Review: Superwoman Vol. 1: Who Killed Superwoman? (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Late in Phil Jimenez's Rebirth Superwoman Vol. 1: Who Killed Superwoman?, the titular hero recounts the motley crew gathered to help her save Metropolis: "A narcissist, a clone, an atomic villain, and a ghost." It is indicative of the charming also-ran aesthetic of Jimenez's Superwoman; back in the Triangle Titles era, Superman's supporting cast was almost well-realized enough to support their own title, and that's about what we have here -- a title that teams some of Superman's best-loved allies, friends, and villains, almost everyone except the Man of Steel himself. It is of course no impediment in the Rebirth era that some of these characters haven't been seen for a while, as Jimenez (and fellow Super-team members Peter Tomasi and Dan Jurgens) grafts them almost just as they were on to the modern era. The result is interesting and endearing, and with deference to the long history of the "Superwoman" name.

Jimenez also offers daring work examining anxiety and mental illness set against superheroics; he builds from certain characters' strong New 52 depictions and creates for them believable challenges from there. There are times at which Superwoman gets slow, and it's not surprising the title is meeting its end, but to a great extent this book has been a long time coming and it's fun to see these character mash-ups even if it didn't last.

[Review contains spoilers]

Steven Seagle's 2004 Superman #200 includes a pinup by Mike Deodato of Steel's niece Natasha Irons, the magician Traci 13, and then-Supergirl Cir-El in not-so-innocent repose; flash forward over a decade later and Traci 13 debuts in the post-Flashpoint era, now as Natasha's girlfriend. And that's not even the extent to which concepts that have been floating in the Super-mythos zeitgeist for decades come to the fore in Phil Jimenez's Superwoman -- he's got a villain here that David Michelinie created for Action Comics in 1995 that's barely been seen since. Such is the wonderful deep dive of Superwoman for long-time Superman fans, and that's not even to mention Steel and Natasha, Bibbo (and his daughter Joshie and fiance Dan!), Maggie Sawyer, the Atomic Skull, and of course, Lana Lang.

Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder get much credit for introducing a New 52 Lana Lang much stronger than at least her most recent pre-Flashpoint iterations (buffeted as she'd been by both various creative teams and the influence of Smallville). Indeed Lana often stole the show of Pak's Action Comics, and connecting her romantically to Steel John Henry Irons was such a perfect melding of Super-concepts that it's a wonder it took this long. As sure-fire as electrical engineer Lana has been, however, Jimenez's tweaks equally make sense, that the New 52 Superman Clark Kent's death -- on top of the recent deaths of her parents in Superman: Doomed, plus the suicide of her little brother -- has hit her hard, and the book opens with Lana dealing with depression and anxiety.

For the purposes of drama, Jimenez must of course accentuate Lana's trouble -- she's on a bunch of pills, she's not being honest with Steel about her condition, and possibly the root of some of it is her newfound super-powers. But I thought Jimenez did well in preserving Lana both past and present. We still see the moxie of the Action Comics Lana, and her difficulties don't necessarily interfere with her instinct to help others. At the same time, Jimenez demonstrates how these kinds of things can creep up, or ebb and flow, and we have a sense from Lana's family history that perhaps anxiety has been there before, tamed but now exacerbated by current circumstances. That seems realistic, and with "anxious superheroes" being somewhat rare, Jimenez has a unique premise here.

Lana is joined, as I mentioned, by characters like Maggie Sawyer -- whom everyone seems to know, despite her being Gotham-centric since the start of the New 52, an instance of Jimenez and company picking back up where they want -- and Bibbo and the Atomic Skull. These are not A-list Superman characters, but they are A-list Superman characters for fans of a certain era, and that's precisely what Jimenez is tapping in to. If Rebirth books were perhaps supposed to be new-reader friendly, Jimenez's book is more a reward for long-time fans; letting alone the last time we saw Natasha and Traci together, this book is also picking up storylines from Justice League: Darkseid War and Forever Evil and even Geoff Johns's Adventure Comics.

On the downside, Superwoman navel-gazes more than necessary. Jimenez's trademark art style lends itself to dozen-panel pages filled with dialogue, which has been wondrous at times but slows things too much here. I'm a fan of Emanuela Lupacchino's work in general, but she and Jimenez's styles don't quite mesh, and when Lupacchino fills in, her figures are too big for everything else writer Jimenez is trying to squeeze on the page. Admittedly Suicide Squad Vol. 3: Burning Down the House's John Romita and Eddy Barrows are even less similar, but in story and tone that book effectively separates the two artists enough that the change isn't a distraction, whereas the changes between issues within the same scene don't come off as well here. It's also in Lupacchino's issues that Jimenez loses some of the pace to unnecessary flashbacks, hallucinations, and the like.

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"If I've learned anything from the people of this town," Lana Lang tells us, "it's that we're stronger together than apart." It's a fine thesis for Phil Jimenez's Superwoman Vol. 1: Who Killed Superwoman?; DC Comics has tried to do this kind of "Superman's supporting cast" series before (Chuck Austen's Superman: Metropolis comes to mind), but despite this title's shortcomings, I don't think it's ever been done so well as Phil Jimenez starts to here. And might I say what a joy it is simply to see new work from Jimenez at DC? It's unfortunate he's not still on this title, and indeed again that this title is ending, but I rather hope this new iteration of Lana Lang manages to stick around regardless.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superwoman Vol. 1: Who Killed Superwoman?
Author Rating
3.5 (out of 5)
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  1. Your review is, as ever, exceptionally perceptive. This book definitely feels like it could have been the B-plot in a year's worth of Triangle Era titles, and it was great fun to see Bibbo back - and the redemption arc for Atomic Skull seems to prefigure what James Tynion has been doing of late with Clayface.

    My biggest grievance with the book, though, and ultimately the reason I gave up on it, is that it was marketed as a Lois Lane book. It was advertised with the Superwoman costume from "All-Star Superman," and the hook was Lana teaching Lois to adjust to her new powers. Then (spoilers) Lois is unceremoniously obliterated at the end of the first issue, and it was never quite clear to me how she fit into the story from there. That kind of bait-and-switch really left a bad taste in my mouth for as long as I stayed with the book (eight issues). It's almost certainly less of a problem in trade, but for us Wednesday Warriors it really stung.

    I also had the same problem you did with pacing. This book was a drag to read; the single issues were slow reading, and the narrative seemed to stall and cycle back. There are some very interesting ideas in here, and even better characters, but I had the feeling that Jimenez was spinning his wheels and had to stretch his story out to accommodate "Superman: Reborn," which introduces its own bag of crazy into the very fabric of this story. Throw in the replacement of Phil Jimenez with a largely untested writer (K Perkins), and I'm not surprised the book was cancelled. Indeed, I can't recall the last time a book so badly squandered so much goodwill.

    1. Yes, Lois's death is weird here, and Jimenez seems an enlightened creator who would know better, making it all the weirder. It was mitigated for me, as you surmise, but spoilers while waiting for the trade, and also -- though I haven't read the second volume yet -- it doesn't actually seem like Lois is dead.

      A Lois Lane book is a great idea that I don't think would last in this day and age, as she's so much a part of the main Superman titles that I don't think the books could tolerate her being away -- there'd be too much push and pull. Having this alt-Lois is a good solution, but neither do I think DC wants two Lois Lanes around. Though, I guess if Black Canary can appear in Green Arrow and Birds of Prey, then why not Lois -- and Batgirl too, for that matter. Now I think Lois Lane should join the Birds of Prey.

  2. >Cir-El

    Now there's a name I've not heard in a long, long time... I want to see if there's a way they can work her into DCU. Maybe she could be Earth-3's Superultragirl (daughter of Ultraman and Superwoman).

    1. Re-reading your comment just now, I remembered that I had a dream the other night after first reading your comment where it was announced that the Supergirl TV show was going to be introducing Cir-El as a male cousin of Kara's. That is all.