Tuesday, December 31, 2013
"To Hel and Back"
Scripted and Co-Plotted by Keith Griffen
Pencil Art and Co-Plotted by Dan Jurgens
Finished Art by Jesús Merino
Colored by Tanya and Richard Horie
Lettered by Rob Leigh
Associate Edited by Wil Moss
Edited by Matt Idelson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Look at this! A sketch variant! This is an older issue from when DC generously included variant covers in their digital copies. Now, they have sadly discontinued that practice. Anyway, this cover was done by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis. I always get annoyed when the cover artist doesn't work on the inside pages, but otherwise, this is a pretty solid cover. But I wouldn't say it's Ivan Reis' best work, by any means. Perhaps it's because I think grabbing Superman's cape is a really dumb-looking move. The black-and-white version is alright, but it feels a little rushed. Almost like it needed one more step before it was ready to go on the cover.
Of course, any problems with this cover (and story) can be attributed to the turbulent nature of the Superman title in the early stages of the New 52. Originally, George Perez (one of the bigger names in the industry) was supposed to be the main Superman writer and hold it up to the same standard as Grant Morrison's Action Comics and Geoff Johns' Justice League. But Perez quickly fell into editorial disagreements, and he left as soon as he could. He even publicly stated that the first six issues of Superman, of which he was credited as writer and sometimes artist, were edited so heavily they did not resemble his originally intended story. So DC quickly brought in Keith Griffen and Dan Jurgens to put a couple of issues out until they found a long-term replacement. For their story, DC chose a loose tie-in with Stormwatch and Grifter. And you know what? Having said all that, this issue actually wasn't half bad.
Our story begins with Superman doing Superman stuff. He's protecting innocent bystanders from a rampaging robot.
The robot eventually transports Superman to the Himalayas, where its boss, Helspont the daemonite, has set up base. Helspont tells Superman that he's curious as to why his race didn't conquer Earth long ago. He theorizes this could be due to the amount of superheroes already on Earth. To illustrate his point, a nearby cauldron of fire displays images of several heroes, including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
Helspont then offers Superman the chance to serve under him while he conquers the world. Naturally, the Man of Steel declines.
For better and worse, this felt like a very '90s issue. Now, there are a lot of comics I love from the '90s, but there are also a few things that are best left in that decade. Of course, the bulk of this praise/blame falls on Dan Jurgens, who was one of the premiere Superman creators of the '90s. I guess old habits die hard — even 20 years later. Now, what do I mean when I say this feels '90s? It's hard to put my finger on it. Part of it is the art — Jurgens' distinctive style that was so prevalent back then. And part of it is the tone of the story. It just feels a lot lighter than many current books that try so hard to be serious, grim and gritty. This was a pretty basic setup: Superman fights a robot, saves people, has some laughs at the Daily Planet, then meets the super villain, who is basically evil incarnate and wants to take over the world for the sake of taking it over. It all felt very familiar. And this works to the benefit and detriment of this issue. I suppose it depends on how you feel on a given day. Sometimes it's nice to return to the simpler times of the "good ol' days." But sometimes you want something new and fresh, even if that comes with the risk of failing.
One thing I will compliment this issue on is the use of editor's notes. This is something DC has moved away from recently, which saddens me. In this issue, there were notes telling me to check out Superman #1, Stormwatch #5, Stormwatch #6 and Grifter #6. That's a lot of issues, but they do help strengthen the continuity of the DC universe without creating compulsory crossovers. There was no "Daemonite Invasion" banner on this cover, and Superman didn't have to put his current story on hold to take part in this "event." He just happened to fight a daemonite in this issue, and if readers wanted to read other issues with more of these aliens, they'd know where to find them. I have nothing against large crossover events (as long as they're handled well), but I think DC needs to promote more of these loose tie-ins through editor's notes.
No Flash. The Flash didn't need to be here, and it actually didn't make any sense when he was shown in that cauldron of fire. At that point, Helspont was talking about superheroes from Earth's earliest recorded history. The Flash doesn't fit under that category. He's not that old. … Or is he? … Nope. He's not. This was an instance of the art not agreeing with the dialogue, which is a shame. And I see now why comic book databases initially didn't include this issue as a Flash appearance.
Final score: 4 out of 10
Next time: I caught the Flash's big cameo in Captain Atom #3, but I missed his small, passive appearance toward the end of that series in Captain Atom #10.