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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DC Comics’ Truth story arc, in which the Man of Steel must deal with the reduction of his powers and the revelation of his secret identity, moved closer to its conclusion in Superman/Wonder Woman #21. Our Superman Writer, T. Kyle King, examines the fourth and final chapter of Dark Truth.
Superman/Wonder Woman #21, written by Peter J. Tomasi and drawn by Doug Mahnke, finished that publication’s four-part segment of Truth with a story subtitled Truth Hits Everybody. The book’s latest edition, like the previous issue, alternates riveting action with impassioned dialogue, but the most recent release ends Dark Truth on a disappointing note.
The issue opens in the Arlington, Virginia, home of the White House chief of staff, who authorizes the seizure protocol for the ingestion of Firestorm. Shortly thereafter, the Nuclear Man is lured into a trap and absorbed by what appear to be humanoid black holes. Elsewhere in the Old Dominion, at the STEEL lab in Manassas, Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth around Lois Lane as the Daily Planet reporter is interrogated by one of the staff scientists.
As the questioning is completed, Superman arrives from the White House to rescue his kidnapped friends. Wonder Woman, Superman, and Clark’s friends and colleagues from Smallville and Metropolis head for the exit, arguing with one another as they go. Once they discover such supervillains as the Atomic Skull and Major Disaster in the facility’s rehabilitation research center, the same energy absorbers who captured Firestorm come after the living energy sources held at STEEL.
Superman tells Diana, Lois, Steel, and the others to leave while he tries to fight the menace alone. The Man of Steel is on the verge of losing the battle and being swallowed up by the bizarre beings when Wonder Woman rescues him and Clark’s friends open fire on their opponents. The creatures disappear, and Superman, feeling betrayed both by Diana and by Lois, uses his JLA teleport transponder to depart alone. At the White House, President Barack Obama fires his chief of staff, who ends the issue by joining his fellow Truth villains in the interdimensional meeting place previously seen at the end of Action Comics #44.
Superman/Wonder Woman #21 is a busy book. Tomasi and Mahnke are wrapping up Dark Truth, tying together this story strand with the other elements of the overall arc, revealing the underlying evil influences at work in the story, and dealing with the strong emotional reactions of the characters. Consequently, this issue feels not so much fast-paced as rushed.
Mahnke’s pencils once again lay an effective visual foundation laden with angles, action, and energy. The issue’s credits list four inkers and three colorists, yet the imagery appears uniform throughout. That consistency is not always a strength, though, as the main characters’ facial expressions convey little nuance. Clark, Diana, Lois, John Henry Irons, and Perry White all are confined to an emotional range strictly limited to displays of grim detachment and sneering outrage.
Truth has been an uneven storyline across all of DC’s Superman titles, but nowhere has the arc had more peaks and valleys than in Superman/Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, the latest issue represents one of the downturns. The explanation of the seizure protocol, the unification of Dark Truth with the parallel tales being told in other books, and the introduction of Doctor Who-style monsters ingesting metahumans with significant internal energy sources all present intriguing possibilities, but these plot devices merely frame an issue that is soap operatic in its fixation upon its central figures’ irritability and immaturity.
The Amazon Princess, who appeared so strong and self-reliant in the previous issue, turns out to have been duped by Steve Trevor into using her lasso to permit government scientists to interrogate Clark Kent’s childhood friends and recent co-workers for the benefit of bureaucratic flunkies. Steel takes out his frustrations on his former captors with an unbecoming pettiness. Perry White is a grumpy impatient old man who has abandoned all journalistic interest in hearing a contrary perspective. Even Jimmy Olsen mopes in the midst of victory that he has “not one picture” to document what transpired, even though he probably could snap a shot or two of the secret government testing facility in which he happens to find himself.
At the heart of all this are perhaps the least sympathetic portrayals of Superman and Lois Lane in their long history as superhero comics’ literal first couple. Bound by Wonder Woman’s lasso and afforded at long last an opportunity to tell her side of the story in a compelling manner, Lois instead verbally and physically accosts her interlocutor as a “pea-brained” “idiot” and “moron” with a purely salacious interest in her relationship with Clark Kent.
Asked if she “understood the reverberations your article would have”, Lois gave a dismissive and derisive answer that lacked the least degree of compassion concerning the consequences of her actions. Once again, it must be noted that this was Lois Lane bound by the Magic Lasso of Aphrodite; the Daily Planet reporter was compelled to come clean with absolute accuracy, yet she angrily brushed aside the notion that accountability, empathy, or ethics should have any bearing on her decision to run with a story.
Tomasi is telling us that this, deep down, is the real Lois Lane, and that toxic take on the determined journalist confirms Truth’s consistently contemptuous characterization of the most durable woman in the history of the genre. Then, having underscored the correctness of many readers’ criticisms of this storyline’s shabby treatment of Lois, Superman/Wonder Woman #21 proceeds to undermine Lane’s confession by having her offer at the end to “redirect the narrative” with a new story. Not only is this too little, too late, it also makes no sense in the wake of her petulant frankness at the outset of the issue.
For his part, the Man of Tomorrow is hearing none of it. He takes every action everyone has taken entirely personally, denouncing Diana’s decision-making with unrelenting expressions of self-centeredness. Superman wants to know “why you didn’t tell me you were heading here”, wonders why she “didn’t think I could persuade the president to release them”, and accuses her of “doing an end run around me because you knew I wouldn’t condone the lasso method.”
Clark remains focused solely on himself even in the midst of what otherwise would appear to be selfless superheroic sacrifices. He runs everyone else off so he can go it alone in a foolhardy, futile, and very nearly fatal effort. When his friends back him up and save his life, Superman fails to learn any lessons about courage and cooperation; instead, he falsely states that he placed the people who voluntarily came back for him “in harm’s way”. He ends the issue by accusing Diana and Lois of betraying him, refusing to give them any reassurance, and teleporting away by himself. The Man of Steel apparently has forgotten that there is no “I” in “team”, but he sure seems to remember that there are an “M” and an “E”.
Superman/Wonder Woman #21 succeeds in making its audience want to root against the sinister and spooky villains. Where this issue fails is in making us want to root for the supposed superheroes and their ordinarily admirable friends. Every good guy or good gal with a meaningful speaking part in this story spends the entire issue being childish and churlish. If I had wanted a story about whiny narcissists with otherworldly abilities, I’d have watched a Twilight movie instead.
Were you also disappointed in the conclusion of Dark Truth, or were you pleased with the story’s culmination?
Are you looking forward to the next step in Superman’s evolution as the various villains conspire to remake the world in their own evil image?
Let us know what you think by joining in the ComiConversation in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Where this issue fails is in making us want to root for the supposed superheroes.