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.
MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB
Superman has survived the Truth story arc, and, despite the exposure of his secret identity and the reduction of his powers, the Man of Steel is now taking the fight to his many enemies. Justice continued this week in Superman/Wonder Woman #22, and our Kyle King is here to review the newest installment.
Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke’s Superman/Wonder Woman #22 caused a stir even prior to its arrival in stores on Wednesday, as this preview provoked strong responses on social media. Now that the entire issue is in readers’ hands, is Heart of the Sun better than we’d hoped or as bad as we’d feared?
A blood-splattered Clark Kent materializes in the transporter aboard the Justice League satellite, where he knocks out the Flash, absconds with a prototype shuttle, and flies it toward the sun in the hope of recharging the solar batteries in his cells. Diana, after indifferently witnessing a verbal and physical altercation between Lana Lang and Lois Lane, follows him, first to the satellite, then into space. With the Flash’s help, she transports Clark back to the JLA headquarters, where he is treated for his injuries. Clark tells Diana he isn’t sure if he still loves her.
Working together as teammates in spite of their personal problems, Superman and Wonder Woman launch an assault on a military helicopter bound for Belle Reve. Wearing special protective gloves, they spring the manacled Parasite from captivity and proceed to beat him. Grabbing the energy-draining supervillain by the throat, Superman snarls, “Let’s make a deal.”
Frankly, I almost didn’t bother reviewing this issue, because everything that needed saying already has been said. Nevertheless, because Superman/Wonder Woman #22 perpetuates so many bad ideas that increasingly are becoming institutionalized about the Man of Steel, I thought it necessary to add my voice to the chorus, in the hope that the din will grow loud enough for DC Comics to listen to reason.
Lest I be thought a perpetual naysayer, though, I would like to begin by highlighting the strong points of Heart of the Sun. Don’t worry; this won’t take long.
Mahnke continues to distinguish himself as a penciller with a special talent for emphasizing emotions through facial expressions. Wil Quintana excels at using colors to illustrate motion and mood. Some of the ideas and images included in this issue, such as Superman trying to recharge himself through close exposure to the sun and two characters sharing a significant page-turn reveal while in the midst of teleporting, are intriguing and effective.
Unfortunately, that handful of positives is overwhelmed by a boatload of negatives.
Superman/Wonder Woman #22 opens with a sequence of tightening close-ups on Clark’s placid face as he emerges from an enveloping white light. This “fleeting moment of serenity” swiftly passes, shattered by the sight of a blood-drenched Superman declaring, “All I want is justice.” In pursuit of this, he proceeds to ambush a teammate, beat him into unconsciousness, and steal a vehicle. Maybe the Man of Steel’s definition of justice has shifted a bit.
Clark rejects efforts to help him and refuses to discuss his reasons for distancing himself from those who care about him most. When Diana attempts to open a dialogue, she is berated for her “lies of omission” by the man whose overpowering anger is the result of the public revelation of his lifelong deception about his true identity. Wonder Woman calmly gives him a five-word answer, prompting him to retort: “Look, we’re going round and round on this.” Uh, no, you’re not, Clark; she’s trying to discuss this with you like an adult, and you’re shutting her down.
When Wonder Woman insists upon accompanying Superman to Louisiana as his Justice League teammate, the two violently attack the helicopter and its crew, snidely chide the soldiers for having the gall to defend themselves and do their duty, and abduct the bound prisoner while promising they’ll “try not to break him!”
They don’t try very hard, though, because the Amazon Princess punches the Parasite in the mouth and the Man of Steel kicks him in the face hard enough to send the villain flying into a tree. The Parasite remains in chains throughout this beatdown. The issue ends with a grimacing Superman going nose to nose with the bloodied captive, leaving readers to ponder what, precisely, differentiates this supposed superhero from the helpless supervillain he has just bludgeoned into submission.
The only interruption of this repugnant aggression offers no interlude, as we instead are subjected to a crass cat-fight in which none of the three major female characters is portrayed positively. As the helicopter bearing Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and most of Clark’s other old friends rises above Manassas, Steel and Wonder Woman have a cordial conversation that provides useful explication.
Then, alas, Lana and Lois get into the act, swapping snotty barbs for the remainder of the page until, in the shocking panel reproduced atop this article as the issue’s definitive image, the Smallville native hauls off and socks the Daily Planet reporter in the face. Lois expresses only surprise that Lana didn’t strike her sooner, and both women make it clear that neither of them cares what the other one thinks. Throughout it all, a blasé Diana stands aside looking disinterested, waiting patiently for a break in the conversation so she can have their full attention when Wonder Woman transports herself to the Justice League satellite and strands them there.
This horrible scene would have been inexcusable even if the subsequent 17 pages had contained any meaningful redeeming features, which they didn’t. Diana is indifferent to Lana and Lois at first simply so she can be insensitive to them later, and her pettiness only proves that this sequence serves no purpose. Lana and Lois are still at Manassas only because they both believe they are accompanying Wonder Woman when she goes after Superman, which the Amazon Princess never intended to allow.
Tomasi as easily could have scripted a scene showing Steel and Wonder Woman speaking with one another as all the non-metahumans were airlifted to safety. Their exchange could have included an early line of dialogue in which Diana thanked John for his (off-panel) help in persuading Lana and Lois that their presence in harm’s way would only hamper the superheroes’ efforts at rescuing Superman from his own excesses. Steel and Wonder Woman could have had an interaction that moved the story forward without anyone needing to be demeaned in the process.
It is particularly pernicious that this insulting spectacle was written for two female characters, and that one of them was Lois Lane. The credits for Superman/Wonder Woman #22 identify Tomasi as responsible for both “story and words”, and they likewise list both an assistant editor (Andrew Marino) and a group editor (Eddie Berganza). Can it really be the case that each of these people is so tone-deaf that he has not heard the cacophony of criticism concerning Truth’s abusive treatment of Lois Lane? Did it occur to no one that, after an entire story arc was built around casting her in the role of Superman’s betrayer, a punch in the face to Lois would be taken as a slap in the face to her fans?
Yeah, all right, we get it; Lana and Lois are longtime rivals for Superman’s affections. (That makes absolutely no sense in a continuity in which there are no romantic attachments between the Man of Steel and either of them, but whatever.) Even leaving that aside, though, is it really so much to expect that, if DC is determined to replace all of Superman’s Silver Age giddiness with 1990s grimness, then at least Lana’s and Lois’s husband-hunting competition could be among the 1950s holdovers to be jettisoned? Yes, a 1960 comic book cover depicted this:
By 1988, though, the obvious absurdity of such scenes necessitated that they be used only ironically, and even then accompanied by disclaimers reassuring readers “that this scene does not appear in this issue”, which is exactly what happened on this Action Comics cover:
Again, that would be 1988. As in, the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman (and, not coincidentally, also of Lois Lane). Those would be the same Superman and Lois Lane who, two years ago, celebrated the 75th anniversary of their shared first appearance. Aren’t we kind of past this, guys?
If we’re not, then, fine. If we’re going to go back, let’s go all the way back. If, in 2015, a surly Superman is driving the women in his life to acts of physical violence, let’s fight the real enemy, much as Lana and Lois did on the cover of Adventure Comics #261 in 1959:
In any case, it ought to go without saying that maybe someone in a supervisory capacity in the Superman shop should have vetoed the notion of making Lois Lane the victim of assault and battery just for the heck of it.
Because this issue consists of nothing but such cruelty, the title of this story shouldn’t be Heart of the Sun; it should be Heart of Darkness. Superman/Wonder Woman #22 is so dark, it took three inkers (Jaime Mendoza, Sean Parsons, and Johnny Desjardins) to blacken in all the shadows in which this story is steeped. Ironically, the only Superman comic book currently on the stands that shows us a Man of Steel from whom any sunlight shines is the one whose superhero dresses all in black.
The sad truth is that DC simply views its flagship character as an anguished, overly serious icon better suited for sullen deconstruction than for inspiring triumphs. The infuriating injustice is that it doesn’t have to be this way at all; Superman can be compassionate and kind, cheerful and trusting, determined both to protect and to depend on his friends, willing to care about the people in his life and to let them care about him in return, and committed to finding a way to reach the right result without resorting to unsavory means in the process.
This Superman simply is not the Superman, and this toxic portrayal of a meanspirited Man of Tomorrow is poisoning every character and circumstance unfortunate enough to come into contact with him. Where once there stood a good guy, there now stands the Bad Boy of Steel, a detached, undisciplined, brutal, cold, inhuman miscreant who emotionally abuses his friends and physically assaults his enemies. Superman quite simply has become Manchester Black. As long as this bad apple undeservedly wears on his chest an emblem that is supposed to mean hope, the whole bunch will be spoiled.
What was your reaction to Superman/Wonder Woman #22? We welcome your thoughts in the comments below, and we invite you to ComiConverse with your fellow fans.
Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Everyone associated with this issue should be embarrassed by its mistreatment of both the characters and their fans.