Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #5 Review and **SPOILERS**
Don’t Mess With Darkseid
Art By: Neal Adams, Buzz, Tony Aviña
Lettered By: Cardinal Rae
Cover Price: $3.99
On Sale Date: June 1, 2016
**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT BOTTOM**
Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ‘bout that Rebirth, baby, but it’s still Classic Supes to me. The more I think of it, the more I realize that the Superman as depicted in this series is possibly the purest, most distilled version of Superman of all. Wait, hear me out! This Clark Kent contains a little bit from every era of the character: the relentless, almost mindlessly reckless crusading character from the 1940s; the goofy, kid-inspired Murray Boltinoff fever dream stories of the 1950s; the wholly ignorant space traveler of the Silver Age; the pseudo-political sophisticate of the Bronze Age…they’re all here, even some of the wackadoo variants of the 1990s and the neutered Boy Scout of the pre-Flashpoint DCU, all rolled into this berserk Neal Adams package that reads more like an orchestral movement than a comic book story. I think I have just mathematically proven that this is the best Superman story of all time! Don’t believe me? Read my review, I show all work!
Ever hear the term “rope-a-dope?” Muhammad Ali, another personality immortalized by Neal Adams, used it all the time in the boxing ring: you feint and dodge and wear out your opponent in the ring, conserving your energy until they are suitably weary, and then you clobber them with a solid right hook. Well, my fellow comics enthusiasts, I dare say we have been rope-a-doped by Mr. Adams (or perhaps roped-a-dope), because I’ve been joking and joshing over this mindfuck of a comic book for four issues, cavalierly having my little japes and jabs at what is probably the most entertaining comic book on the stands today. But this fifth issue opens with a gut punch: Rafi wired into some Apokoliptan torture harness while Granny Goodness looks on, cackling and threatening the child with pain, subjugation, and death. I mean, jeez…over in Green Lanterns they’re having a meet-cute over a shared power battery, here we open the book with child abuse and a very creepy and menacing-looking Granny—this is definitely an image that would have given me the heebie jeebies when I was a kid, and I would definitely have to had squirreled this comic book away in my room so I could retrieve it and crack the cover whenever I wanted to give myself the willies. You get the impression that playtime is over and shit has gotten irrevocably real—but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to split your sides over some of the hilarious stuff that happens in this issue.
For instance, just after that dire opening panel, we see Superman wading through hordes of Apokoliptan warriors, tossing them aside like so many unplanned pregnancies, shrieking “RAFI! RAFI! RAFI!” the entire time. And I really didn’t do it justice: Superman yells “RAFI!” nine times over three pages, saying nothing else in his singular crusade to find—you guessed it—Rafi. And find him he does, when he busts into Granny Goodness’ lair and spots Rafi all wired up like a home entertainment system, while Gran looks on with delight and calls Superman “Goody Two-Shoes.” That brought me back. She explains that Superman can’t free Rafi because she just got her television reception right, then Lois shows up and zaps her with the super-staff she’d retrieved from some local lowlife last issue. Superman then plucks Rafi from his constraints with ease, and Rafi says he knew Superman would rescue him because he owes him five bucks. Just then Kalibak shows up! And is immediately dispensed by Scott Free and Big Barda, because we want to see Neal Adams draw Scott Free and Big Barda, and Neal Adams knows it.
Scott Free and Superman then chop up New Krypton like post-World War II Berlin: New Genesis on the Eastern end of the planet, Apokolips on the Western end, with New Krypton smack dab in the middle, all separated by handy dandy force fields. Before they can hold a referendum on it, Metron shows up and…oh god guys, this is the most hilarious thing, he sees a train full of refugees off to who knows where, then allows some guard bots to shoot at the train and cause a phantom explosion, then, having electronically registered their successful mass murder to high command, the three New Kryptonian Superman show up to smash the flying robots to bits. Is this the most insane plan since trickle-down economics or what? Where do the refugees go? Where did this subway line come from? Won’t their presence register further down the tracks? Maybe this really is the underground railroad, operating in secrecy within Apokolips. This is one of my favorite things we’ve seen in this comic’s representation of Apokolips, a street life and pockets of resistance that you don’t normally see depicted on Darkseid’s homeworld. Very true to Kirby’s representation, and allows for wacky non sequitirs like this scene to happen. Superman has his own misgivings, but the Supermen tell him “we’ll deal with it,” which can be interpreted to mean “lay off, pops,” if you’re a dickhead like me.
So now it’s time for Superman to face Darkseid, who has been hanging out at Lexcorp this whole time and being made a fool of. He’s ready to stick Lois with the kid, and they have one of their now-trademark arguments that have been so weirdly entertaining this whole series. Lois wants to leave Rafi with Big Barda and Scott Free, who are perfectly happy to babysit if they can raid the fridge, but Superman wants her to be safe—and explains that she and Rafi (a kid he met like three days ago) are his weakness, and he can’t bear to see them hurt. That winged alien demon even steps in on Superman's behalf, explaining that "Daddy gotta go to war." That's a direct quote. Lois reminds Superman that she kayoed Granny Goodness like fifteen pages ago, so Superman points out that she won’t be able to report on Rafi’s Excellent Adventure, which is a low blow. Of course she acquiesces because, at heart, Lois is a callous muckraker who would exploit anything for a good newspaper story. Back on Earth, Darkseid is threatening to bring his army to Earth to dismantle Lex Luthor’s machines, and Lex is just fucking laughing at him. The stones on this guy! And he’s not just chuckling, but full-on guffawing and clutching at his chest like he’s about to have a heart attack. Darkseid calls a Boom Tube to the area, and Superman strolls through it like he’s on his way to church. Darkseid’s army has been destroyed by Superman, sending Luthor into convulsive laughter, so Darkseid obliterates him with his, uh, obliterating power! And the issue ends on the best comic book splash page of at least the last twenty years, if not of all time. See the Weird Science DC Comics twitter account for details.
And here I am, slumped in the corner of the ring, one eye swollen shut and my lower lip hanging off my face like it’s not even attached to my skull. My trainer squirts water into my mouth and throws a towel around my shoulders so my sweaty body doesn’t catch a chill in the arena. I can just make out the blurred image of Neal Adams in the opposite corner, sitting cross-legged in an easy chair, peering lazily at a dog-eared copy of A Contract With God, ready to fully knock me out in the next and final round of this slobber knocker of a miniseries. There’s no way I’m getting out of this alive. And I can’t wait for the bell to ring.
Bits and Pieces:
I think that an inability to enjoy this book, and not having a huge grin on your face after having read it should be considered Thought Crimes, punishable by tickle torture or repeated viewings of the Three Stooges. This is the most fun I have had reading a comic book since...maybe since I was a kid, truth be told. I love all of the exaggerated action and dialogue combined with an almost meandering plot, reminds me of dense Bronze Age comics that I lovingly read and re-read until they turned to so much dust. Ladies and gentlemen, this is übercomics, operating on a different frequency than your standard capes n' tights fare. And if you've picked up the first five issues, even out of morbid curiosity, then you've got to be in for the finale. I'll see you there!