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/Wonder Woman #28 picked up where Action Comics #51 left off, continuing wordsmith Peter J. Tomasi’s New 52-concluding story arc The Final Days of Superman. Alongside artist Ed Benes, Tomasi brings Princess Diana into the picture as Kal-El faces his impending death. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel writer, T. Kyle King, offers his thoughts on Last Kiss.
Wonder Woman has learned of Superman’s terminal illness, compelling the Man of Tomorrow to have the conversation he dreaded most. Sinister events elsewhere prevent them from dealing with their conflicting emotions, though — and an old threat re-emerges before they can deal with the new danger.
Wonder Woman arrives at the Fortress of Solitude after Batman informs her that Superman is dying. Supergirl excuses herself so they may speak privately and wrestle with the unresolved feelings lingering from their breakup. Each receives word that the golden Superman duplicate who attacked the Daily Planet has been taken into custody by A.R.G.U.S. and confined to Stryker’s Island.
Arriving at the containment facility, the heroes note that the glowing impostor appears to be replicating the solar flare ability first used by the Man of Steel against Ulysses, who is jailed one floor away. Superman goes to question Ulysses while Wonder Woman remains to interrogate the new prisoner, but both supervillains briefly escape and begin battling the superhero tandem until A.R.G.U.S. is able to recapture them.
Tomasi succeeds in avoiding the trap of trying to cram too much into one issue. Superman/Wonder Woman #28 wisely steers clear of the events taking place in China and sticks to following Clark Kent and Princess Diana from the North Pole to Metropolis. That, in essence, is the strength of Last Kiss; it is a functional superhero comic book, complete with emotional angst, intense action, callbacks to the past, and progression toward the future.
The writer’s plotting is disciplined enough to keep each issue consistent with the series in which it appears while transitioning effectively between chapters in order to maintain a cohesive arc. Supergirl’s early exit is deftly handled and works within the confines of the story. Wonder Woman’s reason for appearing, and Kara’s rationale for departing, make sense for the characters as well as for the plot, so the transition from the previous installment does not feel overly forced.
Superman/Wonder Woman #28, though, is marred by substantial flaws. As a fan of the Man of Steel who has always believed the “fauxmance” with Diana was contrived and diminished both characters, I could have done without the sappy display of saccharine infatuation between the two. The subsequent interruption of their kiss by separate yet simultaneous transmissions from Lois Lane and Steve Trevor may have seemed superficially clever in the script, but it came across as overly cute on the page. Fortunately, all of this was dispensed with quickly, allowing the power couple to proceed as mighty teammates rather than as needy exes.
Throughout The Final Days of Superman, Tomasi has done a good job of incorporating elements from previous New 52 storylines. Truth was a confused mess that Savage Dawn did more to undermine than to unite, but Tomasi has integrated important bits of the big picture into this arc in a sensible manner. The reintroduction of Ulysses in Superman/Wonder Woman #28 was well handled, as Tomasi kept the connections direct rather than delving in unnecessary depth.
Likewise, Tomasi has prevented the tone of this storyline from being overly maudlin. To a great extent, this is to his credit, as he typically has written the characters’ reactions with plausible mixtures of sorrow and hope. There is, though, an aspect of The Final Days of Superman that distinguishes it from a similar event occurring almost a quarter-century ago, The Death of Superman.
The epic nature of that iconic event comic is attested to by the inspiration it provided for parts of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. While thematically comparable to Tomasi’s The Final Days of Superman, however, The Death of Superman was weightier (in the words of Chris Sims) “because of how real it manages to feel.” DC Comics convincingly allowed the Doomsday storyline and its aftermath to unfold in a way that made it seem as though the Man of Steel truly was going away, to the point that many casual comics fans genuinely were surprised when Clark Kent returned from the grave.
Through no real fault of Tomasi’s, The Final Days of Superman lacks any such gravitas, because we have known from the outset where all this was going. Perhaps ironically, Dan Jurgens’s impending return to Action Comics with the pre-Flashpoint Superman assures us that the loss of the New 52 Action Ace — undoubtedly the least loved incarnation of the Man of Tomorrow, with the arguable exception of Electric Blue Superman — will be, at worst, a minor pain in the service of a greater gain.
Accordingly, Superman/Wonder Woman #28 works fine as a superhero adventure story, but its emotional punch is blunted by the certainty that the decks are merely being cleared for an older and better Metropolis Marvel to resume his rightful place at center stage. When the Man of Steel died at the hands of Doomsday, it really was not clear whether one of the contenders to his throne might succeed him as the new Superman. Here, on the other hand, it is merely a means to a predetermined end; in order for Dan Jurgens to make an omelette, Peter J. Tomasi will have to break a few eggs.
Ed Benes’s artwork, highlighted by Alex Sinclair’s colors, is at once exceptionally well crafted and highly problematic. The backgrounds, while not minutely detailed, are seldom spartan, and the strong distinctiveness of the artist’s line work gives a chiseled look to the characters and lends solidity to their surroundings. The abundance of such finely defined figures, though, is accompanied by a couple of difficulties.
The more minor complication is how little room is left for subtlety. Apart from only occasional nuances like Ulysses’s thin grin before breaking free of his cage, the characters’ facial expressions generally are limited to grim or grimacing. The exaggerated musculature of the men borders on Jim Lee levels of disproportionateness (while, thankfully, stopping well short of the Rob Liefeld plane of preposterousness).
This brings us to the more significant problem, the portrayal of the women.
In recent years, much justly has been made of the ways the male gaze is displayed in superhero comic books, prompting a childish and crude backlash from at least one artist. Since Tomasi’s The Final Days of Superman story arc explicitly was designed and executed as a bridge connecting the current continuity to the upcoming Rebirth, it is noteworthy that DC Comics specifically drew criticism upon this point for the portrayals of Catwoman and Starfire at the outset of the New 52.
The salutary exception to this troubling trend, though, was Wonder Woman, who (as Shawn Daughhetee put it) “is in charge of the situation and uses her fighting skills to protect and defend. We do not question Wonder Woman’s femininity and sexuality”, but she does not exist to be objectified. Diana was considered a feminist icon by William Moulton Marston and Gloria Steinem, and the widespread acceptance of that perspective has been underscored both by the positive critical appraisals of Marguerite Bennett’s Bombshells and by the negative popular response to David Finch’s avoidance of applying the F-word to the character.
That is the context in which Superman/Wonder Woman #28 opens a chapter called Last Kiss with a splash page showing a doe-eyed, pouty-lipped, busty Amazon Warrior gazing out at the reader while leaning against the entrance to the Fortress of Solitude as the Arctic winds tousle her hair. Four pages later, the titular farewell smooch occurs in another full-page display prominently portraying Diana’s buttocks. A couple of pages later, Wonder Woman stands in profile, hands on hips, chest thrust forward, when addressing the ersatz Superman. The fixation of these depictions persists throughout the issue.
Obviously, the body types appearing in superhero comics have always been idealized almost to the point of absurdity, for male as well as female characters. It is a mistake, though, to equate muscular men with curvy women. To anyone who considers my objection to Benes’s consistent depictions of Diana in Superman/Wonder Woman #28 an overreaction, I would issue two challenges.
First of all, look at how Supergirl is seated suggestively on the desk in the first two panels in which she appears. Why is Kara sitting that way? What would make her pose this way in this situation, alone in the Fortress with her first cousin, who has just delivered sad news and extracted from her a solemn vow? Given where she was when the previous issue ended, how would she have gotten into such a position in the brief transition between the two chapters? Supergirl — whose return to the published DC Universe was prompted by the popularity of her wholesome, family-friendly TV show — has been placed that way for the sole purpose of being sexualized.
Anyone who is dismissive of that assessment may move on to my second challenge, which is this: Go through Superman/Wonder Woman #28, page by page, but switch the positions of the titular twosome. Everywhere you see Kal-El, imagine instead that Diana was there, in the same physical posture as the Man of Steel. Then, for each image of Wonder Woman, suppose Superman was being shown in her place, with his limbs and torso arranged exactly the same way hers are.
How ridiculous would the Action Ace look, crouched down and rear end up, as his solar-flaring doppelgänger advanced upon him, exclaiming, “So much pain to deal with”? How ludicrous would the final page appear if the Metropolis Marvel were contorted into that stance, managing simultaneously to give revealing glimpses of chest, butt, and leg with face fully concealed? The whole idea behind pairing the power couple in a team-up book was that what was good for the gander was good for the goose. Well, take a gander at the double standard on display in Superman/Wonder Woman #28, because you don’t have to be a prude to object to this level of objectification.
In the end, too many of the pieces of Last Kiss got in the way of the greater whole. It was well written for what it is, but the nature of what it is inevitably detracts from its impact. What it was intended to show was well drawn, but the intention underlying those depictions was misguided. Unavoidably, therefore, Superman/Wonder Woman #28 was less than the sum of its parts.
Did Last Kiss receive your smooch of approval?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
This issue did what it came to do, but it was bogged down by significant problems.