Monday, 7 January 2013

Superman #15 Review


Since the Superman comics were relaunched in 2011, we've seen far too little of Lex Luthor in DC's updated New 52 Universe. We saw a version of Luthor from the beginning of Superman's career in Grant Morrison's Action Comics, but while his characterisation rung true, he was ultimately little more than a pawn of the story's main villain, The Collector. With issue 15 of Superman, writer Scott Lobdell has once again cemented Luthor's status as Superman's arch-foe, which is quite a feat considering Luthor never actually leaves his cell for the entire issue.

The issue depicts Superman and Superboy making their way into Luthor's prison in order to ask him for advice on how to tackle Kryptonian super-baddie, H'El. When they arrive at his cell they discover that Luthor is five steps ahead of them and ready to play some mind games. For decades we've seen Luthor depicted as an evil business man, hiding his evil from the public with lies and spin. It's therefore immensely satisfying to see Luthor stripped naked (metaphorically speaking of course!) with his evil on display for all to see, and absolutely revelling in it. Luthor may be in a cell but this is the most free and unleashed that we've seen him in years. Luthor's cell is described as having been designed by Luthor himself, Superman having appealed to Luthor's vanity to create a prison even he couldn't escape. This is a wonderfully goofy idea that's evocative of the type of ideas found in Superman comics from the '70s or early '80s, but it also serves to reinforce the idea that Luthor is completely in control throughout the whole issue.

Luthor takes Superboy apart before our eyes, using his words to strip the boy completely of his characteristic teen cockiness. At one point Luthor likens talking to Superboy to “having a conversation with my own appendix.” A throwaway scathing remark, or perhaps a hint that Suerboy's human DNA comes from the same source as it did before the New 52? Luthor then goes on to speculate on Superman's true motives for consulting him regarding H'El. Luthor's words offer a chilling reminder to the reader that this is a younger, less sorted version of Superman than we've seen before, who's self control is not as rigid as that of his previous incarnation. H'El may yet provide Superman with the opportunity to prove something to Luthor, himself and us readers.

Kenneth Rocafort's art is fantastic as usual. The way he draws Superman and Superboy interacting with each other hints at a growing warmth between the two that perhaps wouldn't have been as obvious from the dialogue alone. Rocafort draws a wonderfully sinister Luthor and the way he lays out the panels lends an energy to an issue that's mostly comprised of people talking. Seeing him draw the Justice League towards the end of the book makes me hope he's one day considered as an artist for their title.

This issue is not perfect however. Seeing Luthor's play head games is great but the downside of that is that this issue is big on talking and low on action. I would have liked to have seen more imaginative traps for Superman and Superboy to tackle as they made their way through the prison. The traps are given some fancy names but basically amount to poisonous gas and robots, and considering that Superboy comments on the “craziness” of the traps they really should have been a bit more exciting.

Lobdell also makes a passing reference to the new relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately it's rather a clumsy reference, with Wonder Woman thinking of Superman as her “beloved”, which seems a bit much after one date. Of course Wonder Woman should be feeling something towards her new boyfriend in this time of crisis, especially considering they're keeping the relationship a secret. But I felt “beloved” didn't really do justice to the developing and intriguing relationship we're seeing over in Geoff Johns' Justice League book.


Despite these criticisms, overall Lobdell and Rocafort are continuing to make this book the best it's been since the relaunch began. The action in this issue is a let down, but Lobdell's Luthor is spot on. Once again Lex Luthor is the most dangerous man in the DC Universe!

I give Superman #15 3.5/5.

(A version of this article appears on worldofsuperheroes.com)

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