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Superman #656

Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006
By: Ray Tate



"Men & Monsters"

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Carlos Pacheco(p), Jesus Merino(i), Dave Stewart(c)
Publisher: DC

Busiek gives me about everything I expect from a Superman story. Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino and Dave Stewart give me everything I expect from comic book artwork, and quite frankly, the best I ever expected that Superman would achieve was marginal readability. This book actually excels into the level of enjoyment. I’m shocked.

Busiek establishes a pertinent history between Superman and the guest-star Dr. Callie Llewellyn: a strong, intelligent woman who isn’t crippled and hasn’t, to the reader's knowledge, been raped. The science fiction draws upon scientific fact, and this is the first comic book I’ve read after Infinite Crisis that explicitly makes note of the earth's at least four-point-five billion year-old existence.

The story doesn’t feel artificial. Evolution occurred. The real timeline hasn’t been changed, and it is from these aspects that Superman guest-star Callie draws her life. She becomes an arcanobiologist because of what occurred in her expertly woven shared past with Clark and the very real past of the planet. This we see in the opening.

Busiek’s and Pacheco’s opening includes several nods to Smallville. Given that Smallville is far superior to every Superman spin-off to date; this is not a bad thing. The look for young Clark recalls Tom Welling’s haircut as well as his general build. The legend behind “a super-boy” and turning his presence into an urban legend is a keen and perhaps prescient insight into what may occur in future seasons of the series. In terms of the comic book, the additions just give Superman more resonance. A character without history is no character at all, just a cipher.

Busiek and Pacheco quickly bring the reader to the modern day where Superman battles the Subjekt--the big ugly thing on the cover. Busiek concocts a plausible back-story for the antagonist, and once again, he bases it in earth’s history. The period’s technology and politcs becomes important and the impetus to explain Subjekt’s current state.

The creative team makes Superman’s and Subjekt’s battle exciting and smart. This isn’t just a melee between Superman and unthinking monster. Superman fights an ever-adapting alien intelligence that has plausible motivation to destroy humanity. Because of this drive, Superman does not pull his punches. Busiek shows him remorseful that he cannot reason with the creature, that he did not know it was capable of reasoning, but he has him quickly making a judgment and sticking with it. Superman has to make the call. He is the number one defender of planet earth, and the idea that he would not kill a monster that threatens the world is patently ridiculous.

Superman uses his powers in the most inventive ways I’ve seen since the pre-Crisis. He employs his super-hearing to listen to Callie’s spoken information, as she delves into the reports on Subjekt. He uses his strength, speed and stamina obviously but in a combination that portrays him as potent, not just the “lummox” to which Arion unfairly refers. His surprise attack is an original use of his super-abilities and tickles the imagination.

The employment of Arion I will once again suggest as an example of pure genius. Busiek is a master of continuity, and there’s damn few powerful untainted magic users left in this nu DCU. If he could have used Kent Nelson, I’m sure he would have, but Busiek finds a much more fitting loophole around DCU’s nu magic rules. He goes through time and plucks Arion out of the past for a sojourn to the future.

Arion's dialogue and presence at the cliffhanger suggest some very interesting ramifications, and I can’t wait to read about them. You also cannot help but be amused by the irony in Arion’s guest-appearance. Power Girl, once the cousin of Superman, was relegated to being the descendent of Arion. Now, Power Girl's history has sort of been restored by resorting to a confusing paradox, but Arion has now started to haunt the pages because he’s the only powerful, relatively innocent magic user DC has left thanks in a large part because of The Big Stupid Events that separated Power Girl from his genetic stock. Delightful.

Pacheco’s artwork has never looked better for Superman. He has really gotten the hang of the requirements and in such a very short time. He shows Superman in different lights-from concerned friend, clever coverer of secret identity, and champion of the earth. His contrasts of young Callie to the modern day Callie creates beyond interesting, aesthetic visuals a kind of preservation of Superman’s eternal youth. She looks far older with short hair and sharper features than young Clark in contrast with his adult self. Furthermore, Pacheco slips in an iota of nudity that helps give the scene in Arion’s boudoir and Arion himself verisimilitude. Though the colorist does not emphasize a nipple. The art makes the anatomy of the breast unmistakable. If you're going to have nudity, show it. If you're going to conceal the nudity with a misplaced lamp, then the nudity probably doesn't belong in the story in the first place.

Merino’s delicate lines maintain the depth and weight of Pacheco’s pencils. They help contain a fantastic mood that could have easily descended into an unwelcome miasma of the horrific. Horror doesn't belong in Superman. Superman is the antithesis to horror. Once he appears, any horrific elements should be dispelled by his inherent goodness, his symbolism. Stewart’s vivid colors of blue and red also help reinforce the heroic atmosphere and as well give the alien life forms texture and substance.

I cannot believe how much I enjoyed this issue of Superman. The Man of Steel while being sympathetic does not hold back to save the planet. Arion's role in the story hints at some unforeseen consequences, and the relationship between Callie and Superman along with a strong setting give the world greater weight than the cobbled together thing left behind after Infinite Crisis.



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