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, whose powers were reduced in Truth and who was thrust into Justice full of mistrust after his secret identity was exposed, is hunting down the complex conspiracy that has been working against him in secret through separate yet interwoven story arcs being told in four DC Comics publications. ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, takes a look at Superman/Wonder Woman #23, which was released on Wednesday.
Writer Peter J. Tomasi and penciller Doug Mahnke teamed up to bring us Ravenous, in which Clark Kent and Princess Diana enlist the aid of the reluctant Parasite to help them track down the missing Firestorm and the energy-emitting villains kidnapped from the STEEL lab in Manassas.
Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Parasite strike a deal: The supervillain will locate and lead the superheroes to the cloaked power source they need to find, in return for which they will let him feed, then let him leave. Vandal Savage is arguing with his son, Angelo Bend, who is at the hidden island base in Kentucky being sought by the Justice Leaguers. Savage wants to proceed with caution, but the Angle Man is more impatient, and he plans to kill his immortal father.
Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Parasite arrive at the base and fight their way inside. The trio battles with the Atomic Skull, the other internally-powered supervillains taken from the custody of STEEL, and the black hole creatures. Before they can rescue Firestorm, however, Diana is ensnared by a towering robot that now is coming after Clark.
This issue picks up precisely where the previous issue left off, with the first line of Ravenous being the Parasite’s reply to Superman’s final line from Heart of the Sun. Unfortunately, this indicates that Superman/Wonder Woman #23 is doomed to be nothing more than a brutal continuation of the appalling Superman/Wonder Woman #22.
The Parasite, still bound and bleeding from the beating he took at the end of the previous issue, understandably is cynical about cutting a deal with the Man of Steel. Superman responds by tossing the helpless supervillain to Wonder Woman. The Parasite crudely comments on the Amazon’s “life-force energy”, prompting her to punch him in the face, sending another spray of blood into the air. The chained energy leech sinks to his knees, and Clark tells him he’s “going to be our glorified bloodhound on a very short leash”.
Still skeptical, the Parasite asks what happens if he refuses. “Then”, Diana comments coldly, “I hear screaming in your future.” Demanding guarantees before he agrees, the Parasite insists that he wants to hear ironclad assurances from “Wonder Chick’s pretty lips”. The Amazon Warrior answers by snatching him up by the chain that contains him, slamming him face-first into the ground, slamming him into the ground again on his back, suspending him upside-down, and snarling at him through gritted teeth: “Listen, fool, when Superman offers you a deal you say—yes!”
Meekly, the battered, inverted, and physically restrained Parasite gives the obligatory answer, but Wonder Woman orders him, “Speak up”, so he repeats himself. The supervillain asks finally to be released from his bonds, so Diana slices them off with her sword, causing him to plummet head-first into the ground. Impatiently, Clark commands: “Get up. You can rest later.” The depleted Parasite, however, needs an energy infusion, which will require Wonder Woman to hold his hand for five seconds.
Before making physical contact with their captive, she brandishes her sword in her other hand, promising the Parasite that, if he does not let go of her as promised, “I will cut your head off”. When the villain holds on a second or two too long, Superman snatches the Amazon’s sword, tells the Parasite he will “slice off your damn arm”, and moves to make good on his threat. Only the villain’s last-second release of Wonder Woman’s hand spares him from having his appendage severed. Despite being a “little disoriented” from the experience, Diana retains the wherewithal to warn the Parasite that they will “get busy again convincing you” if he does not hold up his end of their coerced bargain.
Upon leading the heroes to their destination, the Parasite points across the water to the island. The Man of Steel insists that he accompany them there, and, when the super-leech says he isn’t going, Clark bellows back, “Yes, you are.” When the Parasite expresses his “fear of drowning”, the unsympathetic Amazon goddess callously responds: “Not to worry, the lack of oxygen will kill you first.” Fortunately, after that, Superman and Wonder Woman have other bad guys to bludgeon while grimacing menacingly, so they pretty much cease abusing the Parasite and stick strictly to directing expressions of ingratitude at him.
Superman/Wonder Woman #23 has plenty of other problems, of course. For one thing, the front cover reveals the coming cliffhanger, so just looking at the book when you bought it constituted a spoiler. The revelation that Angelo Bend is Vandal Savage’s son might have been intriguing, had we not already been told that their co-conspirator, HORDR_ROOT, also is the offspring of a familiar comic book character. Vandal refers to the “recent face-to-face meeting in the chamber” that united the four storylines at the end of Truth, but it remains utterly unclear when the events of Ravenous occur in relation to those taking place in Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman. In Justice, all of the Superman books are supposed to line up with one another, but, if they do, it isn’t apparent exactly how.
Angelo confesses to the Justice League interlopers that he “had prepared a myriad of gauntlets for a clandestine underwater insertion” in case they discovered his island base, but he did not anticipate their “full-frontal approach.”
Vandal Savage has been working on a plan that was “millennia in the making”, the Angle Man has been engaged in the plot for 600 years, and no one had time to prepare for the contingency that someone might attack an island by swimming across the water from the mainland and landing on the beach?
Did both of these guys sleep through D-Day?
In Bend’s and Savage’s defense, though, it’s forgivable that neither of them foresaw Superman’s and Wonder Woman’s use of the Parasite to track the base’s energy signature because the Parasite merely absorbs energy, rather than locating substantial energy sources by shoving his hands into random patches of ground to read “the Earth’s magnetic field.” This inexplicable (and, I believe, unprecedented) addition to the Parasite’s power set is a convenient story conceit offered out of nowhere that raises serious questions about the villain’s behavior in pretty much every previous story in which he has appeared.
If he can stick a fist in the dirt and sense where all the power is stored, why has he been wasting his time mixing it up with the Last Son of Krypton all these years?
Unlike Superman/Wonder Woman #22, this issue features no Lois Lane, no Lana Lang, no Steel, and no Flash. In fact, a nameless and faceless guard futilely patrolling the edge of the island at exactly the wrong moment utters the only two lines of dialogue in Ravenous that emerge from the mouth of anyone other than Superman, Wonder Woman, the Parasite, the Angle Man, or Vandal Savage. Consequently, we see just how truly loathsome Clark and Diana have become in Tomasi’s hands.
It is a shame, too, because the artwork is outstanding. Mahnke’s pencils are exquisitely detailed, particularly his demonically glowering Vandal Savage and his repulsively inhuman Parasite. Mahnke, along with fellow inkers Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, and Jaime Mendoza and colorist Wil Quintana, give Superman/Wonder Woman #23 visual vitality and bring the action sequences vividly to life.
This comic book’s good looks cannot overcome its vile depictions of these classic characters, though. It is as impossible to root for these abhorrent antiheroes as it is to defend a second straight story showing supposed superheroes sadistically abusing a powerless prisoner, with the added atrociousness of having the Parasite detestably direct demeaning objectification toward the female lead. Anyone associated with concocting such a deplorable story and unleashing this abomination upon the world ought to be ashamed. Superman/Wonder Woman #23 is entitled Ravenous because this series leaves its readers starving for Superman yet left empty by an adventure that is despicable to the point of being sickening.
Did you see any redeeming features in this issue?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Queen Hippolyta and Jonathan and Martha Kent would disown their children after reading this issue.