Review: Superman: Shadows Linger trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kurt Busiek delivers the last stories of his Superman run, before moving to the weekly Trinity series, in Superman: Shadows Linger. I've enjoyed Busiek's run on Superman even as I haven't been able to shake the feeling of disparity between the heft, for lack of a better word, between Busiek and Geoff John's simultaneous run on Action Comics. Shadows Linger, I think, provides some good examples of where Busiek's run succeeded for me, where it didn't quite work, and how it was ill-served, if not by DC Comics, than at least by the circumstances themselves.

Since Busiek and Johns re-introduced Superman's super-intelligence in Superman: Up, Up, and Away, Busiek has continued to impress me with his use of it. Busiek's Superman, whom we posit fights three evil geniuses and an alien invasion before breakfast, seems especially good at his job, with all the requisite knowledge--of chemistry and physics, especially--such a job might take. To this end, Superman's able to identify specific moon dust on sight in Shadows Linger's first story, and trace the trajectory of a baseball hit toward the moon a week earlier in such a way as to make it perfectly bean an errant bad guy; in all of it, Busiek finds a way to make Superman not standoffish or more alien, but more likable and fun because of his knowledge. That the second story ends with Superman creating a stalwart library of Earth's knowledge is a fitting coda to Busiek's run.

At the center of Shadows Linger is Busiek's reintroduction of two classic Superman villains, Insect Queen and the Galactic Golem. Of the two, I liked Busiek's reinterpretation of the Insect Queen better because he stuck largely to the original mythos, connecting Lana Lang to the queen (though not, unfortunately, tying this Insect Queen to the one Lex Luthor worked with in JLA: World War III). I found the ins-and-outs of the Galactic Golem in the second story too hard to understand for the creature to really resonate with me, but I did like Busiek's demonstration of how Superman's self-sacrifice turned the heart of the villain Paragon.

Unfortunately, both these stories felt fairly light to me. Possibly it's because Busiek is leaving Superman, and as such it's unlikely we'll see Insect Queen or the Galactic Golem again soon; possibly it's because, as this story's being told in the weird space between the pages of Superman: Last Son, we already know for the most part what's going to happen to all these characters around the corner. But also, I can't help compare this story to the big shiny return of the Legion of Super-Heroes in Action Comics, which had Gary Frank on art, ran six issues, lead into Final Crisis, and received a hardcover collection. It has no bearing on Busiek, but one can't help but see his Superman as one to be flipped through before the main event.

Alternatively, DC has given new Superman writer James Robinson's first solo arc on Superman, The Coming of Atlas, hardcover status. They started Busiek in hardcovers, too, before going to paperback, while Robison's solo stories are quickly folded in to the ongoing New Krypton storyline with the next volume. Will Robinson's stories feel off-sided as well, and will Robinson handle the super-intelligence as well as Busiek? I'll be curious to see next time around.

[Contains full covers.]

Thanks to Kurt Busiek for some entertaining Superman stories; I'll also be eager to see how some of the plotlines he began in Superman reach over into Trinity.

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5 comments:

  1. though not, unfortunately, tying this Insect Queen to the one Lex Luthor worked with in JLA: World War III

    I believe that was actually Grant Morrison's version of Queen Bee, who recently resurfaced in Flash. Or will soon resurface, I guess, from a waiting-for-the-trade perspective.

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  2. The Superman books have become increasingly hostile to people who are actually and literally waiting for the trades. If I didn't at least have a vague osmotic idea what's going on in Camelot Falls v2 and Last Son, this trade would have made almost zero sense whatsoever...

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  3. I was pretty cold on the previous trade, Third Kryptonian, but Shadows Linger is a nice return to form for Busiek, I thought. Highly entertaining superheroics, with occasional surprises. (Like Paragon somehow becoming the best thing about the book. I didn't see that coming at all.)

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  4. Been thinking about your review a bit, specifically your point on the "heft" differential between Johns and Busiek's runs. Both writers seemed to have set out with very different goals. For his entire run, Kurt Busiek's goal seems to be pure entertainment. He's written what he thinks would be fun, interesting, modern stories about Superman. It's more old-school in that regard.

    For Geoff Johns, his stories generally revolve around the "NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME" mantra. Throughout his entire Superman run it's all about big moments and changing/redefining Superman's history. Zod. The Legion. New Krypton. It's why I think his run has felt more "important" - any and all significant changes to Superman happens in his run and nowhere else. If this were a lesser writer we're talking about, we'd say his run has been nothing but gimmicks.

    I've enjoyed both men's stories. Kurt Busiek's run has been a little spottier compared to Johns's, but considering that he wrote a lot more issues (with generally shorter and denser arcs, at that), he gets a pass as far as I'm concerned. I'd just like to see Johns eschew the "important" stuff for just a couple of issues for once and write something entertaining on its own merits.

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  5. Kurt Busiek himself claimed here at Collected Editions that he and Geoff came up with and worked toward New Krypton and other events together, but when you read each's run on Superman, it certainly does seem that Johns' run has more "heft" than Busiek's.

    Of course, I'm not sure how Busiek's run carries over into Trinity; that might make all his Superman stories seem more relevant.

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