Review: Tangent: Superman's Reign Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten years later (but only moments for me through the wonders of trade paperbacks), Dan Jurgens returns to the Tangent universe in the first volume of Tangent: Superman's Reign. For a burgeoning Tangent fan like myself, there's a lot to like here -- but strangely, as the Tangent aspects work, there's a lot about the DC Universe parts that miss the mark, interrupting what might otherwise have been some real potential.

Jurgens plays the "ten years later" aspect of this story like a symphony. Much of the joy of the book is in the surprise return of old favorites; I spent most of the book saying, "Oh look, it's [enter Tangent character.]" It was interesting to see how some characters, like the Joker, have undergone radical changes since the original Tangent event; others, strangely -- like the Flash -- haven't changed a bit (though I suspect this might be a trick). The "History Lesson" section in the beginning speaks to the complexity and interrelatedness of the characters, and that still remains my favorite aspect of Tangent.

Thought this story is not as political as Tangent volumes past, it's obvious that Jurgens tries to give weight to the moral questions of the Tangent Superman having taken over this universe in the missing ten years. The Tangent Superman debates a number of times the benefits of forced peace over free will; Jurgens doesn't have me seeing Superman's side, but it's a nice try. Jurgens also has Batman debate the ethics of our superheroes meddling in the government of another world; we all know Batman's going to do the right thing in the end, but again I give Jurgens credit for going there.

Unfortunately, a number of interesting characters and a couple philosophical debates don't a perfect story make. Jurgens's story feels terribly stretched to make twelve issues; two characters wander the sewers nearly the entire book, while the others engage in a repetitive morass of getting ambushed by the bad guys, running away, getting ambushed again, and running away again. There's not much content here, nor is Jurgens really able to characterize the Tangent universe as different from the DC universe short of our Flash calling it a "dystopian" world (which is what I thought the Wildstorm universe was supposed to be ... hey, now there's an idea for a crossover!).

In addition, I was terribly surprised and disappointed by Jurgens's writing of the Justice Leage (and remember, Jurgens wrote one of my favorite Justice Leagues). It's as if Jurgens took his pointers from Justice League Unlimited rather than Justice League of America -- Batman seems quite obviously in charge while Black Canary remains mostly in the background, and an impatient Flash lets loose a "dude" and thinks about how hungry he is in the midst of a crisis. Jurgens also had Green Lantern John Stewart saying "nuthin'" instead of "nothing" in two almost duplicate conversations -- all in all, the portrayals just didn't sit right with me.

I would say, however, that I'm so glad artist Jamal Igle is already on Supergirl; his Tangent art here is fantastic. I dug his work on Nightwing, but it seems to me his art style -- fluid, just on the cartoony side of realistic -- would be best served by something ultra-superhero-y like Supergirl. I'm looking forward to it, and despite my qualms, I'm looking forward to the concluding volume of Tangent: Superman's Reign, too.

[Contains full covers, Justice League of America #16, back up stories.]

We'll dip into a little Green Arrow/Black Canary next, and see where we go from there. Don't miss it!
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