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Superman vs Superman! Wonder Woman vs Superman! Superman vs Ulysses (who?!?!)! Steve Trevor vs the same whiny jealousy he’s battled since the start of The New 52!

Do you love me, Clark?

Last week, Clark passed the mantle of Lord Protector to his cousin Kara (Supergirl, for those who didn’t know that–I know you’re out there), at least ceremonially. After considering the weight of his request, Kara agreed to look out for Earth in Clark’s place when the day comes that his core becomes unstable and collapses (go watch Man of Steel if you don’t get the reference–or don’t, whatever). In this week’s Superman/Wonder Woman #28, Kara leaves Superman and Wonder Woman (who showed up at the Fortress of Solitude at the close of Action Comics #51) to discuss the tender topic of his fast-approaching death. After some equally tender moments together, the pair are called away to A.R.G.U.S. to examine the new super-being that tore up The Daily Planet. As expected, there’s lots of fighting, and the truth about Superman’s fate is revealed to a vengeful foe from his recent past.

Tales of Brave Ulysses (wherein I briefly explain why a guy with long blonde hair matters)

Published between June 2014 and March 2015, Superman #32-39 make up Geoff Johns’ all-too-short run on the New 52 Superman book, consisting primarily of the “Men of Tomorrow” arc. In this story, Johns introduced a brand new villain named Ulysses–a villain with S-level powers and a history that, in many ways, parallels that of the Man of Steel. I won’t devote too much space to him here, but I heartily recommend reading Superman: The Men of Tomorrow at some point. Even if you have trouble stomaching John Romita, Jr.’s very particular style, the script is so excellent, and Ulysses is such a compelling foe, that Geoff could have collaborated with a crayon-wielding monkey and still earned my money.

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The most pertinent details about Ulysses for our story today are these: he possess similar abilities to Superman, including virtual invulnerability, heat vision (though his has a blue hue, not unlike what they’re doing with Supergirl on her CBS series), and flight. Crucially, however, his powers are not sourced from our sun, nor do they fade when exposed to kryptonite, red sunlight, or any of the other things that might weaken Superman. As you can imagine, this also means that a strategy for containing Ulysses does not necessarily have any debilitating effects on the Man of Steel.

Lasso of something or other

This is a tough issue to review, because while Tomasi does a number of things well, there are flaws that would bring the book down to a much greater degree if we weren’t getting weekly stories. Whereas the first three installments keep the growing threat of the delusional new Superman on the margins and focus on Clark’s closest friends processing his death, this one devotes more than half of its twenty pages to the encounters with “Superman” and Ulysses. I know we had to get past the “how does this make you feel” stage of the story eventually, but Diana’s turn is cut short.

But even this short-changing is difficult for me to write about, because–in my opinion–Clark and Diana’s relationship is the weakest one we’ve looked at yet. I’ve not read any of Charles Soule’s run on this book, but every issue of Superman/Wonder Woman that I have read has rubbed me the wrong way. I never thought much about it until now, but I’m convinced that my problem lies primarily with Wonder Woman. For me, she is at her best when–in spite of her goodness–she is at least a bit untamed. This can range from a wilder incarnation, like in Injustice or Kingdom Come, to the sober, confident leader that we’ve recently seen in Justice League‘s “Darkseid War” event.

Tomasi’s take on Clark and Diana’s relationship seems to put Diana at the mercy of something other than her own will, and I don’t particularly care to see her that way. The Wonder Woman in Kingdom Come chooses to love Superman; Tomasi’s Wonder Woman seems so smitten with him that she has no choice but to beg him for validation with a question like “do you love me?” I’m not sure there’s an easy solution for this characterization, either, because if you go too far in the other direction, it doesn’t seem very much like a loving relationship at all. Kingdom Come benefits from keeping their relationship on the periphery; a book called Superman/Wonder Woman has no choice but to give their romance center stage. I guess my only suggestion would be to scrap the idea of a dedicated “power couple” book altogether, and the upcoming lineup for DC’s Rebirth suggests that the publisher has already been thinking along these lines.

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It’s a shame, too, because some of Benes’ best storytelling is devoted to this exchange. The emotion he captures in Clark and Diana’s faces, posture, and gestures is palpable, and some of the best artwork I’ve read in a comic this month. As I said, it’s great storytelling; unfortunately, I’m just not a fan of the particular story that Tomasi’s given Benes to tell.

I don’t need to kill Superman because he’s already dead

While I complained above that we’re departing from the structure of the previous three issues and getting into dealing with the threats, I have to admit that the action here is quite exciting, and–for the most part–rendered exquisitely by Benes and colorist Alex Sinclair. On the surface, they’re very nicely-drawn fights, with exciting poses and excellent figure work. Look deeper, however, and you see Benes’ instincts subtly shaping and pacing the conflict.

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As Ulysses and Superman fight, the moment comes when the villain realizes that something is impairing his opponent. There’s this tiny sliver of a panel where all we see is his bloodied fist and the words “something’s wrong”. All we see is his fist, but with no lines of motion indicating a blow in progress, and no view of Clark reacting to being struck. In the surrounding panels, it is clear that Ulysses is actively fighting, but here, in this one tiny panel, Benes effectively grinds the fight to a halt, and my imagination fills in the rest of the picture–Ulysses hesitating, even for a moment, as the truth dawns. It may seem like a minor detail, particularly because it’s tied for smallest panel on a two-page spread, but it has a huge impact on the feel of the conflict.

The fight between Superman and Ulysses isn’t the only one going on, however, and we get nearly equal treatment of Wonder Woman’s attempts to subdue the strange new super-dude. Unfortunately, Tomasi’s attempt to depict both battles simultaneously doesn’t always go over so well, and even on my second read through I had to backtrack a few times because I was placing dialogue in the wrong scene. It’s not the end of the world, but it does make for a choppier experience.

That’s the key word for this whole issue, really–choppy. Instead of one installment each dedicated to Clark and Diana or to their experience at A.R.G.U.S., we get one installment divided between the two. And the earlier of those divisions, while visually quite good, is nevertheless a character study of a Wonder Woman that I don’t much care for.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been reading “Super League” and want to know what happens next, even if–like me–you have no idea why it’s been marketed as “Super League” instead of “The Last Days of Superman.”
  • You like the New 52 version of Clark and Diana’s relationship.
  • You want to enjoy some fine storytelling courtesy of Ed Benes and Alex Sinclair.

Overall

It’s quite possible that I would have knocked another point off of my score if I encountered this book as part of a straight-up monthly series instead of a weekly crossover. And yet, we are getting this story weekly, so it’s pretty easy for this particular issue to benefit from the ones that come before (and hopefully from the ones that come after, as well). Tomasi continues to craft decent dialogue, but with Superman’s character getting less attention and Wonder Woman’s characterization rubbing me the wrong way, I find myself leaning more heavily on the artwork than the script to find enjoyment this time around. Here’s hoping the story gets back on track (whatever that looks like) next week.

SCORE: 6.5/10