Review: Superman Vol. 6: Imperius Lex (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)


It seemed to me that about the time news broke of Brian Michael Bendis taking over the Super-titles was about the time the "Imperius Lex" arc was being pushed back and forth a bit as to when it would come out. Simultaneously it became clear that the stories of the original Rebirth Super-teams were going to have to come to a screeching halt (which DC mitigated somewhat with the two Superman specials), and one can't help but wonder if the titular story in Superman Vol. 6: Imperius Lex didn't fall victim to that; the original issue solicitations, at least, suggest a slightly different story.

Setting the Rebirth Super-family against the backdrop of Apokolips is clever, to be sure, but one can't help but begin to sense here in the initial four-part story the start of putting all the toys back where they were found. The latter three chapters read as filler; even without background knowledge, one would have to discern from reading this book that either a really big plotline was about to start or the end was nigh. Satisfactory beginnings in comics are easy -- a new team comes on, a new story starts -- and endings are hard -- a title is unexpectedly cancelled, a creator suddenly takes on another commitment. In Imperius Lex we begin to see the inevitable squeeze.

[Review contains spoilers]

In a certain respect the Rebirth era of the Super-titles has been defined by two characters: Jon Kent on Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Superman and Lex Luthor on Dan Jurgens' Action Comics. Indeed it was Jurgens' Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel that most directly lead into this story (after Francis Manapul's Darkseid War special), and it was in Action (by Rob Williams) that we most recently saw Superman and Lex face off. So while this story is in Superman's wheelhouse with Lois Lane and Jon Kent, it contributes to the general awkwardness for these writers to have hold of Lex, especially since Lex then goes back to Action again for that book's finale.

By the end of this story, we see Lex take off the Super-shield he's been wearing for a while in an attempt at heroism. This was inevitable, and further inevitable about the time a new creative team was coming on, as Lex-as-hero was a concept of Geoff Johns' for the New 52 Justice League title that became less sensible the longer it went on. To wit, among the best uses of Lex's turn was by Jurgens in Action, back when Superman was the continuity-lost post-Crisis Superman and Lex could legitimately argue that this stranger from another dimension wasn't giving him a fair shake. Now, Tomasi and Gleason's story ends with Lex taking umbrage at Superman's mistrust and destroying his own suit's S -- but we have no idea what Superman and Lex's history has been at this point other than to conclude it mostly adheres to Rebirth's post-Crisis history, so Superman has every right not to trust Lex. A good amount of the nuance is gone, and for that reason it's probably correct to end it.

Moreover, Lex emerges somewhat secondary to the plot; he spends a good part of the conclusion unconscious. Emphasized instead, as is appropriate for this title so far, are Jon and Lois; Jon ends up leading Steppenwolf's dog battalion, while Lois joins the Female Furies, a development so perfectly obvious and logical it's astounding it hasn't been done before. The Kents, for better or worse, need be perfect on the page, and Tomasi and Gleason get it exactly right -- Lois and Jon holding their own beside Superman, and then again being willing to stand with him to help Superman lead Apokolips.

Imperius Lex ends with a one-off story by Tomasi and Gleason and then a two-parter by James Robinson. The single issue tells of Superman taking a group of kids from the Metropolis cancer ward to the Justice League Watchtower, where they pal around with the League and field trip to the moon. It's a feel-good issue to be sure, but -- not to be a Scrooge -- there's really no action or suspense in it. This is a fine story for something like the all-ages Adventures of the DC Universe, but I'm not sure what this story is doing in this older-skewing title or who thought this was what the readership of this title wanted. Twenty pages of Barry Kitson's art is about the only draw, but I wish that had been put to stronger use.

I continue to root for James Robinson, and two issues of Robinson writing Superman alongside Doug Mahnke and Ed Benes seems pretty worthwhile. Robinson, who made his name writing a son/father relationship, does well by Superman and Jon, though ultimately I wanted more from the story. Faced with a planet of people who want to be allowed to die, Robinson's Superman goes almost immediately to interceding; not that most would disagree, but given the obvious logic of Superman's actions, the more interesting option would have been Superman considering the implications of not acting had the whole planet legitimately had a cosmic "do not resuscitate" order -- and especially having to explain that to Jon. Instead, Robinson has Superman swiftly engage in cultural relativism and then be proven right for doing so, a story that doesn't ultimately challenge or teach the reader anything at all.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Superman Vol. 6: Imperius Lex

Action Comics is about to release its last volume under Dan Jurgens, while Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have one more volume to go after Superman Vol. 6: Imperius Lex. I know the next volume gets into Bizarro, and possibly Bizarro Jon, I think, as would be a fitting conclusion for this title. Tomasi and Gleason's Superman has been strong -- we've seen the Multiversity characters here and Manchester Black -- though in the end buffeted too much by guest stints that were likely beyond the creative team's control. A solid-enough run clearly coming to a close.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman Vol. 6: Imperius Lex
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Did you enjoy all that Steppenwolf

    1. I recognize Steppenwolf is on some covers but not formally in the book, though his dog troops factor heavily. I didn't find the discrepancy too bothersome; how about you?


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