It’s safe to say that since the inception of The New 52, Superman has been the worst treated character of DC’s mainstay superheroes. The initial run on Action Comics from Grant Morrison was interesting, but vastly unlike anything anyone else was writing that it might as well have been a completely different character. Runs on the title from Scott Lobdell and George Perez were universally panned by critics and fans, and quite rightly. It had everyone begging the question: just how hard is it to write superman?
Not that hard as it turns out. Superman issue 32 brings comics royalty into the fold as writer Geoff Johns, artist John Romita Jr. and colourist Klaus Janson – three of the most famous names in modern comics – come on board to take over the title, and hopefully bring that thing that was lacking back into the Superman universe. I have never been an enormous fan of either Johns or Romita, the former being far too conventional to be anything other than average, and the latter never really quite defining individual characters. Both of their worst traits are in this comic, but, it also brings out their best. Romita in particular appears to have been born to illustrate this title: his action scenes pop and feel fluid, and whilst his characters are not particularly distinctive (hey look, someone else with a rectangular head!), he does get in some extremely nice double page spreads. Johns on the other hand retreads the same Superman story that Scott Snyder more or less tried last year with the (as yet unfinished) Superman Unchained, in which a Superman doppelgänger lands on earth with potentially ulterior motives. It’s wholly unoriginal, although does make for a rather nice, arresting opening (in which we see the origin of Superman play out inter dimensionally). Likewise, the story never really settles into its own groove – we check in with Perry White, Jimmy Olson, Supes/Clark, but none of them are our way in to the story. This might have Superman’s name on the title, but there’s very little in terms of emotional engagement with the narrative. But, maybe this is what the New 52 Superman needs, a straightforward cookie cutter title, a kind of no-frills superhero comic that is accessible for anyone. In that last respect, they might just be on to a winner.
Another member of comics royalty gets a new series this month as Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman launches his next big horror title: Outcast, over at Image Comics. I’m no fan of The Walking Dead which, over 100 issues in, is meandering, listless and often extremely overwritten; so it’s fair to say I approached Outcast with some trepidation. However, the presence of Paul Azaceta (the magnificent Potter’s Field) on art was enough to draw me in.
Outcast tells the story of Kyle, a twenty-something loner who, at a young age, witnessed his mother (and potentially others close to him) go through a demonic possession. Now an adult, he seems scarred by the experience, and withdraws from others, only to find himself teaming up with the priest who helped him as a youth. It’s a nice, simple plot, and the comic, which is structured much like a TV pilot, has a lot to recommend about it. The main draw really though is Azaceta, who draws everything with a mundanity. Horror in Outcast is in the suburbs, in kitchens and homes, and it is in the small moments where things really get scary (a young boy eating his own finger, the blood dripping to the floor, and the sound effect ‘plip’ is a particularly effective moment). The writing at the moment is rather perfunctory and its clear that Kirkman needed to shoehorn some lazy exposition into some scenes. The ending is also rushed, with an enormous revelation, followed by a realisation, all delivered in half a page and two speech bubbles. You wind up wondering why if it took him that short a time to figure out, how come he never realised it before? That aside though, it’s a great debut – much better than the first issue of The Walking Dead at any rate.
Image are also responsible for the relaunch this month of Supreme, perhaps most famously known for Alan Moore’s relatively dull run back in the day. This time around it falls to Warren Ellis, with art from Tula Lotay to revamp the superhero title. Supreme Blue Rose is not a typical superhero comic, and aside from a few cursory references, it barely even resembles the original title. Both of these things are great. The story follows down on her luck freelance journalist Diane Dane who gets hired by the National Praxinoscope Company to investigate mysterious goings on in small town America. The issue is almost all set-up, but it’s done brilliantly. Ellis’ writing is weird and mysterious, and the art from Lotay is easily some of the best on the page right now in comics. There are some particularly smart visual flourishes such as Dane’s ‘minder’ who has black marker pen scrawled over his face and refers to it as a ‘birth defect’. There is one particular oddity in the midst of the comic, a double page story titled ‘Professor Night: The Longest Running Adventure Serial in the World’ which so far has no bearing on the rest of the story, however this is not a criticism, and more an indication that I couldn’t be more excited to see what’s around the corner.