Review: Superman Vol. 2: Secrets and Lies hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

For my money, if you want to take a new Superman relaunch that's had a rough start and make it seem legitimate, there's no better creator to bring on than Dan Jurgens. From the first splash page of Superman protecting a mother and child behind his cape, Jurgens and Keith Giffen's Superman Vol. 2: Secrets and Lies is wonderfully familiar, while at the same time the updated costume constantly reminds us they're telling stories in a new world.

It's possible this book may feel too nostalgic for some. The flip side of this book reading like a set of pre-"Death of Superman" stories is that it comes off a bit light; there's never a real sense of danger in the super-villains and monsters Superman fights. I give the writers points for some clever plots, however, especially the titular "Secrets and Lies"; if the point of this book is simply to fill the gap between George Perez's departure and Scott Lobdell coming on full-time, this is an adequate stopgap measure.

[Review contains spoilers]

The winningest issues in this book are #9-12, two connected two-parters. In the first, called "Secrets and Lies," a reporter claims to have uncovered Superman's identity, while Superman fights an untouchable thief called Anguish. That the character is called "Anguish" should be one of the first hints that things are more 1990s here than is probably wise (the character's costume is the second); also Jurgens and Giffen can't help some dated dialogue, like Anguish spouting to Superman, "Y'know what really, really frosts me?" Also, Anguish's initial crime is stealing one item out of a safety deposit box; illegal, but is that kind of crime really a job for today's Superman?

Still, the team brings the story together surprisingly well; the media turns upside down the life of the man (wrongly) revealed as being Superman, and then Anguish threatens the man's daughter. It's a good morality play on the reasons Superman must have a secret identity but then also why it would be tough for him to have a family. This is an oft-told tale, though perhaps not for a while now, but the writers handle it effectively, and with some stellar Jurgens art sprinkled throughout.

The second story picks up on the B-plot of the previous one, involving a Russian sub and its mysterious cargo, which turns out to be an inter-dimensional alien that slaughters the residents of a nearby town. In part one, Superman and the alien fight; in part two, Superman comes to understand that Russians kidnapped the alien and that the alien feels justified in murdering to make his way home. As Superman tries to halt the alien, Jurgens parallels the alien's isolation on a foreign world with Superman's own feelings of "otherness."

Again, this isn't new ground for Superman and the story is told with a rather familiar comic book plot structure, but stories like these were Jurgens's bread-and-butter back in the Triangle Titles days. Perhaps especially because we know Jurgens and company won't be Superman's regular creative team -- this book is an extended one-off, as it were -- we can enjoy these stories for what they remind us of, rather than being concerned that they don't present a viable direction for the Superman title going forward.

The volume is bookended with issues #7-8 on one side and the Superman Annual #1 on the other, all dealing with the Daemonite villain Helspont. As constant readers know, I was excited about the New 52 "Daemonite invasion" storyline, but it essentially fell apart with the basic failure of related titles Grifter, Voodoo, and Blackhawks, along with Stormwatch's shifting creative teams. Here, the story is in its death throes -- we basically understand that Helspont is trying to forcibly recruit Superman to help in his war against the other Daemonites, but how Helspont arrived in the Arctic and what it all has to do with that alien horn from the last volume and the explosion of the Stormwatch HQ is never addressed.

Jurgens and Giffen's initial Helspont issues are at least visually attractive. The Annual uses one too many artists and looks sketched and hurried; there's also too many splash pages decompressing the story. New writer Lobdell suggests a number of interesting ties between DC's various alien heroes and the Daemonites, though unfortunately I doubt we'll see those stories come to fruition.

Just one more round of kudos to Dan Jurgens for the art on this book. Not every page is perfect -- Jurgens's pencils are finished by a variety of artists here including Jesus Marino, and while some pages are great, a good many have been inked much too darkly. On the pages where Jurgens's art pops, however -- especially splash pages -- it really pops. I also appreciated Jurgens injecting some of his old visual Superman "language" back into the book -- for instance, Superman is often holding or cloaked by his cape, even though I believe in Jim Lee's new design it's supposed to be "off the shoulder." Here again was a nice touch for 1980s-'90s Superman fans.

Casual Superman readers can probably skip Superman Vol. 2: Secrets and Lies and go straight to Scott Lobdell's start on Superman Vol. 3: Fury at World's End; that's essentially where the "real" Superman story starts. But, if you were a fan of Jurgens's back then, you probably will be here again; everything old is new again, but old is still pretty good, too.

[Includes original covers]

Next week, Mind MGMT and Batman: Death of the Family. See you then!
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  1. When I read the floppies I enjoyed them for what they were but after the Helspont it shifted to the H'el on Earth storyline pretty quickly so unless I missed something, the Helspont story never leads somewhere.
    In the end everything that is in the book is somewhat of a disappointment, but the same can be said pretty much about the H'el on Earth storyline.
    I have to admit though that Secrets and Lies is significantly better that the boring alien of the week book Superman Vol. 1 ;-)

    I'd recommend skipping both. After Grant Morrisons run with Action Comics I'll probably be done with Superman in general.
    Wasn't Superman supposed to be one of DC's flagship books?

    1. Yes; which would suggest that the Daemonite storyline that launched in Superman #1 was supposed to be an integral part of the New 52. Someone bet on the wrong horse with that one.

      I previewed the first issue or so of Lobdell's run and found it pretty rough, though I like what he's done on Teen Titans and Red Hood; my hope is that Superman will get better as it goes, and I'll probably give it at least another volume or so to see if it picks up.

    2. That's the beauty about comics, if Superman picks up at some point I can just read everything up at comicvine ;)

    3. It's been a rough year for Supes, but at least Snyder has a story going in Superman Unchained that may pick up but has been a little slow-going thus far, but what I'm really excited about is the Pak-Kuder team on Action, finally giving us a worthy follow-up to Morrison's run.

    4. I've only read good things about Batman/Superman and Superman unchained.
      However I'm not entirely sure how they fit into the chronology or if they're just elsewhere stories.

    5. I am pretty sure they're not Elseworlds stories. As to where they fit in specifically, we'll have to watch context clues to see if they ever reflect events in the other Superman titles (or vice versa), or when they finally participate in a crossover, etc.

    6. I'd prefer to have them not participate in any crossover at all. There're too many crossovers at the moment and I just want to enjoy an ongoing series for what it is.