Keeping up with comics is ridiculously expensive if you want to keep up with a number of titles that come out every month. Not everyone can do that–I definitely can’t. So welcome to One and Done, a weekly column where I go to a comics shop and try to find one good book that’s worth the exorbitant price. It’s not easy.
I really didn’t want to spend four dollars on a comic book this time. June has been an expensive month for me, and I didn’t have a lot of leeway this week. Which is a shame, because Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely’s Six-Gun Gorilla finally came out in trade paperback, and as someone who loved Spurrier’s work on X-Men: Legacy I would love to be reading and writing about that right now. But I could only spend four dollars at the shop, not twenty.
Instead, I bought Superman #32. I almost didn’t. Money’s tight, and I know how the vast majority of cape comics work: a dash of plot, a load of action, and a cliffhanger for dessert. Not to mention the fact that publishers are absolutely trigger happy with “events” and “crossovers,” which is pretty coercive and stupid but also has worked for literally ten straight years so of course they’re not going to stop.
Anyway, I should tell you why I bought Superman #32, instead of, say, Trees #2 (which is worth getting, Trees #1 might still be free when you read this. If it isn’t, let me know. I will tweet you a very entertaining plot summary) or Flash Gordon #3 (which I hear is Very Fun Comics). Some of you probably know why, because if you pay even the slightest attention to mainstream comics online, it’s painfully obvious why Superman #32 is A Big Deal. But bear with me for a paragraph or two while I address The Casuals.
On the Hype Scale, Superman #32 lies somewhere between “New J.K. Rowling Book (Non-Harry Potter Division)” and “Apple Releases New iPhone.” This is because Superman–despite bearing the name of and being about the oldest, most famous superhero in the whole world–has not been a very good book for about three years straight. And this week’s issue #32 marks the introduction of an Acclaimed New Creative Team, which makes it the Perfect Jumping On Point. The hope, then, is that this book will stop sucking.
But that’s a very general explanation for the hype. There’s an equally specific one, and its name is John Romita Jr.
Superman #32 is Romita’s first DC Comics work, after a legendary 30-year career of working almost exclusively for Marvel. That’s like Derek Jeter leaving the Yankees to play some games for the Red Sox, to use a sports analogy. He’s joined by writer Geoff Johns, who had an acclaimed tenure telling Superman stories in Action Comics a while back, and has spent much of the last decade remaking the DC Universe in his own image.
He’s a smaller part of the hype, but only because LOOK AT THE TALENT WE POACHED is a much better headline than GUY WHO DID GREAT STUFF HERE ONCE RETURNS TO HOPEFULLY DO GREAT STUFF AGAIN.
They’re joined by Klaus Janson, an inker who a good enough artist in his own right to get people excited about him drawing a book by himself, and Laura Martin, an award-winning colorist. So, the reasons to buy this book are stacked up right there in the credits.
So is it any good? No. Not if you paid four dollars for it.
That qualification is important, and should be adjusted based on how you feel about the reason we’re all here: John Romita Jr.’s art.
I, for one, really enjoy JRJR. He has a distinctive, blocky style that often feels refreshingly blue collar. Sure, his faces tend to all look similar and he can get really weird with anatomy–Superman’s head completely disappears in the fourth figure of that cover illustration up top–but there’s a lot to love about how he portrays things like physique. His Superman–and Clark Kent–is built like a truck, but not bulging with muscles made of marble. This Kal-El is less Greek god, more caped linebacker. It really helps to convey a sense of might, not just strength.
But man, the story on this thing. Let’s start with this. Here is the solicit (that’s comic speak for ad, I suppose) for Superman #32:
““THE MEN OF TOMORROW” chapter 1! A NEW ERA for SUPERMAN begins as Geoff Johns takes the reigns – and he’s joined by the legendary super-talent of John Romita, Jr. in his first-ever work for DC Comics as they introduce Ulysses, the Man of Tomorrow, into the Man of Steel’s life. This strange visitor shares many of Kal-El’s experiences, including having been rocketed from a world with no future. Prepare yourself for a run full of new heroes, new villains and new mysteries! Plus, Perry White offers Clark a chance to return to The Daily Planet!”
There are two plot points mentioned in that solicit. They are the only two things that happen in the book. There is nothing I could spoil for you if I wanted to. There’s some stuff in there about Clark not having much of a personal life and Jimmy Olsen not knowing what to do with his fortune, but they literally don’t go anywhere, as they’re most likely B-story stuff to check in on throughout the run whenever we need a break from Superman punching giant robot gorillas.
Oh, and Superman also punches a giant robot gorilla, but there’s no reason for it other than giving JRJR something dope to draw. That’s something I take issue with. I mean, if you’ve got it, use it, but use it in a justified way. If you want to have a giant robot gorilla fight (and there’s nothing wrong with that, those are awesome), then make it amazing, make it happen for a reason, make the script earn the art it asks for. Don’t waste an artist’s talent or a reader’s time.
One of the things I don’t really understand about how comics are critiqued and received are the standards that we hold creator-owned books like Saga or Fatale or Mind Mgmt to, and the ones that we judge mainstream superhero comics by. Cape comics get a pass on a lot of things: bad dialogue, barely any plot, and a near-sociopathic insistence on buying multiple titles to get a “full story,” as if they still cost ten cents a pop.
You’re going to read a lot of reviews saying how great Superman #32 is. A lot of those reviews will likely be written by people who also adored books like The Wicked + The Divine #1, a book absolutely full of great ideas and hidden meanings and lots of potential energy. Superman #32 has none of these things. So why would we call it good?
Superman #32 is a bad comic book. But ‘The Men of Tomorrow,’ the larger story of which Superman #32 is the first part, could be absolutely fantastic whenever it’s done. Everyone working on it is top notch.
But there are ways to make a good comic book, to tell a good serialized story twenty-two pages at a time. The stands are full of good examples, and we read them every week.
This is not one of them.
As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like.
Be back in a week.