Friday, July 26, 2013

Superman #17

"Fury at World's End"

Scott Lobdell Writer
Kenneth Rocafort Artist
Blond Colorist
Rob Leigh Letterer
Darren Shan and Anthony Marques Assistant Editors
Eddie Berganza Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

This is an appealing Rocafort cover and it shows an exciting scene: Superman and his allies battling the large and mysterious Oracle in space. Except that doesn't happen in this story. Only Superman meets the Oracle, and Dr. Veritas only makes a one-panel, completely meaningless cameo in this issue. Plus, this Oracle is much, much smaller than the Oracle shown inside. I know they had to do this cover months ahead of time, and I realize that the story is never set in stone and constantly  evolving, I just wish they would've adjusted this cover to better match the finished story. They've done it before, especially in this H'el on Earth storyline.

Our story starts with Superman flying through space after receiving a mighty punch from H'el in Supergirl #17. The Man of Steel suddenly collides with (or is caught by) something very large and mysterious.

Superman tries to comunicate with the Oracle, but is only given a series of confusing images related to the destruction of Krypton. Superman asks if this means H'el will succeed, but the Oracle merely fades away. Superman then flies back to Earth, passing the Justice League headquarters, where Batman, Flash and Cyborg assure him they'll take care of the natural disasters while he battles H'el.

Supergirl has now joined Wonder Woman in the fight against H'el, and they give Superboy enough time to tear down the Star Chamber. But it turns out that H'el wanted him to do this, since the chamber's only purpose was to fuel his ship, which is now ready to take him back in time. Superman then shows up and starts punching H'el so hard that even Batman (who's up in the Watchtower) can feel the blows in the back of his teeth.

More temporal portals (or "time shards" as Superboy calls them) start to appear, and Superboy tries to use his powers to close them. Supergirl, meanwhile, finds the shard of Kryptonite and conceals it. H'el eventually gets Superman off him and prepares to enter his ship. Supergirl then approaches him, apologizes, and asks to go with him. H'el forgives her, and when she gets close enough, she thrusts the Kryptonite into his chest.

H'el then falls backward through a temporal portal and disappears. Because he was keeping all the portals open psionically, everything goes back to normal once he's gone. Superman then rushes the poisoned Supergirl to his medical center in the Fortress of Solitude, while the Oracle continues to observe from afar. The Oracle is tempted to express joy, but it knows that Superman's actions today will exact an unspeakable toll on the omniverse itself.

Epilogue. Some twelve years before the destruction of Krypton, a young Jor-El wanders off from a school field trip and finds H'el in a cave, with the Kryptonite still in his chest.

The Good:

The art. As always, Kenneth Rocafort's art is incredibly enjoyable, and really makes the issue. I love his version of all these characters, and his unique page layouts work perfectly with this sci-fi story. He also did a great job showing character's emotions. It looked like H'el was going to weep tears of joy when Supergirl said she wanted to come with him. All in all, this was a great comic book to look at.

Supergirl's redemption. This whole storyline was mostly about her. She was tricked and mislead right from the beginning. H'el turned her teenage girl emotions against her, and she became a powerful antagonist. But she gradually developed some doubts, and bit by bit, she finally realized that what H'el was doing was wrong. It wasn't a sudden reversal of attitude, but a slow, realistic change — there was even some doubt about what she would do at the end of Supergirl #17. And then she received a very satisfying conclusion to her story arc by putting her own life on the line to stop H'el. Very nice.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. Supergirl #17 only had one panel for the Flash, but I let that one pass because he was saving the entire city of Tokyo in it. But here, the Flash's only panel just showed his head complaining about all the natural disasters. Perhaps he was perturbed by Cyborg inexplicably joining Batman in the Watchtower, leaving him to protect the planet by himself. If Rocafort could have changed that one panel to show Flash running and saving somebody, then I wouldn't have penalized this issue.

Superman's too powerful punches. I was happy when Superman started laying into H'el — it was more than deserved — but I didn't like how Scott Lobdell described the impact of his punches. He said they could be felt by Dr. Veritas near the center of the Earth, and in the farthest edges of our atmosphere, where Batman says he felt the punches in the back of his teeth. That is too much for me. If somebody in a satellite can feel something happening on Earth, then that force would have to destroy Earth, right? Or at least cause permanent, irreparable damage. I also hated the dialogue in the Watchtower scene. After complaining about his rattling teeth, Batman asks Cyborg what's happening, to which Cyborg replies: "I doubt you'd believe it if I told you!" What? Batman wouldn't believe that Superman was punching H'el real hard? If anything, Batman should have known what was going on before Cyborg told him.

Unsatisfying conclusion. This issue was advertised as the epic conclusion of a major crossover. As such, it should have at least answered a few of our questions. I know we'll see H'el and the Oracle again, but couldn't we have at least got some definitive proof of who he is. He claimed to be a Kryptonian and a student of Jor-El's, but serious doubt was cast on his story. And what was with the backwards S on his chest, which disappeared and reappeared quite randomly through the storyline? And please, please, what is the Oracle? He was teased and alluded to for so long, then he finally shows up only to give Superman a couple of vague, uninformative images, and then he reappears at the end only to reassure us that this "happy" ending is actually setting things up to be even more worse down the road. According to the mysterious Oracle, Superman's actions here are going to threaten not just the planet or the universe, but the omniverse. Why can't we ever have a happy ending? Everything in DC these days just points to something worse and more awful in the future.

All in all, H'el on Earth was a pretty fun crossover. From what I read, only one issue felt unnecessary, which was unfortunately the most expensive one. I was happy that the Superman family was able to come together for a big story, and I was happy the Flash could be involved for a little bit. Even though his role quickly became periphery, I enjoyed having an excuse to keep reading this story through the end. Sadly, the weakest thing about the H'el on Earth was its conclusion. There was no sense of resolution to it — just an end to the fighting. Superman #17 by itself is not a bad issue, but when it's billed as the conclusion to a major story arc, I expect it to be a little more conclusive — like The Flash #17.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: I'll take a quick detour into the Passive Appearance list, and show you the Zombie Flash in the horrific Rotworld future of Animal Man #12.

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