Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Superman #654

Posted: Sunday, July 16, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

“Our Special Day”

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Carlos Pacheco (p), Jesus Merino (i), Dave Stewart (colors)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Michael Bailey:
Kevin T. Brown:
Robert Murray:
Caryn A. Tate:
Ray Tate:

Michael Aronson

This comic perfectly demonstrates why I find Superman so boring, as a character and as a comic. The threats are unimposing, the plots are generic, the challenges of balancing two identities is much easier than it should be, and the marriage . . . you know, I’m not one to argue against married characters, but when the spouse can save you from being fired and then excuse you for every mistake you made with a little loving, that’s just…, well…, boring.

Intergang. Prankster. Bruno “Ugly” Manheim. Who are they and, more importantly, why should I care? They’re some of the villains that pop up for a page or three in this issue, but they just exist as window dressing to color Superman’s world and the kind of threats he faces. But a guy with a slimy mustache? An oversized crime lord in a dorky suit? How are these threats to the world’s greatest hero? They’re clearly not so within the context of this issue, and it’s not explained anywhere what makes them interesting.

These kind of threats make me think back to Infinite Crisis, and though it was a mess of a story in itself, it did actually result in some good Superman stories, like “Sacrifice” and his scenes in Infinite Crisis #1. Why? Because Superman failed. He was defeated by the very values and morals that had always empowered him, and yet they couldn’t save the day when Batman and Wonder Woman’s ruthlessness could. Meanwhile, we had two alternate reality Supermen talking trash about him behind his back. I know it didn’t make him much of a hero, but it made him interesting, and the lack of drama and stakes make this new issue a dozer.

The supporting cast is all there, same as they’ve been for almost seventy years. Lois is clever, Perry is demanding, Jimmy is clueless, Metropolis citizens are helpless, etc. The revelation about Lana Lang is interesting, but it’s so casually mentioned and tossed to the side that it doesn’t really add anything. The previous creative teams seemed more interested in the power struggle in Superman’s life, but with no Luthor and no development of Lana, there still isn’t any struggle.

It’s sad to witness the moment when creators have passed their peak, but this is clearly the case for this team, or at least Pacheco. His compositions used to be full of such power and majesty, even when he was only doing covers. However, the cover here is pretty bland and the faces in the interiors are sometimes downright ugly. Avengers Forever was probably Pacheco’s peak, but his Arrowsmith miniseries from three years ago was still beautiful. What he turns in here is competent, perhaps above average for the typical artist, but in terms of what Pacheco has been capable of, not to mention what Woods and Guedes have done on this book in the last four months, this is a big disappointment. It’s ironic that a decade ago, Pacheco was a superstar artist while Woods’ stuff was less than decent, and now the tables have completely turned.

DC likely hired Busiek to deliver straightforward superheroics for their flagship character, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. It’s back to basics, reinstituting the status quo, returning the character to his former glory – choose your cliché. Passable as it is, what it comes down to is boring comics.

Michael Bailey

Plot: All Clark Kent wants to do is to celebrate a special anniversary with his wife. Between the super-villains, including Neutron and members of Intergang, causing trouble and Perry White giving him a number of small time assignments in order to get two big ones, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do so.

Commentary: This issue worked on a number of levels. Despite setting up several plots and sub-plots for the future, Busiek delivered a character driven one shot to kick off his solo run on Superman. I liked this. Not only is it one of those “great jumping on points” I keep hearing about, I could also relate to Clark’s plight of trying to commemorate a special day with Lois in addition to taking care of his other responsibilities. I think any married man can relate to this. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just don’t work out. Kurt brought a reality to Clark and Lois’ marriage, and this story proves that even though the two are husband and wife, their relationship can still be interesting or engaging. The ending was very sweet, and I thought what Lois did (or what Busiek had Lois do) said a lot for the feelings she has for her husband and the understanding she has for the pressure it is to be both Clark Kent and Superman.

I also dug the fact that Busiek balanced Clark’s dilemma with a fair bit of action. Better than that, the action actually furthered the story, which is a hard trick to pull off. From the fight with Neutron to the encounter with the Prankster to the revelation of Bruno Mannheim’s “new look” along with all of the other short bits of business, Busiek displayed his knack for writing a good super-hero book. I especially liked the Prankster gag. There is something amusing about seeing Superman sitting on a mountain of popcorn next to a jack-in-the-box head made to look like the Prankster.

Then there was the introduction of the Science Police. I thought that was great. The old school Legion of Super-Heroes fan in me smiled at that one.

Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino delivered the level of quality that a Superman book deserves. Superman looked great. As much as I didn’t mind the raised “S” on Superman’s uniform during “Up, Up, and Away,” it was nice to see the classic approach to the costume here. The scenes in the Daily Planet and at Clark and Lois’ apartment were just as good as the scenes where Superman is fighting Neutron or taking on a monstrous Mannheim. Actually, I thought Carlos and Jesus did a better job with the supporting cast, or at least I enjoyed those scenes more on a visual level. This is one of the first times I have ever thought that Lois was drawn attractively, and I’m not talking about the lingerie shots.

In The End: So, Lana Lang is the new CEO of LexCorp, eh? That is certainly interesting. Don’t know if I like it or think that it works, but it is definitely interesting. Seriously, though, this issue was fantastic. As a fan of the super-hero genre, I was satisfied, but as a Superman fan, I couldn’t be happier. Busiek gets this character. He understands what makes Clark and Superman work, and the balance between the two was great. The danger with following a story arc like “Up, Up, and Away” is falling short. Busiek didn’t. In fact, he went beyond and actually gave me, as a reader, the sense that this was just the beginning. There is always the chance that things could go bad in a hurry, but frankly, I don’t see that happening.

It has now been a little over a year since DC put out a Superman book I didn’t like. It feels really good to be able to write that.

Kevin T. Brown

This is a very good time to be a Superman fan. The books are truly going through a renaissance. DC is finally showing their main character the respect he deserves by putting high quality creative teams on the titles, something that has not happened since John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Marv Wolfman, and Jerry Ordway were the guiding forces of the Man of Steel. But here we are approximately 15-20 years later, and DC provides Superman another A-list creative team in Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco.

This is the second title in as many weeks that I’ve reviewed where the writer has put as much into a story as is humanly possible and still didn’t overload it. I hardly know where to begin. Suffice it to say, Kurt Busiek has crafted a true gem here. He’s able to show every side of Clark Kent and Lois Lane while presenting the reader with an action-packed story. And, no, I didn’t make a mistake, I meant Clark Kent, not Superman. The way he’s being written, he’s Clark, regardless of the “suit” he has on, and it very natural.

Busiek subtly “sneaks” in a few sub-plots (Lana Lang, the return of Bruno Mannheim (okay, he’s not exactly subtle), and the introduction of a past love(?) interest) while presenting the reader a fresh look at how Clark & Lois make the marriage work. Make no mistake, this story is definitely Lois’, no matter how many pages you see of Superman battling villain after villain while trying to keep an important anniversary date with Lois. It’s also nice to see that bad Monday’s happen to Superman, too. In the end it’s clear Lois is truly the best woman for Clark to have in his life. They’re true partners in all things. And it’s that aspect that makes this story a gem.

Joining with Kurt Busiek in this gem are artists Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino and colorist Dave Stewart. I tend to lavish praise on those artists I consider among my favorites, and such is the case here. Pacheco and Merino’s work on Green Lantern is lackluster compared to this issue. All the battle scenes, all the Daily Planet scenes, all the scenes with the supporting cast, all of it drawn perfectly. Yes, even Lois funky new hairdo is not as bad as some might think, though it does take some getting use to. I don’t think words alone can express how gorgeous this book is, and then to end it with Lois greeting Clark at home in a sexy negligee…. Welllll, let’s just call it the icing on the cake, shall we?

Overall, this is the perfect book to jump on to if anyone is looking to buy something new. It literally has almost everything one could hope to find in a comic nowadays. Busiek, Pacheco & Merino are off to an excellent start here. And I hope it’s a very long run for them. This is the best Superman book DC has put out in years.

Robert Murray:

I hope the characterization-over-carnage trend in modern super-hero comics continues for a good long while. After having my hopes for J.M. Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man lifted by the wonderful Civil War storyline he’s putting together, I know now that there are mainstream comic writers out there whose last names are not Vaughan or Brubaker interested in character drama for established characters. Having an obligatory fight scene every issue is becoming a thing of the past! Yes, Superman #654 includes a fight scene with Neutron, but this is merely Superman doing his everyday job, just like the cops. The real meat of this issue are the moments of real-life situations and conflicts that Clark and Lois are embroiled in, and a special anniversary that the two share (which is either Kurt Busiek’s tribute to the Superman movies or a cheap trick to attract non-comic readers who enjoyed Superman Returns). Issue #654 is a great lead-in for the new creative team, and I only hope that the smooth storytelling, light humor, and realistic drama persist throughout their run.

Like I said, the fight scenes that take place in this issue are devices to show readers what a Monday for Superman is like. It’s a great way to have us relate to a character that is much larger than life. Superman encounters the deadlines, the petty jealousies, and the obligations that all of us have each and every day. Busiek presents a Superman with modern problems, which is a Man of Steel story I always want to read. To see him struggle with and fail to meet his deadlines gives us all hope with the problems we have every day. I may be blowing this out of proportions, but I’m currently trying to meet a deadline right now with this review, so I know the feeling! Issue #654 is a one-shot issue that effectively tells a complete story within twenty-two pages, complete with smooth pacing, good dialogue, and a fun plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously, though we all want Clark to succeed in his tasks. My favorite scene is the staff meeting that Clark is late to due to his battle with Neutron. This is a man who could easily rule the world with the power in his left hand alone, yet he is humble enough to admit that he is in the wrong and take the criticism of his boss, Perry White. I like to see Mr. White as a hard-nosed newspaper editor rather than a pseudo-father figure for Clark. In typical Monday fashion, he gives Clark “all the crappy assignments. All the scut work, the boring, idiot junk everyone else wants to get out of.” And, he wants all of that work by the end of the day, which gives us our overall plot. Sure, it’s fun to see Superman cover all of these events as well as his super-hero duties at the same time (I particularly liked the underwater battle while he watched a press conference with telescopic vision...well, most of it.) But, more rewarding is knowing that not even a Superman is immune to the daily pressures and commitments we have every day.

As for new series artist Carlos Pacheco, I think he is a good fit on this series and this issue, utilizing much of the unique style he used in Superman/Batman to present a tale with realistic flair. Granted, Mr. Pacheco does make most of the characters very easy on the eyes, including the curvy Lois Lane, but there is a great combination of fantasy and reality in every panel of the issue. The art betrays a quiet dignity for Superman and his surroundings, but Pacheco also throws in some wonderful looking action scenes that have me looking forward to future issues. Jesus Merino should get a lot of credit here as well for keeping his inking mindful of facial expressions, yet not making the feel of the issue overly gritty, as no Superman comic should every be.

This is a great issue that completes Superman’s return to the mainstream DC universe, and I am very excited about the near future of the series. While Superman comics are never at the top of my buy list, Busiek usually presents a quality product for any super-hero he tackles, so I might tag along for as long as he’s aboard.

Caryn A. Tate:

I’m loving Busiek’s Superman! This issue put me in mind somewhat of his great Secret Identity, an unusual twist on the idea of Superman. In this issue, I’m reminded of why I think Busiek writes a very good Supes—he’s able to keep the character fresh, to remind us Superman fans of why he’s so special.

As a longtime fan of Superman but only a recent reader of his regular monthly comic titles, I can honestly say it’s refreshing to be able to rely on creators like Mr. Busiek to deliver good, solid Superman stories that are fresh but at the same time respect the classic aspects of the character and the charm of the original Superman comics. In this issue, we get an enjoyable dose of the traditional Daily Planet aspect of Superman’s life, not to mention the modern addition of his wife, Lois Lane.

Speaking of Lois. I’ve never been a big fan. To me, she was always somewhat abrasive and selfish, often causing me to wonder what Clark saw in her. And when DC made the change to have Clark and Lois marry, I really was not happy. Not because I didn’t care for Lois, but because I felt it was a bad creative move—not to mention out of line with what Mr. Siegel and Mr. Shuster originally intended for their characters. That was part of the charm and the appeal of Superman—he and Lois would flirt and dance around their mutual attraction, but they should never actually be together. It causes too many problems, and we would lose too many positive things about the characters’ interaction. I still feel that way about the marriage, but one thing is for certain: Mr. Busiek knows how to make this “marriage decision” by DC work for the characters. For one thing, he’s written a Lois (again, just like he did in Secret Identity) that I am actually beginning to like as a character. But more importantly, he’s writing Lois as a positive force in Superman’s life, both as Superman and as Clark. She’s helpful, patient, and supportive, while still maintaining her strength as a woman and as a reporter. It’s hard for me to believe, but Mr. Busiek has made it possible for me to believe that Clark and Lois marrying could actually work.

Another positive change that has been brought about is that of Clark’s personality (and Superman’s). I’m happy to say that both sides of his personality are more interesting than they have been in recent years; Superman shows a definite strength of character, casting aside the indecisiveness he had adopted before Infinite Crisis. Plus, he’s much more lighthearted. He seems to enjoy saving people again, flying through the streaming rays of sun, and just being Superman. Now that is the Superman I know and love (and want to read about).

Clark, now, is also stronger in character; while he often pretends to be a little flighty or backwards, he seems like a farm boy from Kansas who is a little shy and awkward, but likeable. In recent years, it had been getting to the point where it was hard for me to discern between the real Clark and the act he put on to make sure no one would know he was really Superman. Not anymore.

Mr. Pacheco’s art is usually very expressive and, on some pages, great. My one complaint, though, is that there are a few pages in this issue where the faces of people look somewhat odd—even Superman’s. I can chalk that up to different things—maybe the issue was done in a hurry, or any number of things. Overall it was very good, and I have seen Mr. Pacheco’s art before and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I believe it will only get better.

Aside from that one complaint about some of the art, I only have one more. Now, this complaint may seem trivial or even odd to some, but it’s a real one for me. Who designed Lois’ hairstyle? I tried to ignore it for the first few panels where Lois appeared, but finally I just couldn’t anymore. It’s an awful style. It’s not even that it’s dated—it just looks ridiculous, from any decade, and is distracting. In my mind, Lois is supposed to look ever appealing and smart. This hair style does nothing to support that idea. Please, someone at DC, change her hair to be more attractive.

But any negatives aside, the bottom line on this issue: For the first time in years, I’ll be able to confidently buy the next issue of Superman with no concerns about its quality.

Ray Tate:

Kurt Busiek is no stranger to Superman. He characterized the Man of Steel in cameos for the discontinued Power Company. He wrote his personality--however slightly antsy--for the far, far underrated JLA/Avengers as well as a JLA run that served as a sequel to Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth-Two. There’s no doubt in my mind that Busiek can write well for Superman and his cast, and he can do so in a good, solid--even spectacular--story. “On Our Special Day” is neither solid nor spectacular. It’s not bad. Some spots amuse, but most of the scenes in the tale are a little unfocused.

The story opens with a sleepy-eyed Lois Lane looking for her conspicuously absent husband. The radio informs her of his whereabouts. That’s one of the good things about Lois’ marriage to Superman. If he’s on Earth, she’ll always know where he is because invariably the news media will report on his heroic deeds. Busiek, in fact, reinforces the marriage of Lois and Clark quite plausibly and charmingly throughout the book, though he does make the mistake of giving a date for the time they met. I’ve already spoken about the dangers of being definite when referring to years, and thanks to Busiek, we now must accept that Lois is at the very least thirty-two years old, which is about the perpetual age we expect most of the older heroes and their contemporaries to posses. However, with each Christmas story, Thanksgiving story, or presidential term, you can add more years to Lois Lane.

Right now, Lois is young and vibrant as drawn by Pacheco. She also bears credible proportions and wears clothing that women do wear to bed. The art around Lois caught my eye in the opening panels. The couple actually lives in what looks like a real apartment and not just a sparse sketch of furniture. Pacheco with an architect’s eye for detail illustrates a brick adorned kitchenette, a futon bed in the background, behind Lois as she enters the kitchen and even a potted plant to the side. Jesus Marino and Dave Stewart give texture to those surroundings as well as the paneling on the walls and the floor tile. The entire place appears to be a home rather than some of the hurriedly penciled and barely inked backdrops I got used to seeing in the Superman books of the mid-nineties.

Turn the page, and a downright mean-looking Superman pastes a plug-ugly in the sky. There are several things wrong with this scene. First, he’s too mean looking. Superman should be kind of happy if not jovial. The art team probably overcompensates for the new credo of Superman not being a wimp. Being happy doesn't mean that you’re a wimp. Second, Stewart perhaps in an attempt to reflect the palette of the rising sun makes Superman’s costume greenish-blue. If you want to re-establish Superman in the DCU, you shouldn’t do so by showing him first in teal tights.

Busiek directs the fights well, and Pacheco energetically carries out his scenes. Superman uses his intelligence in addition to his strength to defeat his foe. This is a welcome change from the Man of Steel, Brain of Plywood hero that became a staple for the DCU.

Busiek’s attempts at humor impress less. The running gag of Superman hating Mondays wears thin really quickly, and it’s when Superman keeps punching the word “Mondays” in the narration that he just doesn’t sound like himself. Busiek does somewhat make up for these problems when he has an old foe encounter the Big Red S. With a fun pose, hilarious imagery and witty dialogue, the scene in this panel, which takes up a quarter of the page, is perfect. I just wish there were more such accomplishments.

Another old foe from Superman’s past turns up in a different form, and Busiek makes this reinterpretation successful by letting the audience know that the rejiggered Superman rogue is new as well to Kal-El. In contrast, the introduction of the Science Police division of the SCU as already established, probably within a yet to be published issue of that albatross around the DCU’s neck 52, jars the reader. One can argue that from their ranks the Legion’s Science Police will evolve, but the team’s readily ensconced and creepy appearance, not one of them lifts their visors in their helmets, becomes distracting. Superman also knows about them and isn’t surprised by their being on the scene. This leaves the reader asking what she missed.

The presence of the Science Police brings up a number of questions. Why are there no women in the ranks? The Science Police inhabit two scenes in the story, and not one member of the team is female. In fact, there don’t seem to be any female officers at all in Metropolis. Was there a mass exodus after Maggie Sawyer left? While they conduct crowd control, two male officers look up in the sky at Superman battling a loser called Neutron. At the precinct, no less than five male cops deal with Superman’s Intergang present. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if not for the anonymous Science Police being so anomalous, but they force me to think and wonder. Where did Kitty Faulkner and S.T.A.R. Labs go?

I can’t say this issue of Superman thrilled me, but it’s readable, and it didn’t hurt me. I definitely want to examine the next issue because I think Busiek probably made this issue a little too pat of a jumping on point at the expense of relating a stronger story. I know he can do better, and there are moments in this series of vignettes that prove it. The art in the book is probably the best I’ve seen since Stuart Immonen left. So that offers another draw.

Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, who is my least favorite character in the entire Superman mythos, look and act as they should. Furthermore, Busiek’s new identity for Lana Lang makes sense and makes her presence less contrived than some of the other ways lesser writers have attempted to stick her into Clark’s life.

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