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 Annual #1 teamed storytellers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason with artist Jorge Jimenez for an expanded-length standalone story that nevertheless tied into some recurring undercurrents of DC Comics’ Rebirth. ComiConverse’s mild-mannered Man of Steel reporter, T. Kyle King, is here to review Tangled Up in Green.
Superman Annual #1 Review:
In a tale literally and figuratively grounded in the Kent family’s Hamilton County farm, Superman stars in a minimalist adventure without a villain. Tangled Up in Green is a surreal story in which much of what occurs is strictly internal, so what are fans to make of this offbeat annual?
Superman Annual #1 Synopsis:
Clark Kent discovers that his family’s upstate farm is suffering through an unexplained dry spell. Donning his cape and taking to the air, the Big Blue Boy Scout discovers all nearby bodies of water have been drained, and Swamp Thing appears to inform the pre-Flashpoint Superman that the drought is the result of “a disturbance in the Green” caused by the fact that his cells draw solar energy differently from his New 52 predecessor’s.
Kal-El places a comforting hand on Alec Holland’s shoulder, but his touch initiates a transformation that threatens to remake the elemental protector into a Kryptonian creature. Superman reverses the alien infection by taking Swamp Thing down into the earth, where he can take root and cleanse himself. Against Kent’s will, Holland puts the Metropolis Marvel through a similar purge, enabling Superman to free himself from his former universe, embrace fully the world he now inhabits, and undo the ecological harm he inadvertently caused.
Superman Annual #1 Analysis:
There’s no getting around the fact that Tangled Up in Green is simply a strange story. It may make superficial sense at first but fail to hold up under more exacting scrutiny, or it may initially seem incoherent and subsequently come together as a cohesive whole, but the inescapable reality is that Superman Annual #1 is just odd. That isn’t necessarily a minus, but a conventional adventure for the Action Ace it ain’t.
One thing this book definitely is, though, is gorgeous. Jimenez’s artwork and Alejandro Sanchez’s colors combine to create a visually stunning issue. The interplay of sunlight and shadow, the fluidity of movement, the innovative usage of perspective and panel arrangements, and the supernatural exaggeration of the elemental imagery all work effectively from start to finish. The graphics of Superman Annual #1 are superb.
Jimenez’s skillful juxtaposition of a fairly photorealistic Superman with an elongated elemental Swamp Thing recalls Bill Sienkiewicz’s disparate combinations, only with much more finely lined designs and details. Likewise, the artist’s uses of page layouts as a part of physical flow and of hallucinatory hyperextension to emphasize action anatomically are reminiscent of Jim Steranko’s psychedelic inventiveness, as is appropriate for an annual accurately characterized as trippy.
Jimenez’s visuals in Superman Annual #1 are not all larger than life, however. Numerous subtle touches are littered throughout the issue. Flying over the dry lake bed in which he will soon encounter Dr. Holland, the Man of Steel passes by a wrecked automobile bearing a remarkable resemblance to the car destroyed on the iconic cover of Action Comics #1. When the two heroes are merged, protruding roots form an S on Swamp Thing’s chest and a spit curl on the environmental defender’s brow. A distinctly alien two-page spread features what surely is the most definitively David Bowie moment ever to appear in a Superman comic book — right down to the differently colored eyes.
Even so, though, Superman Annual #1 does not exist merely for the audience to admire Jimenez’s and Sanchez’s imagery; Tomasi and Gleason have a story to tell, as well, and it’s a weird one. The pseudoscience of Tangled Up in Green requires a larger leap of logic even than superhero comic books usually mandate, which is quite saying something. Swamp Thing’s explanation — namely, that an aberration in the post-Crisis Metropolis Marvel’s vibrational frequency affects the amount of solar energy he draws into his vicinity, which has increased since the death of the Action Ace who was native to the New 52 continuity — is dubious, to say the least.
If we push past our skepticism, however — and, really, this is a comic book about an alien sun god in a cape and the chlorophyl-composed agent of an arboreal legislature having a conversation about highly localized climate change, so that ship has sort of sailed — there is a great deal of value to unpack in Superman Annual #1, beginning with Holland’s transformation from Swamp Thing into something equally ancient yet utterly otherworldly.
Holland’s sudden change from growing green to cool blue is a callback to a previous frequency change from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, and the invasive infection is initiated by the casual contact that causes a recurrence of the glowing handprint with which Rebirth began for the Man of Tomorrow. That, though, is not the only allusion to Superman #1: Swamp Thing’s ensuing utterances, translated from the Kryptonian, echo the sentiments Kal-El expressed by his predecessor’s grave. The vines that form the panel borders likewise bind this story to others, past and future, in ways unclear and yet compelling.
Rebirth got underway with overt allusions to William Faulkner and an open repudiation of Alan Moore’s most seminal work. Consequently, it is quite suitable that Tangled Up in Green took place entirely over, upon, and under the Kents’ Hamilton County farm — Superman’s “own little postage stamp of native soil” — while revisiting and refurbishing perhaps Moore’s most inventive and enduring contribution to the interconnected DC Universe. Along with the aforementioned inclusion of the car from Action Comics #1, this expanded still further the bleed-through of pre-New 52 continuity. Superman Annual #1 was surreal and strange, but it also was an intriguing (if confusing) clue disguised inside an exciting standalone read.
What did you succeed in extricating from the story Tangled Up in Green?
Take root in the comments and ComiConverse with us about Superman Annual #1!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Despite some questionable story conceits, amazing artwork and intriguing plot developments make this standalone story shine.