This review was originally published on PopMatters.com.
(w) Scott Lobdell
(p) Kenneth Rocafort
There’s something different about Superman in the ‘New 52’. I’m not just talking about the new costume or back-story, or the fact that Grant Morrison is handling his early days in Action Comics – DC has fundamentally shifted the Man of Steel’s position in their mindset, and it basically amounts to a downgrade for the Last Son of Krypton.
Hear me out.
In recent years, Batman has become not only DC’s most popular character, but also arguably the most popular comic book character, in general. Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy framed Batman for a modern generation and it became a huge success. Hence, DC has focused a lot more of its comic book efforts on Batman. The ‘New 52’ features 13 different Batman-related titles each month – five of which focus on Bats exclusively or with a partner – while there are only four dedicated to the Superman Family. For as long as Superman has been around, he’s been DC’s poster boy and, frankly, the most iconic superhero in the world – until now.
Of the Superman-related titles, two of them focus on Clark Kent’s alter-ego. Grant Morrison has been guiding Superman through his early years in Action Comics to varying degrees of success, while the character’s eponymous book has been caught in a flurry of creative switch-ups, editorial tightening, and overall dissonance concerning the direction the title should be moving. George Perez publically left the title after revealing a number of woes concerning management at DC dictating creative choices, leaving Superman to flounder for a bit. With no solid course or focus, the title has been lacking. Last month, Scott Lobdell was brought on board for Superman #0 to lead the series into the upcoming “H’el on Earth” crossover between Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl.
I have a rather tumultuous personal opinion concerning Scott Lobdell. While I absolutely hated his runs on both Superboy and Teen Titans, I find Red Hood and The Outlaws to be one of my favorite titles month to month. I can’t really explain it, and at this point, I don’t know that it much matters. Superman #13 affirms that Lobdell is bringing the best of what he brings to Red Hood and The Outlaws – including series artist Kenneth Rocafort – to his interpretation of the Man of Steel. All the stiff dialogue, convoluted plot, and unrealistic emotional drama that littered the pages of TT and Superboy are absent here, replaced by a surprisingly solid handle on Superman as a character with a clearly defined and structured narrative path.
Superman #13 almost acts as a reset button for the series. While events in previous issues are mentioned, it’s mostly to set the scene. The only real thing any new reader would need to know going into this issue is that Clark Kent has been frustrated working for the Daily Planet for some time. Clark’s grand Network-style exit from the hallowed halls of journalism are quickly (and humorously) tamped when “fashion-obsessed, self-absorbed bobblehead” Cat – a fellow journalist – walks out after Clark and explains how she was inspired by his speech. While Cat wants Clark to feel better about what he’s done, the fact that she came and no one else did points to Clark’s all-around attitude concerning the money-grubbing entertainment conglomerate. It’s a sly move on Lobdell’s part, giving both Clark and Cat more depth as characters with little more than a tactical conversation.
The beginning of the issue heralds a new character, Dr. Veritas. She’s a rather utilitarian-looking figure with a lab coat draped over what looks like body armor. Of course, the more obvious explanation is that Kenneth Rocafort’s penciling style just makes everyone look badass like they’re wearing battle armor. If that’s the case, awesome, if not, then there’s got to be a reason for her unexplained militaristic get-up. Either way, Veritas is already an interesting character because Superman knows who she is and we don’t. Oh, and she has a lab with a machine that can exert the weight of the planet for Superman to bench-press. The machine’s amazing capabilities aside, the fact that it exists and that this woman owns it is incredibly fascinating. I found myself wanting to know more and more about Dr. Veritas and her relationship with Superman the entire time I was reading.
Scott Lobdell is a curious writer, for sure. Some of his work falls so terribly flat I want to go back and save the paper and ink used to make the issues he’s written, and some of goes on my “Must Buy” list for the month. Superman #13 reads fantastic and looks fantastic thanks to Kenneth Rocafort and his chiseled feature-heavy style that compliments Superman so well. I was starting to get annoyed by how frumpy Supes was looking as drawn by Jesus Merino and later Dan Jurgens. Not only does Lobdell start an excellent new chapter in Clark Kent’s life, but he also builds directly up to next month’s start of “H’el on Earth”, featuring the other last survivor of Krypton’s death. Basically, if you were reading Superman and got disappointed each month, stick with it. If you haven’t read this series up until now, start here.