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 #4 burst forth from the creative mind of Neal Adams last week, teaming the Man of Steel with Orion in Sun of New Gods. ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, is here to review the latest chapter in the six-issue limited series.
Adams serves as both author and artist for this bold, bizarre, Kirbyesque adventure pitting Kal-El and the New Kryptonians against Darkseid, Lex Luthor, and the invading forces of Apokolips. For scale, strangeness, and sheer imagination, Adams is difficult to match, but, two-thirds of the way through, is Superman: The Coming of the Supermen bound for a satisfying conclusion or for baffling confusion?
Kal-El is battering Kalibak, demanding Rafi’s return, when Orion arrives to assist. The Dog of War swiftly dispatches his half-brother and offers to help Superman find the kidnapped boy, but their rescue effort is soon sidetracked by the launch of a rocket containing the red sun mote Darkseid acquired from Luthor.
The Man of Steel destroys the spacecraft, but not before it delivers its payload to Earth’s sun. An orange spot appears where the red mote met the yellow star, reducing the Kryptonians’ powers to three-quarter strength. Luthor double-crosses Darkseid, Parademons assault New Krypton, and Lois Lane is guided by the mysterious alien angel to the torture chamber in which Granny Goodness has bound Rafi in the center of a giant stringed instrument “like a fly in a web.”
Neal Adams’s reputation among superhero comics fans is composed of two distinct bits of conventional wisdom. First of all, there is his legendary stature with a pencil, pen, or brush. As a graphic artist, Adams produced some of the most iconic images of his era. He helped not only to redefine such characters as Batman, Green Arrow, and the X-Men, but also to revolutionize the look of the industry through dynamic panel layouts and photorealistic depictions.
Secondly, though, there is Adams’s notoriety as a writer. When placed at the keyboard, he produces superhero adventures that are weird, convoluted, and disjointed, even by the standards of a medium that already requires significant suspensions of disbelief. From 45rpm book/record sets in the ‘70s to Skateman and Ms. Mystic in the ‘80s to the utter lunacy of Batman: Odyssey in the 21st century, Adams’s work as a wordsmith essentially all boils down to one great big Twin Peaks dream sequence populated by characters in capes. The revolutionary relevant realist as an illustrator also is an incoherent insane inventor as a writer.
Sadly, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #4 confirms that the best days are behind Adams, who turns 75 next month, at both creative endeavors.
The comic’s credits indicate that Adams handled the pencils and added the inks with a couple of contributors offering “assists”, so the imagery is all his. Though Adams’s stylistic signature remains distinct, the artwork is marred by a scratchy, sketchy appearance that gives the book an unfinished look. There is a first-draft fuzziness to Adams’s draftsmanship, and the resulting rough appearance causes Sun of New Gods to come across as rushed.
The craggy graphics make for decidedly perplexing images. Some form of grimacing monument to Darkseid is visible over Superman’s shoulder as Orion explains the purpose of the launch they have just witnessed; the totem looks like an Easter Island statue getting a piggyback ride from the Man of Steel. The conical projection emerging from the Metropolis Marvel’s outstretched hands as he attempts to shatter the mote opens outward like a funnel that is coming from the sun, but it is far from clear what cosmological event this stellar geometry is intended to depict.
Adams’s writing, on the other hand, is abundantly clear, to the extent that his exposition is so on the nose that it virtually bludgeons the reader over the head with its intended point. While watching the rocket that carries the mote ascend above Apokolips, Clark Kent employs his reporter’s training in the fundamentals of journalism, asking Orion, in succession: “What launch is that?” “What is it?” “A mote… from what?” “Wh… from who?” “A red sun mote… from Darkseid?” “And where is it to go?” “And where did he get this mote?”
Granted, Perry White would have chastised him for failing to ask when, why, and how (and for misusing who instead of whom), but the when was obviously right then, and the mild-mannered reporter forthrightly recapitulated the how when summing up the situation, “A manufactured red sun mote… sent to diffuse into the sun… from Luthor… and Darkseid… that can’t be good.” That just left the why, which Orion helpfully contributed (“Darkseid says it will weaken the Kryptonians so he can enslave them”) and Luthor further explained in his exchange with Orion’s father.
Where Adams’s writing isn’t engaged in overt telling at the expense of subtle showing, it is descending into purple prose that makes the Man of Tomorrow sound like a pulp novel protagonist. In just the first panel of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #4, the Action Ace exclaims, “Return the boy!” Kal-El slugs Kalibak, producing a sound effect (“Thud”) and a guttural utterance (“Whug!”), then Superman continues: “Return the boy, you worthless animal! Nothing requires you. You make our existence ugly with your presence. Give me the boy or your life is forfeit.” I know Doc Savage helped form the basis for Superman and Adams promised to take us back to Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s Man of Steel, but that doesn’t mean the Big Blue Boy Scout should be berating the Scourge of Apokolips with the same sort of rhetoric he used when stopping Depression-era wife-beaters.
Adams’s writing is all over the map in Sun of New Gods. The story contains multiple revelations yet no surprises. Oddities abound for no apparent purpose other than just to be strange: Darkseid is bound in glass and covered in something explosive and green, though it isn’t clear whether this substance is a solid, a liquid, or a gas; Superman sports Jor-El’s Silver Age headband and Prince Namor’s swim trunks while the Kandorians hook him up to a web similar to the one in which Rafi is ensnared and zap him with painful jolts to confirm his good health, which does not say much for the state of Kryptonian medical care; and Lois Lane is wandering aimlessly through Apokolips’s dive bar district dressed like the Spectre, breaking down linguistic barriers with an explanation encased in a thought bubble and greeting her guardian angel’s timely delivery of the most thunderous walking stick since Dr. Donald Blake’s with an exuberant, “Wow, righteous! Bring it on!”
The issue ends with defeated Parademons being flung out of the back end of a Boom Tube while the Man of Steel calls out, “Rafi! Rafi! Rafi! Rafi!” from the other side with mounting anguish. Over the course of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #4, the three costumed Kandorians whose arrival is trumpeted in the title appear for all of one panel. In scientific circles, Adams is infamous for advocating a theory that Earth is expanding, but, because Sun of New Gods renders it readily apparent that he is just making it up as he goes along, perhaps he should be more closely associated with the Indiana Jones School of Spirituality.
When this miniseries began, its 1970s homages and daffy affability were fun and endearing, but, at some point, Adams has to get down to the business of telling an actual story. With two issues to go, we have seen a demonic messenger, an Egyptian flashback, various spacecraft launches and landings, multiple fights with Kalibak and Parademon invasions, Lex Luthor, Apokolips, New Krypton, and an orphan boy and his dog, yet it increasingly appears inevitable that, in the end, I will be left to say of this adventure what another commentator said of the same creator’s Batman: Odyssey: “I cannot encapsulate it, because nothing makes sense in any context whatsoever.”
How did you react after reading Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #4? Jump into the ComiConversation in the comments and share your thoughts with us!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Neal Adams needs to get down to business and tell a coherent story instead of just relying on being Neal Adams.