Superman: The Journey trade paperback review (DC Comics)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Regarding Superman: The Journey, I'd say on one hand, you get the story that you're promised. On the other hand, the distinct flaw in all the Infinite Crisis build-up is all too apparent here--that is, in order for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to rise up from the ashes in Infinite Crisis, the writers first have to, purposefully, take the characters down a notch. In the case of Wonder Woman, Greg Rucka did a nice job of showing a logical turn of events through which Wonder Woman would kill Maxwell Lord, and therefore be at odds with her allies. For Superman, however, writer Mark Verheiden gets the unenviable job of showing Superman as somewhat lost and ineffectual, so that Superman can return found and effectual in Infinite Crisis. A good idea in theory, but somewhat lackluster on paper. There are some good moments here, and plenty of Infinite Crisis fodder, but ultimately the book struggles to rise higher than its premise.

In the wake of For Tomorrow, Lois and Jimmy reunite with Superman in his new Fortress of Solitude in the Amazon. Returning to Metropolis, Superman battles Bizarro, newly recruited by the Secret Society, while Lois investigates the OMAC threat. Supergirl arrives to let Superman know she's going to space with Donna Troy, and Superman fights the villain Blackrock while Lex Luthor struggles to reach the Antarctic to defeat Alexander Luthor.

Superman's "journey" in this trade begins with the exotic new location of his Fortress, but becomes the figurative "dark journey" that he and Lex Luthor take to reclaim their lives. While fighting Blackrock, Superman comes to realize he's been focusing too much on the past, he says, and not enough on the present--and here's where our problems begin. For one, this realization comes while fighting Blackrock, of all villains--and the truth in this case is that all the good villains really are taken for other Infinite Crisis plotlines. Using an obscure villain takes some of the punch out of it, but even more, Superman's problems boil down to the OMAC attacks, Kara's arrival (which isn't really even a problem), Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord, and Lex Luthor (who Superman never encounters). Frankly, I have to think Superman's had more on his plate before, and really he has--his concerns here seem mostly artificial, played up to suit where Superman's emotional state needs to be for Infinite Crisis. To that end, there's nothing significantly wrong with these stories--nice art by Ed Benes, and Mark Verheiden's dialogue rings true to Superman--but it just fails to rise above the ordinary.

Some of what bothers me when writers take on Superman--and which I have faith that Richard Donner and Geoff Johns will avoid--is the tendency to turn the characters against one another for lack of a newer idea for a story. The case in point, we have stories here both where Jimmy Olsen insults Clark Kent after taking his job, Lois asks Clark to give her some space, and Clark spies on Lois with a Superman Robot. The drama is somewhat artificial, and since we know these characters can't stay mad at one another for long, tends to be fleeting in its suspense. Better here is the more legitimate scenes of emotion, as when Supergirl comes to tell Superman she's leaving with Donna Troy, or as Lex Luthor plays cat-and-mouse with an OMAC. It's for this reason I think the final issue, of them all, works the best, as we see John Henry Irons, Supergirl, and Bizarro all preparing for their roles in Infinite Crisis; the emotion here is not forced, but rather comes naturally from the storyline.

I would note, from a trade perspective, that despite the fact that this trade has a gaping hole in the middle where Superman: Sacrifice fits, the stories hold up very well even if you only have a passing knowledge of Superman: Sacrifice. Even Blackrock's origin, shown in Superman: Sacrifice, is explained extraordinarily well. At the same time, this trade has a two page excerpt from Action Comics #831, which also appears in the Superman: Strange Attractors trade. Does anyone have that issue, and know if between the two trades, we get the whole thing?

[Contains thumbnail covers.]

Continuing on a Superman run now to Superman: Ruin Revealed, and then to Superman: Sacrifice. Come join!
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