Review: Superman #23

Kyle King Kyle King
Expert Contributor
May 24th, 2017

T. Kyle King is a lawyer, a former sports blogger, a panelist on the "Twin Peaks"-centric "Wrapped in Podcast", and a Superman guy.

Review: Superman #23
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Review of: Superman #23
Price:
Variegated

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On May 24, 2017
Last modified:May 24, 2017

Summary:

In almost every respect, this issue was flawlessly conceived and executed, but the final product was marred by a distressing throwback to unfortunate past trends.

Review of: Superman #23
Price:
Variegated

Reviewed by:
Rating:

4
On May 24, 2017
Last modified:May 24, 2017

Summary:

In almost every respect, this issue was flawlessly conceived and executed, but the final product was marred by a distressing throwback to unfortunate past trends.

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Superman #23 brought the Black Dawn story arc to a stunning climax with outsized action, harrowing plot developments, and an enormous revelation. Penciller Doug Mahnke spearheaded the artistic effort in this tale told by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King reviews this past Wednesday’s hard-hitting issue.

(WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!)

Superman #23 Review:

Batman and Robin have been captured. Cobb Branden has kidnapped Lois Lane. Hamilton County is under attack from gargantuan creatures. What old enemy has orchestrated this elaborate scheme… and what sinister lessons are these events meant to teach to the impressionable young Superboy?

(SERIOUSLY, IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS ISSUE YET, TURN BACK NOW!)

Superman #23 Synopsis:

Superman has found the pods in which numerous captives are held in suspended animation, but, before he can determine how to free them safely, he hears Lois cry out in pain and rushes to her aid. The Man of Steel finds his wife in the custody of Cobb Branden, whom he confronts in an effort to obtain answers. The Action Ace’s interrogation of his malevolent neighbor is interrupted by the arrival of giant hostile monsters, however.

When Superman attempts to halt the mutated animals’ assault without loss of life, the town elders — now revealed as a team of merciless metahumans called the Super Elite — stop the carnage by killing the creatures. The Man of Tomorrow manages to trap one of the mammoth brutes without harming it, only to have the beast break free and send shards of sharp metal flying. One airborne shrapnel fragment strikes Lois, severing her leg. Superman tends to his injured wife, while Superboy is forced to watch it all from afar by his calculating captor: Manchester Black.

Story continues below

Superman #23 Analysis:

The creative tandem behind Black Dawn — Chapter 4 combined for a highly effective collaboration in this issue. Following the prior installment’s cliffhanger conclusion, the dramatic tension already was heightened heading into Superman #23, and the latest chapter took full advantage of this situation. The story opens with alternating panels showing Superman’s discovery of the unconscious hostages and Lois’s confrontation with Cobb, building up to husband and wife converging on an explosive splash page. A trio of inkers and a couple of colorists contributed to the cause, lending a degree of variety to the visuals that is not always welcome, but there is no discounting the impact of the issue’s intense action sequences or the kinetic energy of its flowing layouts.

The concluding reveal also was executed expertly, maintaining a tight focus on the face of the distraught Jonathan Kent as the villain moved and spoke around him before divulging his true identity on the final page. The clues from earlier issues pointing toward the hidden mastermind were cleverly strewn with judicious shrewdness, from the Black Dawn title to the cigarette smoking to the placement of Manchester Black in a collage showing the reconstituted continuity. Now that we know What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? is back to being canonical, introducing Manchester Black as the sinister force behind the corruption of the ostensibly idyllic Hamilton County in this Superman Family-oriented title was an inventive bit of dastardly craftsmanship. Even Black’s hands emerging from the darkness to strongarm Superboy into witnessing personal harm caused by parental hope offered a masterfully perverse inversion of A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Technique.

Superman #23 is a powerful piece of superhero storytelling. Black Dawn — Chapter 4 delivers a compelling payoff to long-simmering subplots in convincing fashion, complete with robust fight scenes and a wrenching emotional punch. Rather than skim surfaces, the authors dared to delve into the possible unintended consequences of Superman’s uncompromising morality, placing Lois and Jonathan at the heart of the adventure in a way that literally brought home the tale’s strong and challenging themes. This issue had lofty goals, artistically and philosophically, and its creators achieved their objectives.

Nevertheless, Superman #23 very much left me torn. Manchester Black was conceived as the embodiment of the Dark Ages of the 1990s for the purpose of repudiating that era’s vulgar extremes, which included a surfeit of severed appendages… yet Black Dawn — Chapter 4 lopped off a limb from the frequently fridged Lois Lane in the service of its point. Given that context, the presence of Mahnke (who was one of the artists on What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?) was less reminiscent of that earlier classic with an upbeat ending than it was a reminder of his work with Tomasi during the grim and grimacing nadir of Truth. This tale — painstakingly designed to engage both Jon and the audience emotionally — was impressive and effective yet, regrettably, excessive. To their credit, those creators have earned back the readers’ trust (and, hence, the benefit of the doubt in this instance) during Rebirth; however, this tale’s bloodthirsty terminal flourish tainted this otherwise exemplary edition.

Are you glad that Manchester Black is back? We welcome you to ComiConverse with us in the comments about Superman #23!

T. Kyle King is an Expert Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.

Superman #23

  • 4

Variegated

In almost every respect, this issue was flawlessly conceived and executed, but the final product was marred by a distressing throwback to unfortunate past trends.

Story continues below

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