur Island by Otto Binder and Curt Swan, which appeared in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #12. The ginger journalist’s solo series came to epitomize the Silver Age, an era that certainly seemed to be celebrated in Superman #8. In addition to Dinosaur Island, this issue included Superboy, Krypto, a plot set into motion by a science experiment gone awry, and Superman cracking bad jokes (“We had a heart-to-heart conversation”) with an arched eyebrow. That’s about as Silver Age as you can get without anyone turning into a giant green turtle man.
Even deeper lies the express purpose of Rebirth to undo what Watchmen wrought. Since the pseudo-reboot that consigned the New 52 to the ash heap of history, long-established streams of continuity have begun bleeding back into the currently canonical DC Universe. In Trinity #1, the pre-Flashpoint Clark Kent recalled Rainbow Batman from Detective Comics #241 — only he shouldn’t have, because that 1957 tale antedated Crisis on Infinite Earths, from which the resurrected pre-New 52 Superman emerged anew in 1986.
Evoking Rainbow Batman could be excused as an elaborate inside joke, but the extensive and undeniable integration of Darwyn Cooke’s epoch-spanning epic into Superman #8 cannot so easily be dismissed. It unmistakably is the case that DC: The New Frontier and Escape from Dinosaur Island currently occupy the same continuity.
Think about what that means.
Rebirth, which repudiates the cynical nihilistic deconstructionism of Watchmen both in conception and in execution, explicitly has absorbed into its reconstructed canon the handiwork of Darwyn Cooke, who contributed to Before Watchmen with considerable trepidation and later proclaimed that “the bravest and smartest thing one of these companies could do would be to scrap everything they’re doing and bring in creative people who would have the talent and were willing to put in the effort it takes to write an all-ages universe that an adult or a child could enjoy.”
Cooke’s brash statement sure sounds similar to the sentiment Geoff Johns was attempting to express when he announced Rebirth with the declaration: “The compass of hope and optimism is in DC Comics’ DNA, and it’s important to get those [back] out there.”
Superman #8 wasn’t perfect, of course: Clark and Jonathan working on the youngster’s science project in costume at the Fortress of Solitude with Krypto, rather than at the family farm in plaid flannel and eyeglasses with Lois Smith (née Lane), was an extravagant contrivance that unfortunately sidelined one-third of the series’ strong central cast. After the way the first lady of superhero comics has taken it on the chin — not always figuratively — for the last 20 years, from Kingdom Come to Superwoman, it is important for Lois to remain important in the main Superman title, so her absence from this issue is conspicuous.
Hopefully, though, Lois will not stay off-stage for long — and, as hopeful notes go, Superman #8 powerfully sounds most of the right ones in the subtle subtext of the expressly metatextual Escape from Dinosaur Island. After this issue, the handwriting is on the wall (literally) that the legacy of the DC Universe — the one that existed long before the grim and gritty modern history of which Superman serves as an absolute repudiation — has been restored… or, perhaps, I should say: reborn.
What was your reaction to Superman #8? We welcome you to ComiConverse with us in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Despite the omission of Lois Lane, this well-crafted homage to Darwyn Cooke is exciting on the surface and encouraging in its larger implications.