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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #650

Superman #650

Scheduled to arrive in stores: March 15, 2006

Cover date: May 2006

Writer: Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods

Up, Up, and Away - Part One: "Mortal Men"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

We see a retrospective of Superman's arrival and raising, Hollywood style, as Clark Kent and Lois watch on a large screen outside.

Several noted differences in continuity are mentioned, from the arrival sixty-eight years ago to the fact (Unknown if an embellishment of yet due to the Infinite Crisis) that Superman was last seen a year ago after his battle with Doomsday. Also notable is a mentioning of sightings of the "Superboy".

Jimmy comes over and gives his own review of the movie, glad that they used his pictures from when Superman died.

Lois and Clark go for a pretzel, talking with a man who idolized Superman. Clark is obviously enjoying realizing how much people loved what he did as Superman.

Lois pokes fun at Clark for eating so much, telling him that he' ll gain too much weight if he doesn't watch himself.

At the courthouse, Lex Luthor's lawyers escort him to his limousine after getting him off of innumerable charges.

The people now hate him.

A quote: "Arraigned on over 120 criminal counts ranging from malfeasance to first-degree murder, once again his lawyers have danced their dance well, gamed the system and left him untouchable and smiling."

Lois questions him about further crimes, such as high treason and election fraud.

Lex gets hit with a rock, and flees to his car.

Inside, he holds a crystal, turning against "his" people. It has a picture of Kryptonian soldiers on it fighting something, along with a word in Kryptonian.

[Thanks to reader Paul Glass, I can tell you that the translation reads: DOOMSDAY. Thank you, Paul.]

Perry bellows for Kent in the Daily Planet, looking for confirmation on his Intergang piece. Clark arrives with the article, chiding Perry for the cigars he is now smoking again.

Clark is way ahead on work, and back on Perry's good side.

Perry yells at Jimmy for being slow on the coffee as Clark leaves, telling him that as Clark gets better, he gets worse.

His co-workers call Clark Mr. Action, and give him props for his potential Pulitzer. It is of note that on the wall, most of the articles are less Superman related and instead mention a Supernova (Hero or star reaction unclear) and one states "Who is Batwoman?"

Lois arrives as Clark is leaving, telling him about a scientist she's looking into who is trying to use Kryptonite to create an energy source. Clark approves, finally something good to do with Kryptonite.

On The Avenue of Tomorrow, the scientist, Abernathy, laments that his research has killed all of the test animals they hid from Lois Lane, scoffing at the media's attitude toward animal testing in the face of advancement.

Another scientist arrives, accusing Abernathy of stealing his work. Abernathy says that he improved the work, and as they fight, a monkey hits the experiment, causing an accident that envelops them all in an explosion.

From the ashes, the Kryptonite Man emerges, smashing up a street. Clark Kent, nearby, ushers a woman to safety before slipping into a back alley, presumably to change into Superman, but instead, he's going to call Supergirl, who arrives before he can hit the button on his signal watch.

The Kryptonite Man hits her, hurting her. She hits him, sending him down the street, hurting her fist again. Kryptonite Man chides her, chides everyone, saying that he tried to tell people how powerful Kryptonite could be. He shoots a building. Debris falls.

She saves the innocent bystanders. Clark, nearby, watches and approves, admiring how far she's come in a year.

She slams the Kryptonite Man into a truck, melting the lead in it around the Kryptonite Man and then freezing it with her super-breath, protecting herself and stopping the threat.

Clark prepares to go and listen to the arraignment of the villain when he's pulled into a back alley. Luthor stands with goons at his side.

Luthor tells Clark to stop the stories about the fall of Luthor, and berates him for the year of stories that helped drag him down. Luthor tells Clark that he's been bought out of his own company, Lexcorp.

Clark refuses to back down, telling Lex that he's dug his own hole. Lex punches him in the chest, cracking a rib, then hits him in the face, causing him to spit blood (Clark is undoubtedly mortal). Lex tells him that he wouldn't kill Lois to stop the stories, but he might take an arm, or an eye.

They leave Clark crumpled in a heap in the back alley, with Lex chiding Clark, saying that he always knew Clark had a glass jaw.

5Story - 5: First off, sorry this is late. I was very ill for a few days. Now:


I mean, wow.

That's the short answer. And that's the short response I'll bet most of you are having to this issue.

There are a TON of questions this issue raises, in terms of both continuity and direction (and don't you bet I won't get to them in due time), but when it comes down to it, sweet monkeys, is this not the Superman of old? Is this not what we signed on for when we started reading Superman, us old long-timers from ye, so long ago in the year of our Lord 1992?

That 1992 is, of course, sarcastic and an educated guess. You probably started reading in 1983, or 1997. Or maybe 2003. Who knows? The point is, it doesn't matter when you started, if you read this issue, it's hard to argue that this is ICONIC Superman, even after just one issue.

I have a bias. I've read a lot of Geoff Johns. I've seen him make Flash iconic. I've seen him turn the JSA from something I'm completely dispassionate about to something that I care quite a lot about. He made me read Green Lantern, something I thought impossible. All the while, I thought, what can this man do with Superman? With the universe?

Greg Rucka, in an interview years ago, told me that if one man could re-take the universe and make it cohesive, it's Goeff Johns. So far, I have a few questions, but this is an assessment I agree with, and I'm glad to have him on Superman.

Am I glad he's replacing Rucka? No. But then, I view Rucka and Johns in almost the same light, and would love to see both on my favorite character, no end. I would be sad to see anyone replace Rucka. But that's just not as possible in an infinitely morphing comic world, and I think Greg will do great on Supergirl and the new OMAC book.

Here's what we have in this issue. A great story featuring everything that makes Superman the best character in comics, period. A great character drama. A good prelude and beginning to a solid story arc.

We also have a lot of the past either gone or changed. Which begs the question, if things are iconic, beautiful, and sensible, is it okay to disregard continuity?

I would argue yes. I don't argue this without caveat. I believe that everything must be explained. With Geoff, I believe it will be explained why there was a Superboy, apparently. Why Superman's last action was fighting Doomsday. I'm guessing that will be explained. Some of the things will be much harder to explain, if they can be.

But even with all of the inconsistency, to me, it beats Birthright. Birthright was Waid's universe, plain and simple, and while it was a compelling story and a compelling universe, it was hardly iconic. It took purposefully controversial and dating notions, it aggravated the fans, and it brought in new powers and ideas that were soundly rejected, like soul vision and the Superman vegetarian rap. Even though I dig being vegetarian, it's hardly mid-west to me. Waid's Birthright was private.

Geoff's Superman here, much like Rucka's before, is more a channeling of the character in a universe that doesn't need the writer's personal viewing on it. I see, reading this issue, that Geoff has the same attitude Rucka had, the attitude that I will have if I ever get the chance to write Supes, that basically writing Superman is a privilege, and that the game isn't to show how much of Superman you can make yours, but rather how well you can channel everything that makes Superman his own. How you can take the history and the best parts of it and craft a great character drama. Not how you can create a new history for yourself complete with a giant spider and a new continuity.

Here is a ret-con, and here is a series of changes, but none seem made out of arrogance or for the sake of shaking things up. They seem dedicated to returning to status quo (a double-edged sword), but then, if taking us back to the status quo is what is required to make Superman this vital, by all means.

I have my issues with why if DC is going to take things back to status quo on a character they don't just start the history over again, and given that I don't know if they're doing just that, I'll leave most of that for another day. Point being, I trust Geoff Johns. His stories provide, and have for years. Eddie Berganza and Mark Waid brought about Birthright and provided no rationale for it, so they get the leery eye first. I trust Berganza to have a hit and miss relationship, with some really good hits. I've never read a Geoff Johns book that I utterly despised aside from his DC First issue years ago, and that's just because I hate Abra Kadabra.

So on to the notes:

I have the sneaking suspicion that Superboy is a dead man. Not Superboy of Earth-Prime, but good old Conner. Why? Because they're suggesting in this issue that Superboy was only marginally appearing in Superman's youth, and because somebody HAS to die, or at least likely will, for one final bang. An event doesn't need death to be good, but often fails without one status quo death. My guess is that Superboy vs. Superboy round two will happen, ending with a dead Conner. But that's purely speculative. For all I know, the movie was just full of it.

However, if it's not, is everything ret-conned to Doomsday? That raises a ton of questions. We know from this issue that Superman's last action before his year off was his battle with Doomsday. Is this battle at the end of the Infinite Crisis? Unlikely, because it mentions that Jimmy gave them pics for the film from when Superman died. Which means that we know for sure that Superman still died.

There's the issue of Superman's craft landing sixty-eight years ago, but I believe that to be an homage, not a plot point, to Superman's longevity as a character, Johns saying that he knows he's touching an icon.

If it is ret-conned to Doomsday, Lucy has some 'splainin' to do. Consider these plot points that were unresolved when Superman died:

Lex Luthor was a red-haired clone of the first Lex Luthor, a long haired clone who had no criminal charges against him. He was nowhere near president, and suspected of no crimes beyond the death of Sasha, his trainer.

Lois and Clark were not married.

Supergirl was still the alternate Supergirl, not our current one.

Cadmus was still in business.

Jeb Freidman was alive.

No Y2K. Brainiac was still Milton Fine and in human form.

Bizarro hadn't even been created by Luthor.

Emperor Joker hadn't happened, thus no Scorch, Bizarro, etcetera.

No JLA in current form, just the Blue Beetle version, where Martian Manhunter was hiding in the form of Bloodwynd (I believe that was his name, I forget).

In other words, if for some reason we pick Superman back up at the point at which he died, all of those things (and many, many more) need to be explained in context. I trust this to be explained by Johns. If not, I'll be surprised and disappointed, but like I said, if that's what it takes to get good stories rolling, and if the stories are this good, I might forgive it. I wouldn't for something like Birthright.

I find the fact that he simply uses the movie device to get us asking all of these questions the mark of a good writer who knows he's got to keep us on our toes. But unlike other writers, I believe Johns will resolve his issues.

Johns does have a repetitive theme of heroes losing his powers. He already did it with the Flash, and resolved it a bit too quickly, but it was still a great arc. I'm curious to see how he'll handle it with Superman.

Lois has short hair again. That's neat, even though I like long-haired ladies myself. I guess what I like about it is that in the year of hell when Casey was headlining Adventures, Lois would have long hair one week, short hair the next. I'm guessing more cohesiveness is on the way in that regard. Lois' hair is not a big deal, I know, but that inconsistency-is-okay factor expanded outward in a bunch of little ways into a lot of stories.

Clark is taunted by Lois for perhaps gaining weight. This is the first clue that Superman is depowered, and shows us that he has to deal with the things we have to on a day-to-day basis. I don't know that I buy the idea that if Superman lost his powers he'd gain weight, because frankly, his whole physiology would have to be shifted from Kryptonian to yellow-sun style humanoid. Unless it was magical. This should and likely will be addressed. Still, I like the idea of Superman having to watch his weight. Neat device, and good character clue.


Well, he's no longer in green and purple suit mode, this is obvious. And as you may recall, anything can be justified with me by the words green and purple suit, but then, I like my scheming businessman Lex a lot more than my president Lex or even my green and purple suit Lex. The tragic figure who loves Lois, lost his city because he had brain-power against physical power, etcetera etcetera.

Is it cheap to have him just suddenly cleared of all charges? Yes and no. Yes, because I was hoping for the ex machina style "clone from nowhere" scene that was so awesome in 1997, when Lex was cleared because it wasn't him, it was a Dabney Donovan clone. That was a great twist. Now it's just because he's rich and has good lawyers. Yeah, that works, but I mean, couldn't it be a little more in-depth?

But that all said, as I have stated, if it gets us to where we have to and want to be with Lex again, maybe that more than makes up for it. And even if it does take things back a notch, it moves forward again, with Lex losing his company and the trust of the people, which never seemed to waver before.

There's something to be said for the complaint of things moving back to the status quo. I've made it often in my Smallville reviews. I complain because instead of moving character forward, they simply revert back to the simple formula of a villain a week, and people who were dead return to life, risks undertaken are retracted, like Lionel being removed from jail after murder and then having everyone be friendly with him nonetheless.

It's different here. Call me a hypocrite, but I think it is. Mostly because Smallville has a definite ending and plot path, whereas Superman does not, and cannot, so all it can do is recursively find the best possible way back to the status quo before messing it up again. Unlike, say, the Illiad, where if you were watching an ongoing show or reading a comic on it and they forever dwelled in the camps never attacking, you'd get ticked, but in say, for instance, the stories of the Greek Gods, you don't write the story of how they die, you just tell more and more morality exploits. And given that Superman and Smallville are patterned on the Gods and that history in many allegorical ways, I find that apt.

Lois indicates that Lex is being relieved of the charge of high treason and election fraud.

This says, to me, categorically, that Lex was the president. How he could have been president after Doomsday killed Superman, having a four year presidency in the time it took from Superman's death to the instant before One Year Later is beyond me, but that's how it has to be, unless somehow he was president while Superman fought Doomsday? (???????) You see the problems this opens up. I hope it's all explained, and if not, we'll rattle sabers. I'm keeping optimistic, because we're talking about Geoff Johns.

I can't stress more, given the man's record, the trust he's earned with me in a story way.

Lex's crystal indicates that he has Doomsday, or some power over Doomsday, or knowledge. I can't wait to see how this develops.

Then again, there is the continuity issue. Doomsday was not even a factor on modern Krypton. In fact, Doomsday killed every single entity on Krypton before boarding a ship and getting out of there, going from system to system. This was negated by Birthright, as Krypton was alone in the galaxy in Birthright, thusly Doomsday couldn't leave or even potentially exist, because he was created out of the narrow and sterile mindset of the Byrne Krypton.

So here's the flaw. Doomsday can't exist if Birthright is cannon. Assume he somehow can. He still wasn't around when Superman's people were there, only his great, great ancestors who were wiped out. Doomsday never fought humanoids on Krypton (other planets, yes), he just slaughtered his scientist father and his aides. Krypton was just a mish-mash of carnivorous beasts in Doomsday's time, epochs before Superman.

This has to be (or should be) reconciled as well.

Perry is back to chomping cigars and treating Olsen like a coffee gofer. That's great too see, hard to reconcile. That's how it should be. You know that. We know that. I know that. Perry should have a cigar. They even joke about how he's quit so many times.

But do we forget that Perry had a heart attack and Clark had to take over as editor for a while? Do we forget that Jimmy got a great deal of fame as a Bill O'Reilly, A Current Affair style tabloid blowhard? Do we forget Perry's son Keith? Yeah, the black kid he and his wife adopted about ten years ago we've never seen again.

Reverting to status quo is thusly hard to reconcile without rebooting or ret-conning. One or the other still has to be done to be coherent though.

Still, if the story is now good again, do you raise a big stink? I wonder.

Intergang! Now how cool is it to hear THAT! A large part of the practice stories that I write for if I get a chance to pitch to DC involve this kind of treatment, restoring the iconic qualities of what made me love Supes. Intergang is one of the elements that always comes back. In fact, most of this issue smacks of the direction I would try and take. That's not said to sound arrogant, just to say that we're on the same wavelength, Geoff and I, in terms of what's making Superman good and what has in the past.

Clark is back on Perry's good side after a year of hard work. We never knew why he was on Perry's bad side, and Eddie even gaffed at the question in Ask Eddie a while back, but at least that's resolved now. And good.

They even reference Jimmy's old days as a tabloid reporter, calling Clark Mr. Action as he seems to be taking Jimmy's temporary place as the competent reporter filling Clark's position. That tells me they know about the contradiction. Now will they do anything about it?

Clark doesn't strike me as a particularly arrogant, jockish kind of guy, so I didn't agree with the "Kent" letterman jacket he was wearing around. It helped Lex's guys ID him, but it still seemed out of place.

Batwoman! What the heck is that? Awesome. I can't wait. 52 will be a strange, cool experiment, I'm sure.

I had a mild moment of paranoid fear with this villain that we were reverting to Smallville style Krypto freaks. Then I remembered that it takes more than one, it takes about 100, and my blood pressure calmed.

And besides, how cool is the Kryptonite Man? What a neat idea. I think it's been done before (it's one of those backwater continuity things from Superboy, as near as my cursory search of the internet could reveal), but here it's compelling, a real threat, and nonetheless, he's dispatched in a way that makes sense, showing that Kara has come into her own.

We know his powers. We know what he can do. Johns defines this. This is uncommon of late, with a lot of simple brawling going on in the books of late. Excellent.

This is villain comes to town, yeah, but it's also an intriguing villain with a lot of character. Johns knows more than any comic writer I read right now that the key to a good hero is an incredibly fleshed out adversary. Just read Flash.

Nice design, a cool resurrection. It's not the Queen of Fables, and it's only a small part of a much larger tapestry, making it much more forgivable.

The Luthor scene, top-to-bottom, is great. It's Luthor being who he is, a constant and harsh foible to Clark and Superman. We need more of this. So often, Lex has just lurked but never done anything. USE that mofo! He's also LUTHOR, not a nyah-man. He loves Lois. He cares about controlling his city. He's not just kicking Supergirl around for the sake of argument or knowing that Clark Kent is Superman but not doing anything about it.

My only regret, and this is continuing, is that this is Superman issue 650.

Don't get me wrong. I like changing the title back to the original numbering again. But what it means, all symbolism aside, is that there are three Superman books in a month in-continuity. And Superman/Batman is not Superman-exclusive, and usually takes place in some unspecified past.


Action Comics.

That's it.

We have All-Star Superman every four months if the moon aligns with Pluto. Same with Superman/Batman, really. The lateness stinks.

Superman every two weeks. It used to be once a week, sometimes twice with specials. They've really cut back on the Superman, which means that they can have a stronger universe, yes, but when the stories suck, and they eventually must, there will be little if any counterbalance. At least during the year of hell there were four issues to choose from. Sometimes Man of Steel was on. Sometimes it was the main Superman book with Loeb.

Now there are two shots each month to rule. I trust Johns, but when he leaves...

It's not like Superman isn't awesome enough to sell books on simply name alone. Give the man another book or two! Less gimmicks, more mainline story. Superman/Batman is more like a JLA book, All-Star is a wholly differing continuity.

Bring back Man of Steel. Start Adventures again. Bring back Man of Tomorrow.

I'll even write them, if you ask me nicely (cough). Har!

5Art - 5: Woods reminds me of a more refined Leinel Yu. Or at least Yu without the inker that he had on Birthright. The action is also a bit more refined and defined in a lot of ways. The design on Kryptonite Man, as I said, is really neat. It looks a bit like The Ultimates in a way, but it's also really neat when the action hits. Perry, Jimmy, Clark, and Lois all look very spot-on and iconic. Lois looks a little different than usual, but then, she's always changing her look. Her character is always the odd one out.

Supergirl looks fantastic, and I'm digging this Luthor. Really good stuff.

5Cover Art - 5: Iconic, and symbolically representative of the story without going too cheesy. Superman is overshadowing the normal Clark, who has to walk on oblivious. The coloring is great, the pose is classic. Good stuff.

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