Superman: That Healing Touch review

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It is perhaps a credit to Greg Rucka's versitility as a writer that the same person who brought us the superb Batman: Death and the Maidens--heir apparent to Denny O'Neil--and who started the ball rolling in redefining Wonder Woman for a new generation, is the same writer behind Superman: That Healing Touch. In this latest Superman trade, we do indeed see the crackshot ear for dialogue that whips through Rucka's Batman work, as well as the overarching conspiracy/mystery done that illuminates his Wonder Woman. But there's also a lag to the work, an overall drag that is arguably not Rucka's fault at all, but instead a virtue of the general presentation these days (or those days, as the case may be) of Superman in the DC Universe, which just doesn't scream "Superman" to me. As I've written before, neither Chuck Austen nor Greg Rucka's 2004 Superman quite worked for me; instead, I think my ideal of Superman is somewhere in the middle.

In Superman: That Healing Touch, the villain Ruin sends two new Parasites at Superman, intent on drawing his secret identity out into the light. Superman defeats them, with help from Steel and Mr. Mxyzptlk, as he begins to realize that Ruin is targeting him not only specifically, but personally. An Identity Crisis-fueled crossover visit from Wonder Woman and Batman only makes Superman's decision as to what to do about Ruin more muddled; later, we learn that Ruin is working for Lex Luthor and the Villains United society, as Lois announces to Clark her wish to have a baby.

Most of what doesn't work for me about Rucka's Superman is in his Clark Kent. Observe, for example, page 34 of this trade. Here, we see a bumbling, mild-mannered Clark bringing groceries in to his apartment, soft-spoken and seemingly almost afraid of his own shadow. Now, you and I both know that Clark Kent can bench-press the Daily Planet globe. He wears his spectacles, of course, so that he can sit down to a normal dinner with his family without the whole world pestering him. But the mild-mannered veneer of Clark Kent is an act, and not only do post-Crisis Superman comics support this, but even Christopher Reeve, when he flirts with Lois Lane on her balcony as Superman and then knocks on her door as Clark, gives a nudge-nudge-wink-wink look to the camera so that we all know the mild-mannered veneer is an act.
It's an act. In Rucka's grocery scene, however, there's no irony; it's pure, unadultered meek Clark Kent. It misses the point; it's all of the mildness with none of the wink.

Rucka's Superman is one full of doubt. At the end of the trade, Lois is hopefully looking to the future, while Clark is nearly paralyzed by his insecurities. He consults Batman and Wonder Woman about Ruin, and leaves with no better ideas than when he started. Who is this hero? Not the Superman who leads the Justice League, surely. Not the Superman who brought the fight against Brainiac to Warworld in "Panic in the Sky," or who battled Doomsday with no thought to his own safety in "The Death of Superman." The 2004 writers of Superman have so bought in to Clark Kent's veneer of humility that they've actually started writing him that way. People, we know Superman, and this Milquetoast is no Superman.

I did enjoy, however, the good old-fashioned mystery here. Rucka creates a villain extrodinaire in Ruin, and the secret of his identity truly draws the reader in. We know something's up with Pete Ross, who may-or-may not know Clark's identity (don't even get me started on the Luthor-knew-but-yet-he-didn't-know-so-how-could-he-tell-Pete-re:-Manchester-Black question, which one hopes Rucka will ultimately address). We have the return of Emil Hamilton, last seen half-crazed. Most interestingly, we have Lois's shooting, which looks more and more like a case of political friendly fire. I am eager to see where all of these plots go, even if I squirm through the getting there.

I've never been crazy about the idea of Lois and Clark having a baby, and if you want to read a nice handling of this issue, please go track down the true classic Superman for Earth by Roger Stern. Quite frankly, I've yet to see enough writers handle the Lois/Clark marriage well, to have faith in how they'd write Superman as a father. On one hand, it's a nice parallel between Superman as Earth's protector and the protector of his own offspring, as well. It gives him something to fight for--as if Superman fighting to protect his adopted planet wasn't enough. But on the other hand, what I believe is more likely is that little Lara Lane-Kent becomes as Robin the Boy Wonder sometimes is--the human hostage. Let alone the writer who comes in to write little Lara's rebellion against Superman for protecting the world while not spending enough time with his child. We end up with a Superman portrayed more like Oliver Queen than Clark Kent--kids, I think it's a slippery slope. I'm willing to be convinced, sure, but when Lois starts telling Clark she wants to have a baby, I get very, very worried.

Chuck Austen writes a brash, bold Superman--a Superman who's sure of himself, but at times too confident and smart-mouthed for his own good. Greg Rucka writes a detailed, complex Superman title that's mature enough for today's audiences, but his Superman's so full of doubts that it's hard to see what's so super about him. Give me the Superman who went to Blazes to save Jimmy Olsen any day, the Superman who used Mr. Z's gem to imprison the Krypton Man. This was a Superman confident and capable, a Superman who held down a good job and a realistic relationship with Lois Lane. Greg Rucka's Superman: Ruin Revealed is on the horizon; maybe what he accomplishes there will be more to my taste than what's here.

[Contains full covers, "What Came Before" pages.]

Read positive reviews of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman: Down to Earth, Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals, and Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon at their respective links.

Soon now to go to Green Lantern: Rebirth and Adam Strange: Planet Heist, before taking a break and starting in on The OMAC Project. Thanks for reading; Collected Editions appreciates you!
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