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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #653

Superman #653

Scheduled to arrive in stores: June 14, 2006

Cover date: August 2006

Writer: Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods

Up, Up, and Away - Part Five: "Up in the Sky"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Luthor explains the origin of his giant space cruiser to Superman, who stands before him. He reveals that Superman's own ancestors used the Sunstone to craft giant, self-replicating battle cruisers that decimated and subjugated other planets.

We see a general standing over underlings ordering them in a craft similar to the one Luthor commands. They say, in Kryptonian:

Dru-Zod: "Resistance has ended. Malak is pacified. Prepare landing parties. Scan undeveloped areas for potential slave labor.

Lackey one: "Yes, great Dru Zod."

Lackey two: "At once, great Dru Zod"

(And for the record, the next writer who makes me have to translate Kryptonian gets the flying Dragon Kick and five across the eyes. It takes longer than the review itself. STAR IT, and TRANSLATE IT, or reviewers will come and find you! Nasty business for all involved. Back to your regular review in progress.)

Superman admonishes Lex, telling him that he will not make it one step further.

Luthor reacts violently, exclaiming that the city is his, and launching projectiles toward Metropolis. Superman tries to catch them all, but can't be everywhere at once. Some land, become roving crystal beasts, and begin destroying landmarks Lex helped build up when he controlled the city.

Superman tells Lex that he once said that he could cure cancer and feed the hungry if he didn't have Superman to deal with. He then asks Lex why he hasn't done those things in the year that he's been away, and instead crafted a giant battle machine.

Luthor sputters, and begins recalling the crystal beasts to attack Superman, taking them away from the people.

The heroes of the DCU arrive en masse to deal with the problem. Luthor scoffs, raises a shield, and they all bounce off it.

Superman focuses on the battle cruiser, using his mind's ability to process faster that he's noticed to find the control center for the tanks and destroy it. Luthor scoffs again, promising to adapt. Superman taunts him and keeps him on task, turning up his heat vision higher than he ever has before and finally shutting down the nerve center that drives the tanks.

Luthor pulls Kryptonite from the engines, almost all of the Kryptonite left on Earth, and begins triangulating on Superman and firing at him. Superman is hit by a blast of Kryptonite.

Jimmy, standing by, grabs a trashcan lid and stops the beam, allowing Superman to recover. The kryptonite burns through the lid and hits Jimmy in the arm, burning him, but by then Superman has recovered, and pulls him off to the hospital.

Superman jinks and jukes away from the beams, but is suddenly slammed from above by Luthor, now in a land-based version of the tanks previously destroyed. He chides Superman that he agrees, now Superman will die first.

He hits Superman with a large blast, slamming him into a building.

Superman, realizing that the longer he fights the closer he is to losing, decides on one last blow. He knows that flying straight into the Kryptonite might kill him or take his powers again, but knows Luthor has to be stopped.

He launches into the cockpit, knowing that Luthor will have built protections around himself for being blown out of the suit, and inertia carries them up into the sky high over the bay.

Superman's powers disappear, and they reach the top of the arch and start to fall.

"I hate you," Lex says. "God, I hate you."

5Story - 5: Hoh-lee-crap that was good.

I mean, even taken in the context that this is a radically different Luthor, even almost a Silver Age Luthor, and even taken in context that there's hardly any way you can plausibly wipe away Luthor over Metropolis being a villain and still have Lex go back to being a businessman, this is still the fight I've been waiting for since I first started reading Supes. I thought the Fall of Metropolis would be this...and it was, to a degree, but that was more about Lex and Superman just fighting with their power. This story has psychological character drama. It's less about the crystals that Lex is shooting, and more how both men think about the inner workings of the other to fight in the style of chess.

And that is exactly how it's needed to be for a long time, and exactly how it should be.

In fact, some of the better Superman issues I've ever read have been the ones where Luthor always escapes by the skin of his teeth and rises anew to battle Superman with a new plot on a regular basis. For twenty long years we haven't seen that Luthor, and I'm curious to see what it's like in a modern context. And if it's like this series, I'm curious to see it on a CONSTANT basis.

Johns is just incredible. He's risen in an arc per Bendis, and taken on an extraordinary workload, but honestly, his quality isn't falling. Bendis kind of burned out a bit, Johns is just getting better and better. This is a great series.

And Busiek? He's now on my pull list wherever he goes. This is EPIC.

Luthor is SPOT-ON with his megalomania. Speaking of the town he built. Citing places he helped build up, so he believes it's his right to destroy. That's character. That's honest motivation. That's a reason you or I might be a villain, and it makes him sympathetic even when you know he's totally evil.

Superman is spot-on as well. Just the moment where he agonizes over having to take a few seconds to find the tank controls, knowing that he has to let them run wild in his city despite the fact that they're going to hurt people, to serve the greater good by stopping them all. That agonizing is something that we haven't seen in a Superman that's not constantly moping and whining in a good long time. THAT is the agonizing Superman needs. The decision to save the many over the few. It's what makes Superman great. He KNOWS what has to be done, but it's a hard decision, and he has to deal with the consequences and the guilt.

Luthor destroys the other heroes of the DCU with ease. It's great, because it shows why Luthor can only be fought on any level by Supes. They're so intrinsically dedicated to battling each other, Luthor just scoffs at anyone who isn't literally an embodied god. It makes the battle all the more effective. BOOP! Lex hits a button, and the entire DCU is shut down. Only Superman, by virtue of his BRAINS (getting under Luthor's skin) can do any kind of real battle of brawn with the man. It speaks to both characters, and it's epic writing by Johns and Busiek.

Super-intellect I don't mind. I think it's something that can be done well. And I mean, let's not pretend any more. This is NOT the Byrne Superman any more. This is the Byrne Superman with the POWERS of the Silver Age Superman. I can kind of deal with that, so long as the character doesn't suffer. Does it? Not here, that's for sure.

The perfect moment was the obvious climax. Superman has to decide to face down the fear that he's been struggling with for an entire year. The idea that he's given up his powers by exposing himself to a situation that removes them, in order to defeat Luthor. Luthor finally has a way to strike fear into the heart of that perfect overman.

Superman fights through it, busts through the tank, and saves the day. THAT is character, THAT is a good story, and THAT closes up every plot element brought about by this story thusfar. It's incredible.

Hanging in the air, a literal visual representation of the climax of the story, and it boils down to one thing. Superman's got Luthor by the scruff of his neck, and Luthor is telling Superman how much he hates him.

That's UR-Superman, and it's just such an iconic moment this issue would get a six if it could. I'm buying this in trade, and it's a story I'll come back to over the years, even if the last issue is dog-puke crap.

How about the continuity? Superman mentions Lex's previous claims about curing cancer and hunger. GOOD use of previous storylines, and not the kind of touch say, a Chuck Austen would have used.

There are some beefs, but largely they come from the Berganza era.

One, Superman states that he's using his heat vision more than ever before, when in a Joe Casey issue (shudder) he actually uses his heat vision to warm the whole Earth. Not Busiek or Johns' fault. Berganza's, for letting such a plot device go.

Further, there's the little reconciliation of Birthright thing. They've stated (and not gone back and refuted) that Birthright is the new origin of Superman. It is an origin that EXPLICITLY states that Krypton is alone in the universe and doesn't have inter-stellar communication. Thereby the Zod ship, heck, the FLEET is a load of hogwash in current continuity. I like the idea. I think Zod fighting around the universe is fine, well, and cool by me. But it has to be reconciled with the fact that Krypton doesn't have spaceships in current continuity. Thusly Doomsday doesn't even exist. Thusly, why doesn't an editor just step up and say Birthright's just a good story, but not the origin?



5Art - 5: Without great art, this story wouldn't have pulled its weight. Luthor is Luthor, Superman is decisively Superman, all of the characters are distinctive and own their space. I LOVE the ship design. Not so hot on the new Zod's look yet, but then, it was a veiled look.

The coloring is still really, really good. The fight was great, everything was just top-notch. Just look at the opening splash where Superman's standing before Luthor's ship in from of Metropolis. Wow.

5Cover Art - 5: It's like the battle suit is struggling to fit inside the format. Very cool.

Does the front scene ever happen in the book? Kind of. Different design, but basically, yeah. I don't like the discrepancy, but the coolness of the image more than makes up for it. It's iconic. Superman versus Luthor with a display of power. Great stuff.

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