This week: Both Superman: Villains #1 and Strange Adventures #1 show examples of what the popularization of hero worship can do.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Strange Adventures #1
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner
Letterers: Clayton Cowles
After being consistently let down by Tom King recently, I was not looking forward to this series at all. I wish I could say that I was pleasantly surprised by what we got, but that’d be a lie.
The best thing about this book is the art team of Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner. The pair have similar enough styles that switching between them is not completely jarring, but distinct enough to drive the story in the way that King wants it to. Gerads slightly messier style provides a good backdrop for what Strange is like in reality, while Shaner’s clean nostalgic style gives a look at an idealized version in what seems to be the hero’s own memories.
I have two big problems in this book, and both stem from the story that King is trying to tell. It’s yet another “the effect war has on people” book by King, which seems to be the niche he’s pigeonholed himself into. And while there’s room for this type of book, some of the choices that King makes in Strange Adventures feel irresponsible and even dangerous. It feels like King is lashing out at his own critics by inserting a proxy for them lashing out at his hero. I could see a lot of similarity in Strange’s critic to King’s own; especially to the crowd upset about Heroes in Crisis. By inserting a critic who is screaming at the main character (and literally frothing at the mouth), King shows us what he thinks of his own critics in a very meta-textual way. The fact that this critic winds up with his head blown up, and with Strange as the most probable suspect is also terrifying.
My other big issue about Strange Adventures #1 is something that’s giving me more flashbacks to Cry for Justice in a different way than Heroes in Crisis did. Both Cry for Justice and Strange Adventures fridge a hero’s daughter. Fridging characters in itself is a tired, overused, and harmful trope, fridging a child is grotesque and pointless. In this case it’s also a cheap ploy for sympathy with the hero. It’s a lazy pop, much like a wrestler complimenting the city they’re recording in. There are ways to get the same reaction for the hero that don’t require killing a child, but those methods require more work, so why bother?
Strange Adventures #1 will undoubtedly find it’s audience, and will probably be acclaimed by many other critics, but after the first issue it’s clear that this series is intended for another crowd than me. That’s fine, but I can’t in good conscience recommend the book. If you’re already a fan of King, give it a look, but if you’re not, feel free to avoid it.
Superman: Villains #1
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, and Jody Houser
Artists: Michael Gaydos, Riley Rossmo, Scott Godlewski, Bryan Hitch, Cully Hamner, Steve Lieber, and Jim Mahfood
Colorists: Michael Gaydos, Ivan Plascencia, Gabe Eltaeb, Alex Sinclair, Dave McCaig, Nathan Fairbairn, and Jim Mahfood
Letterers: Dave Sharpe, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Troy Peteri, and Josh Reed
Cover: Bryan Hitch and Alex Sinclair
On the other end of the spectrum, I was very impressed by Superman: Villains. A companion piece to February’s Superman: Heroes, this issue focused on the reactions of the villains to Superman’s announcement. Three things really stuck out for me in this issue.
The first was just how much I lost it on the two page Lex Luthor story from Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber. It was a remarkably simple joke, but one that had me laughing hard enough that my partner checked in on me. Specifically, the “the whole time, Lexy” had me in stitches. Lieber and Fraction are a perfect team, even for simple spreads like this.
Speaking of perfect creative teams: the Lois Lane bits of this comic were pretty much a dream come true. When Brian Michael Bendis came to DC, one of the dream projects that came to mind for him was a Lois Lane series in the same style as Alias. We wound up getting Greg Rucka on that book instead (who is also a dream writer for her in my book), but this issue gave me exactly what I’d been asking for. Gaydos and Bendis on the Lois sections were pitch perfect. More of that, please.
Lastly, I love the idea that Superman revealing his truth to the world has a positive impact, even on his villains. For that reason, the Toyman story hit just the right chord for me. Superman should be inspiring. For everybody!
Superman: Heroes is a hopeful, powerful book that continues to set up the future of the Superman section of the DC Universe.
- The Flash #750 is where these anniversary specials seem to be losing some steam. The stories in them are alright, but don’t really celebrate the history of the character as much as I’d like. There are no Bart stories for one, and only one Wally story, which is in itself both an epilogue to one event comic and a prologue to another. Wally certainly deserves better, and so does Bart. At least they’re both represented in great pin-ups by Howard Porter and Mike McKone.
- Lois Lane #9 continues to be powerfully political, especially Lois making a point that Superman, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter get a pass by the US government, not because they’re heroes, but because people see them as white.
- It was the smallest week of DC Comics we’ve seen in at least three years that was not a fifth week. Only ten books hit the shelves this week, most of them good enough to at least give a browse to at the comic shop.
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