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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Superwoman #3, released this week, saw writer Phil Jimenez joined by penciller Emanuela Lupacchino for the latest installment of a series chock full of deep-track callbacks and unexpected plot twists. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King, who covers all the superheroics in Metropolis, is here to review the new issue.
Superwoman #3 Review:
Billed initially as a Lois Lane solo title, Superwoman stunned readers straight out of the gate by killing off its supposed star in the opening edition. This has left Lois’s reluctant partner, fellow costumed crime-fighter Lana Lang, to fight the good fight alone. Is Lana stable enough in mind and body to serve as the sole surviving Superwoman?
(Some spoilers follow!)
Superwoman #3 Synopsis:
Lana reflects back on her recent hiring as an on-air science reporter by Daily Star editor-in-chief George Taylor while she, Steel, and an armored Natasha Irons use the Atomic Skull’s nuclear energy against him in combat. John Henry Irons persuades Lang to listen to the recaptured villain’s description of the atrocities occurring at Stryker’s Island since management of the prison was privatized and placed under Lex Luthor’s control. Together, Superwoman and the Atomic Skull restore power to Metropolis, but Lana’s physical symptoms grow worse in the process.
Lex, caged and with his legs rendered useless, attempts unsuccessfully to talk his way out of the trap set for him by his sister, Lena Luthor. Freed from her wheelchair and aided by a Mother Box and an entourage of Bizarros, Lena proceeds to explain to her captive sibling why she blames him and how she turned the tables on him. Claiming she is evolving beyond Lex, Lena dons a warsuit and proclaims herself Ultrawoman.
Superwoman #3 Analysis:
Let us stipulate from the outset that I remain infuriated by this series’ disingenuous mistreatment of the New 52 Lois Lane, which was an affront to fans that continues to cast a pall over this title. Aside from that unconscionable high-profile bait-and-switch fridging, however, this series represents one of DC Comics’ more female-friendly Rebirth titles, and Superwoman #3 is no exception. Alongside inadvertent leading lady Lana Lang, the issue featured Natasha Irons and Lena Luthor in prominent supporting roles. Although Lana’s characterization remains a disjointed mess — perhaps deliberately so in this series, but her lack of depth and definition remain unfortunate holdovers from her execrable New 52 portrayal — the upbeat idealism of the youthful Natasha and the methodical plotting of the jaded Lena offer a study in contrasts between two resilient and brilliant women who accessorize by designing their own weaponized exoskeletons. (In Superwoman #3, even the technology is female.)
That effort at inclusivity extends beyond the personae on the printed page to the penciller who drew them, as Lupacchino in this issue joined the graphic arts team also consisting of inker Ray McCarthy and colorist Hi-Fi. Lupacchino, who salvaged the hypersexualized Starfire by showing Koriand’r could be portrayed attractively without being posed exploitatively, delivers vivid action sequences and expressive physicality in which no hint of objectification appears. Lex’s and John Henry’s facial features sometimes convey emotion through excessive exaggeration, but Lena’s body language and piercing gaze match the tonal variations of her lengthy monologue precisely.
Lupacchino paints on the canvas of Superwoman #3 in brushstrokes more sweeping than those appearing in the more minutely detailed preceding issues, which leavens Jimenez’s dense and meticulous plotting in a most welcome way. As evidenced by the presence on the issue’s first page of a retooled Perry White predecessor from Action Comics #1, this series is so thick with allusions, inside jokes, and Easter eggs, it warrants the sorts of individualized annotations ordinarily reserved for Grant Morrison epics. As much as I enjoy being given an excuse to reach up onto the shelf and take down my weather-worn copy of Michael Fleisher’s The Great Superman Book, it helps that this reference-heavy story is moved along by graphics that no longer require a magnifying glass.
Lena Luthor — who is not without her own complicated backstory — pulls from a lot of divergent plot threads in weaving the tangled web that explains the minutiae of her machinations, and the Atomic Skull — himself a bit of a Bronze Age throwback — makes a passing mention of fellow Stryker’s Island inmate Moonman. Superwoman #3 continues the series’ trend of expending a significant percentage of its page space on exposition, but the talking heads typically are broken up by fight scenes and energy outbursts, even if this issue is a little light on actual adventure in the midst of story advancement.
As the putative understudy unexpectedly thrust into the lead role, Lana remains rather erratic to be a main character. Perhaps an energy-converting superhero is bound to be mercurial by her nature, but Lang is all over the place. Defined in the post-Flashpoint continuity primarily by her opposition to Lois, the absence of Lane leaves as large a void in the character of Lana as in the book itself. In Superwoman #3, her humor remains biting and her reactions remain harsh. She responds to being grounded by the good-hearted Steel with flippant dishonesty and greets Natasha’s upbeat encouragement by grudgingly conceding. The combination of Lana’s melancholy outlook with her psychological and physiological deterioration often makes her a regrettably appropriate heir to the unlamented New 52 Superman, who, like Lang, ended his run as a largely unsympathetic superhero in extremis.
Jimenez is delivering an intricate and layered story constructed atop a rich sediment of superhero history, with careful characterization of the ancillary cast members and no small amount of philosophical public policy debate thrown into the mix, but Lana seems no more ready to step up to the title role than the audience was ready to see her ascend into that spot. The title of the tale (Who Killed Superwoman? — Part Three) appears unmindful of the question posed by the nomenclature of the opening issue, which was: Who is Superwoman? Until we are able to answer that inquiry other than with the words, “She’s dead”, Superwoman #3 will remain a comic book containing numerous admirable pieces that somehow fail fully to come together to form an entirely satisfactory whole.
With Lois Lane slain, Lana Lang imperiled, and Lena Luthor empowered, are you ready for the ensuing issue?
ComiConverse with us in the comments and share your thoughts on Superwoman #3!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Like its heroine, this issue was somewhat erratic. The art, the plot, and the nuances all were solid, but they added up to less than the sum of those parts.