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    A Focus on Humanity Shows that Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. Have What it Takes to Right the Man Of Steel in “Superman” #34 [Review]

    By | August 29th, 2014
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    The ‘Men Of Tomorrow’ continues as Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. try their damndest to steer “Superman” back on course. With a strong start behind them, can they keep it up and return the Man Of Steel to his former glory?

    Written by Geoff Johns
    Illustrated by John Romita Jr.

    Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. continue their epic Superman run with “THE MEN OF TOMORROW” chapter 3! Introducing the bizarre villain known as The Machinist – the man behind the recent technological attacks on Metropolis. But what is his strange connection to Superman? Where is he from? And what does The Machinist want with The Daily Planet? Plus, the mystery behind the disaster at the Ulysses Research Lab sends Clark on an investigation that will reveal a dark secret from his past.

    This isn’t the first time Geoff Johns has had to step in to right the course of a Superman title. After “Infinite Crisis”, Johns stepped onto “Action Comics” while Kurt Busiek took over “Superman” in order to bring the character back to the fore of DC’s publishing. In 2006, that meant infusing the character with elements from the Richard Donner films with all the crystal Krytpons and floating Marlon Brando heads that that entailed. Here, there’s no such luck for floating Marlon Brando, but there is a hope that Johns along with artist John Romita Jr. can help steer a title that has had a rocky existence to say the least to calmer waters. In the past two issues we saw that their method of doing so was to introduce the character Ulysses, a man with an incredibly similar origin and powers to Superman (and the hair of a certain Superman expy).

    In this issue, we see Ulysses get in touch with his humanity a little more with the help of Superman. This is the key to the issue and to Johns and Romita Jr.’s take on Superman, as through the exploration and reconnection of Ulysses’ humanity, we get to see the empathy and humanity of Superman himself. Gone is the Superman we’ve seen so often in the pages of the New 52 who spends the issue grimacing with glowing red eyes. This is a Superman who is here to help and will do anything he can to help Ulysses fit in. It’s a very sly move as the parallels of Ulysses and Superman’s stories (as well as the differences) are very measured, and through this we get to explore who this Superman and who this Clark Kent is. It’s almost as if “Superman” is continuing under a soft reboot with a focusing on actually bringing character to this version of him through juxtaposition of another character who is almost, but not quite him.

    There’s also a sense that Johns is here to stay and is building to something much bigger. While “Superman” as a title has seen more creative teams come and go in thirty-odd issues than should be possible, the stories have often felt choppy and short-changed. No-one has stuck around long enough to really dig into Clark as a character here against what Grant Morrison or Greg Pak have been able to do in “Action Comics”. There is a clear feeling that Johns is trying to eschew that notion by hinting at something much bigger to come. This issue, like the previous two, opens with a page of a mysterious figure watching Superman, seemingly throughout his entire life. We get a little more intrigue this time around as the figure talks to an unseen accomplice, but it’s a page largely dedicated to showing that Johns has much bigger plans coming up. That would be unremarkable in almost any other title, but the fact that Johns seems confident enough that he will be sticking around to pay these pages off combined with his focus on Superman’s characterisation makes it feel like Superman is once again in safe hands.

    The teaming of Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. might just be the modern equivalent of two titans of the industry working together. Love them or hate them, the two are some of the most prolific creators in modern comics and it was just a matter of time before the two came together. That almost means that, no matter what I say here, there will be those out there that will have judged either the writing or the artwork based on the creator’s former output. I cannot fault that. While Johns is at least working to the strengths that made his run of “Action Comics” worthwhile, both creators are playing this one incredibly straight. John Romita Jr. here is as John Romita Jr. as you could get or want. Some will love that, some will hate that.

    Continued below

    Much of the criticisms of Romita’s art in the part are still present here: it’s blocky, it’s flat and it has a tendency to lose facial definition in any panel that isn’t a close-up. And yet, there are moments when it really works. Romita is not a technically deficient artist by any means, and as a storyteller he has to handle both quiet and emotional dialogue scenes as well as bombastic, superhuman action sequences. His style is also a welcome departure away from the hyper realistic pencils often found in New 52 comics. It’s cartoon-y and a little over the top in how he presents action, which is perfectly fitting for a “Superman” book. If there’s any book that should benefit from an artist letting loose and having fun it’s “Superman”, and there are definitely shades of that here. Obviously, it’s not art that will be for everyone, but it’s certainly not bad artwork and is a welcome accompaniment to Geoff Johns’ writing.

    This issue marks a continued stride towards a brighter future for “Superman” in the hands of Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. While there are times in this issue that the storyline could come off as cliché, the fact that there hasn’t been a really strong story in the pages of “Superman” in over thirty issues means a cliché story is better than nothing. Even if that wasn’t the case, at least Johns is bringing back shades of the writing from his run on “Action Comics” with a focus on exploring the humanity and duality of Clark Kent and Superman. Teaming him with John Romita Jr. would have made this a run to take notice of, even if it hadn’t lived up to the expectations; thankfully it did, as both Romita and Johns seem to be putting their all into making this the run that brings Superman back to the fore of DC’s publishing.

    Final Verdict: 6.8 – It won’t be for everyone, but Johns and Romita are determined to right this ship no matter what

    Alice W. Castle

    Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, Alice W. Castle is a trans femme writing about comics. All things considered, it’s going surprisingly well. Ask her about the unproduced Superman films of 1990 - 2006. She can be found on various corners of the internet, but most frequently on Twitter: @alicewcastle