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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Trinity #2 followed up on the cliffhanger ending of the series’ first installment by sending Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on an inexplicable trip that appeared to transport them across time and space. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King brings you his review of writer/artist Francis Manapul’s Better Together, Part Two: Smallville.
Trinity #2 Review:
After an initially awkward family dinner at the Hamilton County farm, the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel began forming bonds with the Caped Crusader and the Amazing Amazon from the New 52 continuity. As soon as the titular trio coalesced into a team for the Rebirth DC Universe, though, they found themselves staring across the threshold of another world. Did they pass through the looking glass in Smallville?
(This review is spoiler-free if you just read the text, but be careful before clicking on any links!)
Trinity #2 Synopsis:
Flanked by his fellow Justice Leaguers, Superman faces Clark Kent, who is a boy, and Jonathan Kent, who evidently has suffered a fatal heart attack. Each incarnation of Kal-El is equally bewildered by the encounter, leading the Kansas youth to flee and prompting the Metropolis Marvel to administer CPR. Revived, Jonathan spies the symbol on Superman’s chest and worries that the costumed Kryptonian is a member of Clark’s birth family come to take the boy away.
Despite Batman’s grave misgivings, the three superheroes accompany Pa Kent in search of young Clark. Superman offers only oblique answers to Jonathan’s questions, Batman searches in vain for satisfactory explanations, and the overwrought Clark hears and heeds a mysterious voice. All seems well when the four adults safely retrieve the frightened child… only none of them knows the sinister secret that explains their presence in Superman’s Smallville past.
Trinity #2 Analysis:
The credits for this issue list a couple of editors, a pair of variant cover artists, and the five originators behind the invention of the comic book’s central characters… yet just two members of the creative team responsible for the second chapter of Better Together: Steve Wands, who lettered Trinity #2, and Manapul, who did everything else. As the author of the script and the illustrator, inker, and colorist who produced the imagery, Manapul shouldered the lion’s share of the load while making the most of the opportunity.
Smallville gave Manapul the Kansas canvas upon which to unite theme and tone. Rather than hand off the words he penned to another penciller or generate the graphics to match another writer’s story, Manapul was in a position to mesh together every part of his vision for Trinity #2, and he succeeded masterfully. Better Together began by combining disparate elements to establish something new, but the tale continued with a trip back to the past, making more literal the prior issue’s metaphorical trek down memory lane.
Manapul carefully creates the mood of Trinity #2 through the subtle emphasis of the issue’s pastoral setting. His Smallville is idyllic to the point of being idealized, all sun-dappled blue-green streams and autumnal forest oranges and bright yellow bursts from the sky. Even the darkest shadows of the hiding place beneath Jonathan Kent’s barn are a non-threatening afternoon azure rather than a foreboding midnight blue, sending the signal to the characters and the audience alike that these bucolic surroundings may be mysterious but are not perilous.
The consistently comforting scenery increasingly has a calming effect as the story unfolds, lulling those experiencing the adventure within its pages and those observing it from outside into a false sense of security. Initially, everyone understandably is on edge: Jonathan sees Superman and is shocked into experiencing a cardiac episode; Superman sees Jonathan and reacts with such befuddled wonderment that he fails to see details; Clark thinks his dad is dead, so he punches his older self and runs; Batman urges them to beat a strategic retreat before ignoring his own advice; Wonder Woman, determined to react compassionately, deliberately declines to engage her analytical faculties until the penultimate page.
The iconic figures comprising the cast of Trinity #2 act in character, responding in manners that are amusing and intriguing and heartwarming, until we and they treat all this as if it is what it seems, and why shouldn’t we? The words ring so true, and the images look so perfect, that the reader feels uplifted even when knowing the trajectory of Better Together, Part Two runs inexorably, inevitably downward.
Despite the certainty that this will not end well, the conclusion still comes as a shock. Just when order appears to have been restored, as father hugs son and teammates support one another, a part of the darker meaning of Trinity #2 is laid bare in a stunning page-turn reveal that introduces one — though not all — of the wrongdoers and gives us a glimpse of how a portion of the plan was accomplished. The villain and the method each appear glaringly obvious in retrospect, but both the antagonist and the accompanying homage caught me off guard the first time through, so Manapul gets credit for springing the surprise successfully.
I wasn’t alone in being fooled, though. In Smallville, Superman admits to the audience that “I don’t remember what happened next, how we got into our costumes, or how we got here.” When the Darknight Detective plays the voice of reason and states flatly that they need to leave, Wonder Woman retorts: “It’s too late, Batman.” Lois Lane is limited to a single scene, but she dispenses wise motherly counsel to her son, offering reassurance that he shouldn’t “live in fear of what’s out there.” Upon finding his missing son, Jonathan promises Clark: “We’ll always be together.” Manapul is remarkably effective with his visual and verbal sleight of hand.
Trinity #2, with its clean lines and bright colors and essential characterizations, gives the illusion of simplicity. From panel to panel and page to page, Better Together, Part Two just feels like Batman, Clark Kent, Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Superman, and Wonder Woman being themselves in a Smallville that is impeccably Smallville. All the while, Francis Manapul is planting the seeds for upcoming plot twists with subtle clues that are easily missed in the midst of the warm fuzzies. The result is a whole as great as the sum of its legendary parts, which tricks us into watching each tree until the writer/artist is ready to let us see the forest.
What was your reaction to Smallville?
ComiConverse with us in the comments and let us know your thoughts on Trinity #2!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Francis Manapul’s well-crafted story appears straightforward and iconic, but its complexities and nuances make it the perfect tale for the fan who has everything.