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: The Coming of the Supermen #3 escaped from the fertile mind of iconic comic book creator Neal Adams this week. As both author and artist, Adams has undertaken to carry the Man of Steel back to his Bronze Age basics. ComiConverse’s Action Ace correspondent, T. Kyle King, offers his thoughts on the latest installment.
One-third of the way through the six-issue series, Adams already had led Superman into strange territory. Now, aided by colors from Tony Avina and assisted in the inking by Buzz and Josh Adams, he is back with Home to New Krypton, but has he come any closer to tying everything together? Answers follow, but so do spoilers!
After Kalibak has kidnapped Rafi, Superman angrily demands that the Kandorian trio tell him the truth. The demonic messenger briefly appears to offer cryptic reassurances, then the Supermen of New Krypton admit that they came to seek his help: Darkseid is attempting to colonize their home and turn New Krypton into New Apokolips.
Piloting a spaceship made by Lex Luthor on which Lois Lane is a stowaway, Kal-El arrives on the embattled Kandorian planet in time to lead a Kryptonian counterattack against a Parademon offensive. Pursuing the invaders through their Boom Tube, Superman carries the battle to Desaad and Kalibak. While Darkseid and Luthor match wits in the midst of deals and double-crosses, Orion arrives to assist the Metropolis Marvel in his quest to rescue Rafi.
Kal-El constantly wears his cape throughout Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3, never donning his glasses to resume his role as a mild-mannered reporter. Nevertheless, the Superman we see in Home to New Krypton unmistakably is the alter ego of the selfsame Clark Kent who served as the “Exposition Hostage” in Adams’s outrageous Batman: Odyssey. If it hadn’t been clear before, it is obvious now that this is the adventure in which the Action Ace is receiving the same insane treatment the legendary creator gave the Caped Crusader.
In Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3, as in the trippy pilgrimage that is Batman: Odyssey, Adams takes the hero and the reader on a wild ride during which all involved are well advised to check their incredulity at the front cover. Rational consistency and linear storytelling were the first two casualties of Darkseid’s and Luthor’s warfare against New Krypton and Earth.
Although Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3 begins mere moments after the previous issue ended, the Man of Tomorrow has reacted oddly to Rafi’s capture: Kal-El is accosting his costumed comrades, insisting: “I don’t know who you people are, but you are not Kryptonians! You’re lying. You are no brother to me!” The Kandorians attempt to offer an honest explanation, prompting the Metropolis Marvel to exclaim, “Stop lying!”
It is never made clear why Superman doubts the Supermen, but his accusatory outrage is addressed by the sudden reappearance of the angelic gargoyle, who pops in to announce: “They don’t lie.” An exasperated Action Ace answers: “I know these idiots are Kryptonians.” So, two panels earlier, he inexplicably disbelieved them, but, now, he equally inscrutably is completely convinced? The only sensible sentiment Superman expresses in this opening sequence is his stammering statement: “There’s… no… reason.”
No, there isn’t, but the show must go on, so Home to New Krypton is replete with whatever story conceits circumstances require. Red sun exposure renders the Kandorians incapable of flying through space, but Superman is not similarly limited. The demonic messenger, though, convinces him to take a ship by asking how he plans to bring Rafi back. The Man of Steel is stumped, apparently unable to think of wrapping the lad in his indestructible cape and flying back at super-speed before the boy even has time to inhale.
All right, fine, so Superman needs a spaceship, because… reasons. Why can’t he just take the Kandorians’ interstellar vessel? Because, Kal-El rationalizes, “you may need it.” There appears to be no justification whatsoever for this bizarre notion, but the Metropolis Marvel explains himself by repeating himself, asserting: “You may need your ship. I’ll take one of Luthor’s.” Sure, since there’s no safer way to get through space than by commandeering the vehicle of the archenemy who has devoted his life to plotting your demise.
Has it occurred to no one that, in the series’ first two issues, there were Boom Tubes busting out all over?
Speaking of Boom Tubes, when Superman’s spaceship reaches New Krypton, he finds the planet surrounded by all manner of hostile hordes from Apokolips, requiring the Kandorians to unleash an ionic negative charge across the world’s surrounding shield to fry the invaders like insects entering a bug zapper. Once Kal-El touches down, though, he is told that the Parademons arrived through a Boom Tube, which “can penetrate any barrier.” Why are they wasting time outside the force field if they can go around it, then?
Unexplained inconsistencies and unsatisfactory explanations abound, although a few of them at least are amusing and illuminating. When Superman calls Lois out of hiding in the midst of their interplanetary journey then tricks her into taking a seat in the escape pod he swiftly jettisons, she inquires while being ejected, “Who will take care of Rafi, while you save the world?” Stymied, Kal-El summons the celestial lifeboat back to his spacecraft.
It’s a neat scene that says a lot about both characters, but since when can escape hatches be recalled with the flip of a switch?
For that matter, wouldn’t someone on a planet full of Kryptonians who idolize the Man of Tomorrow have been willing and able to look after a well-behaved human child and his friendly dog?
With all due respect to Lois, is the only adult on the entire planet without superpowers really the ideal babysitter in a war zone?
The dialogue in Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3 is particularly stilted and hokey. Lois offers awkward utterances both when cursing (“My damned grand uncle, look at that!”) and when swooning (“Oh… he takes my breath away.”). The Metropolis Marvel clumsily forces a video game reference before being greeted by a Kryptonian captain with the words: “Ho, Superman. Welcome! Here’s a powered stun gun.” Lex concedes defeat in a losing encounter with Darkseid by pitifully crying, “What… huh-huh… it’s, what, what are you doing to me?? Oooghh, gravity? Gravity? Really? Ugh.”
Where Adams’s wording isn’t baffling, it’s painfully straightforward. When electrifying the robotic spacefleet of Apokolips, Krypton Central helpfully notes, “This is big!” While battling Superman, Kalibak calls out, “Arrrrg, my head is broken!” before his troops meet defeat with even sillier exclamations.
When the Kryptonians pursue the Parademons through the Boom Tube, the audience is left no room for misunderstanding. The captain warns, “It could be a trap.” Kal-El confirms, “Sure enough… it’s a trap.” Desaad’s shock troops gloat, “The idiots fell for our trap.” Superman, determined to turn the tables, tells his teammates: “A trap is only a trap if it can hold its prey.” And: “Perhaps it’s they who are in the trap.” And: “We’ll see whose trap closes on whose prey.” I’m guessing the theme of this scene is that it’s a trap.
All this ham-handed wordplay is hampered by Cardinal Rae’s often inartfully arranged lettering, as the word balloons frequently are laid out so that their proper order is far from obvious. Rae, however, may not be wholly to blame, as the cause of the confusion may be the surrounding artwork. Adams’s graphics sometimes invoke the artist’s iconic images of old, yet occasionally they feel a little rushed.
The unfinished appearance of some of the art is exacerbated by the inconsistent thickness of the line work, which likely is attributable to the presence of three inkers on the masthead. Too many rough-hewn pictures detract from the old school look of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3, whereas Adams’s attempts at aping modernity fall flat. The otherwise charming stowaway sequence is partly spoiled by the gratuitous inclusion of a butt shot that provided perhaps the most objectifying pencilled visual of Lois Lane since Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained.
For readers who are just in it to have a good time, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3 definitely is fun. Adams’s storytelling deliberately is over the top, to the point of being Kirbyesque at its best. Home to New Krypton has its moments, and Lex Luthor gets the issue’s finest line when he grouses to the Man of Tomorrow, “Do you have any idea how much I hate your hair?” Superman’s and Lois’s reckless boldness when charging ahead is wonderful to behold, and there is no lack of action in this installment.
At a certain point, though, the audience has gotten all it can get out of seeing Kal-El punching Kalibak and chasing Parademons through Boom Tubes. Eventually, an actual coherent story needs to be told, and halfway through the series’ run, Adams appears no nearer to telling it. All this is enjoyable, but, sooner or later, it needs to add up to something, and the hairpin turns in the convoluted logic of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #3 held little promise for the plotline’s ultimate payoff.
Do you view Home to New Krypton as a surreal romp or as a baffling disaster?
Let us know what you think by ComiConversing with us in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Neal Adams’s unbridled imagination is on full display, but the exuberant storytelling is mired in the muddled plotting.