Review: Tangent: Superman's Reign Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 16, 2009

I like Dan Jurgens' writing, don't get me wrong. Not only did he pen stories from one of my favorite eras of Superman (and that's before Death of Superman, but also I've dug his Tangent concept and comics through three individual volumes and the first part of Tangent: Superman's Reign.

But the structure of Superman's Reign appears to be such that, while the first six issues (with art by Jamal Igle) took place firmly in the Tangent Universe, the last six issues (with a lesser rotating art team) take place mainly in our DC Universe proper. With this comes much less of a focus on the Tangent characters, and really not much to differentiate the story from your run-of-the-mill Justice League adventure.

Whereas the first volume offered a sort of Tangent "One Year Later," catching up with the Tangent characters since we left them in Tangent Comics Volume 3, this new volume mainly features the DC heroes fighting the world-conquoring Tangent Superman. Our heroes are quite clearly in the right and the Tangent Superman is quite clearly wrong, so there's no depth to this battle. Indeed, the Tangent Superman could have as easily come from another planet or from a parallel universe about which the reader had no knowledge, and it wouldn't greatly affect the outcome of the fight that ensues.

I hold up Devin Grayson's JLA/Titans as an example of a team crossover done right, where the reader gets a chance to compare the characterization of parallel characters and learn something in the bargain. The Tangent Flash runs alongside the New Earth Flash, but they never get to know each other, or consider how the Tangent Flash Lia is much like a young Wally West. There might've been room for plenty other inspired team-ups, like the Tangent Spectre/Plastic Man duo meeting, for instance, the like-minded Teen Titans Blue Beetle and Red Devil, but it's not to be. The Tangent Atom and Hex barely even make the stage.

Similarly, our heroes learn nothing from the Tangent characters. Quite a number of the Tangent characters reflect in awe at how "competent" and in charge our Batman is, as he essentially barks and orders his way through the story (seemingly decidedly like his pre-Infinite Crisis incarnation). Comparatively, our heroes see no benefit in the dystopian Tangent Universe, and as such there's no room for comparison, just easy concepts of "good" and "bad."

Jurgens' one standout character here is Lori Lemaris, formerly the Joker and now carrying the mantle of Manhunter. The Tangent Joker was something of a Harley Quinn figure, and the Tangent Manhunter similar to ours -- Lemaris's change is a better indication of the darkening of the Tangent Universe under Superman's reign than the scenes of oil magnates quivering at his feet. In the end I didn't quite feel the reader understood what Jurgens tried to say by Lemaris's transformation -- I might perhaps have liked to see some reflection of how our own world has changed since Tangent Comics began in 1997 -- but surely Lemaris's struggle is the strongest part of this series.

As well, I give Superman's Reign credit for feeling like a big story. The cast includes the entire Justice League plus three Green Lanterns and a handful of Tangent characters, and seeing them all on the page together evokes Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, and what have you. Unfortunately I didn't feel the art lived up to the epic challenge; Jamal Igle exits, and while Wes Craig does a passable job in the first two chapters (with interesting uncolored pencils around the borders), I couldn't much get in to the bland faces and indistinct figures of Carlos Magno in the end.

As much as anyone, I feel bad about the end of Tangent: Superman's Reign because of how much I've enjoyed these characters over the previous volumes. If DC published more adventures of the Tangent characters, I'd be happy to read them. But maybe what we've found here is that Tangent and the DC Universe just don't mix -- if Jurgens' creations are going to be overshadowed by the DC characters in his own miniseries, I'd just as soon the Tangent heroes stay at home.

[Contains full covers, "History of the Tangent Universe" section]
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