Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman: The Man of Steel #116

Superman: The Man of Steel #116

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 18, 2001

Cover date: September 2001

2001 Shield No. 36

Writer: Mark Schultz
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Tom Nguyen

"Chest Deep in Heroes' Blood"

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey (

To the tune of an ancient seeming Romanesque lyric, the following comic ensues:

Flashback: Superman pleads with the Black Racer for the life of John Henry Irons, bloodied nearly to death by the hand of Doomsday during his attempt to release him. The Black Racer intimates that Steel cannot be saved, and that death is unavoidable. Superman attacks Black Racer, and Black Racer blows Superman back hard, permanently scarring the moon.

Superman wakes up on Apokolips, just after being taken there by Darkseid in lieu of death by Imperiex Prime's hand ray. He pounds on some parademons and Kalibak, angry and uncontrolled. Darkseid appears, and tells Superman to stand down, that he transported him to Apokolips for a higher purpose. Superman tells Darkseid that allies don't presume to coerce each other into plots, and attacks. Darkseid pounds Superman and forces him to view the reason Darkseid has dragged him to Apokolips... The Entropy Aegis. It is a suit of armor formed from an Imperiex Probe. Superman is offered its uses. Steel tries desperately to contact Superman on the Watchtower. After slight success, a voice tells him that he cannot be allowed to do what he is doing, and energy comes down upon Steel, hard. Superman catches a little bit of the transmission, and refuses the Aegis. Darkseid tries to force Superman to comply with his Omega beams, and he totals the entire room... but the Aegis survives without a scratch. Superman flies off. Grayven appears and berates Darkseid for not getting Superman to wear the suit. Superman finds Steel, motionless, with WAR WC scrawled in his blood, with my C meaning what seems to be a half finished O. Superman pleads with Black Racer. Black Racer scoffs at Superman for presuming that he can possibly stop the endless cycle of rebirth and death. The Probes head for the medical frigate, where Lois and Young Justice are attending to the wounded. Black Racer muses upon death, touching slightly upon the idea that perhaps death is not permanent: Even death can reach his limit, the reaper hit the final wall, when nothing matters but the chance to lay aside the killers call... so there comes the last decision to alter what was foreordained and exploit what mortals must not know - even death is relative... Hmmmmm....

3Story - 3: For "Our Worlds At War" and the Bar that has been thusfar set, this issue was not as well put together as I would have hoped, for several reasons. The clue about Warworld was nice, but the fact that Superman couldn't figure out WAR WO_ _ _ means that not only would he be terrible at Wheel of Fortune, but he's also not a master of the obvious. Heh heh. I doubt it. Superman would figure that out in a second. Ten seconds before he read it. Last issue, even.

Last issue built up action, and set us up for the inevitable climax of that action, Superman rebounding with Darkseid's help and going after Imperiex again before another single life was lost. That never happened. Sigh. But I'll start with the good. Darkseid was good. Darkseid was tested in character... being forced to play and actually be the good guy for once, in the name of saving the universe. Superman also created a bit of drama, making decisions that he normally wouldn't have but for the stress that he was under. And Steel's death, if it was his death, was handled rather beautifully. However... and oddly enough, these three things, which were also the good, are also, in every sense of the term, also, the bad.

Darkseid was good. He had to be. The situation called for it. However, it was out of his character to attempt to bully Superman into the Aegis. Darkseid is nothing if not a master tactician, though he is overzealous often with his Omega beams. However, having battled Superman a time or two, he would know that he could not bully Superman into anything, period. No. Darkseid would have tried to coerce Superman into the most sensible option, and then later, remotely, taken control of the suit. I see that coming anyway. Hope I'm not wrong. Then I'd look stupid.

Superman created a bit of drama by making decisions that he normally wouldn't have but for the stress that he was under. If. That is, if he was making these decisions based upon his stress. It's not really elaborated upon. But he does several things which make me question his character. This could be good, this could be bad. He ignores the many, many people dying while he pleads for John's life, when he knows (as any superhero knows) that at any point he may be called to give his mortality for the cause. He turns down the Aegis, though he sees its inherent ability to protect the innocent. This is a man who worked with Doomsday just last issue, despite the fact that Doomsday apparently mostly killed Steel. Now, Darkseid, who has done nothing but help, is a suspect and cannot be trusted for weaponry? No.

Also, Superman flings fists with Parademons and Kalibak before finding out what they want, and they are allies at this point. Superman's either lost his mind with grief and stress, or the writer missed the character this time. Personally, I think that he's lost his mind, as Schultz is usually very good with Supes, but I wish that his grief and rationale were a bit more clearer.

As I said before, Steel's death, if it was his death, was handled beautifully. In an action packed summer spectacular crossover, where the last thing I want to read is a long Greek-like poem about death involving a character that personally, I've never heard of, The Black Racer. Who is the Black Racer? Is he death, for Steel? Is he a character I've somehow missed in my fifteen years of reading comics? Also, the looming insecurity as to whether Steel died or was saved at the last minute based upon that same Greek-like poem really ticks me off. If the man is dead, make it certain. If he's going to come back, why show him dying for about six or seven pages when there's an Imperiex to destroy? Still, it was interesting to see Superman start to crack, but this definitely is not an "Our Worlds At War" frontispiece. It's the inevitable lag in the middle.

1Art - 1: For some reason, all that I could concentrate on in this book before I looked at the story critically was the art, and how dark and choppy it was. I swear to Lois I thought that Superman was Bizarro in this issue. He's chiseled, not blocked. He's upset, not Batman. The world's at war, not at Goth. I think the art was appropriate for Apokolips, and even for death, but dragging Superman down into the pessimism in the arena of the drawn visage was more than a bit too much for me. Check out page 1. Superman looks like his spit curl's about to attack his eyes. He's standing like Al Gore and he's pleading with the angry face of a ticked-off wrestler. Another problem: The color. Every page is either very blue, or very red. Steel is blue, Darkseid is red. There's no blending or middle ground. For some reason, nothing artwise in this issue stuck out or sat well with me.

2Cover Art - 2: Many people argue with me when I say that the cover should convey artistically a sense of what is going on in the story. They consider the cover an attractant, something that draws the reader into the story by any means necessary. For this, I would give this issue a two as opposed to a one. The cover is eye catching, and Superman looks rather regal and poised, ready to take on any threat. However, he's not. He's grief stricken, beat up, and his best friend and parents are presumed dead. He's not standing on a statue of Darkseid victorious... he's confused, pleading with death, and he doesn't see what he's doing to himself. Nothing on this cover appeared in the issue, save a symbolic interpretation, loosely interpreted from the cover, that a fight with Darkseid will or would occur. I don't know about you but this drives me crazy. Also, I'd give another half point, if I could, for the brief but succinct hint at the future of the character. SPOILER AHEAD, folks... if I weren't interested in seeing something truly neat and kookie, I wouldn't, at all costs, look directly at the Superman shield with the year's issue number on it. ;)

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Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic was on sale.

January 2001

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