I’m going to warn you right up front: there be spoilers here. To discuss the sheer awesomeness of Superman #5 requires revealing things that many of you may wish to discover for yourselves while reading the book. If you’re one of those people, close your browser tab now, and come back later after you’ve read it so we can geek out together. If you don’t care, this issue is still awesome after you know what’s coming, so read on as I try to convince you that this is one of the best ways you can spend three bucks this week.
Like a Hellbat outta hell…bat…err…
It’s back! One of the most delightful things introduced in Tomasi and Gleason’s beloved run on Batman and Robin was Batman’s Hellbat suit. Forged in the sun by Superman, made sweeter in various ways by other members of the League, the Hellbat was designed to allow Batman to survive in the harshest of conditions. With the help of this suit, Bruce was able to go to Apokolips, sock ole’ Darkseid in the jaw, and bring his son Damian back from death to life (that last part wasn’t really because of the suit, but who cares). Much to the dismay of everyone who likes nice things, the Hellbat has been missing in action since its maiden voyage to the land of firepits, parademons, and larger-than-life dictators with dermatological issues. Until now.
For those of you that haven’t been following Superman because you can’t afford it or because you’re crazy (those are the only two options, and I’m still not sure about the first one), here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on with Supes:
- New 52 Superman is dead. I guess?
- Post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint Superman, along with his wife Lois and son Jon, are in the New 52 universe/reality/dimension. They have been since before Rebirth (Superman: Lois and Clark).
- Jon has, unsurprisingly, exhibited superhuman powers in accordance with those powers present in his father.
- Jon has, unsurprisingly, exhibited inconsistencies in his power set/availability, most likely due to his genetic makeup comprising a mixture of Kryptonian and human material.
- The Eradicator has come to Earth in an attempt to restore Krypton. He wants to use Superman to do this, and cleanse Jon of his “polluted” half by killing him.
- After mixing it up with The Eradicator in the Fortress of Solitude, Supes and family fled, with Lois and Jon riding in a submersible craft.
As we pick things up with Superman #5, the Superman family arrives on the Moon. With Lois and Jon safely oxygenated in the submersible, Clark makes for the Moon’s dark side, where sanctuary awaits. But the Eradicator is hot on their trail, and the fight resumes before long.
There’s a Batcave on the Moon. No, seriously. It’s a Batcave. On the Moon.
No, I’m putting you in a Bat-crater.
There’s a Batcave on the moon. At some point in the recent past, Clark gave Bruce a bit of his own treatment and shadowed him. During this surveillance, he discovered that Batman has a special facility where he can experiment with things too dangerous to risk in Gotham. It shouldn’t be surprising that Batman would have such a thing, and yet when I actually confront the concept in the pages of this book, it is shockingly awesome. Of course there’s a Batcave on the Moon, but oh my goodness, there’s a freaking Batcave on the Moon!
My only problem with the Batcrater (that’s mine, Tomasi, you can’t have it) is that security is pretty terrible. The environmental control system kicks in once the family enters, without any identity verification. There are some worthless Bat-drones that fly and shriek, but they give up after one pass. Especially considering how little the Justice League actually trusts this Superman at present (at least according to Bryan Hitch’s current Justice League arc), it seems odd to me that Batman would leave a place full of danger so poorly protected when there’s an untrusted super-person nearby who could fly there in minutes.
The solicit for this issue said nothing of Batman. Other than the insinuation inherent in the cover art, nobody told us to expect a Bat-assist in Superman’s battle with the Eradicator. That said, the cover’s insinuation is a strong one, and it’s understandable to expect to see Bruce here.
You will not, however, see Bruce in this issue, but that’s okay. The consolation prize is at least as awesome, if not more so by half:
THAT’S LOIS IN THERE! After the Eradicator takes Clark out of the battle, Jon goes at him hard. Lois attempts to get involved, but the enemy brushes her aside. Digging around in the Batcrater looking for something that might help, she comes across the Hellbat, and thus is born one of the most fantastically absurd and absurdly fantastic scenarios I’ve seen in a comic book. But it doesn’t just work for laughs. Lois was largely a disappointment in the New 52. But Lois putting on a war suit and kicking the crap out of someone who just beat (albeit temporarily) Superman–that’s the kind of Lois I want to see. Yes, it’s hilarious; but it’s also just plain awesome, and it continues the much-welcome character restoration that Lois has been seeing here and in Action Comics since Rebirth began.
As ever, character is where Tomasi–and this book–shines brightest. I’m so invested in this family by this point that, even when I encounter a concept that seems fuzzy or a little strange (I’m looking at you, “souls of dead Kryptonians inside the Eradicator’s personal Phantom Zone”), it’s okay. I don’t have to understand everything right away, or ever. It’s like life in that way–surround me with the people I love, and then even when I can’t make heads or tails of what’s happening to me, at least I’ve got my people. Clark, Lo (I love that he calls her “Lo”), and Jon are my people–I hope they’re yours, too.
It’s not all Batcraters, Hellbats, and warm fuzzies…
Yes, there are problems with this book. For all of his prowess in drawing big action scenes, Doug Mahnke still struggles a lot with facial work, particularly when trying to render smiles or any other expression with bared teeth. There’s also a substantial lack of background detail during most of the issue, which threatens to make the extended fight sequence feel too long (and only fails to deliver on that threat because of the strength of Tomasi’s dialogue), and which makes me long for some wider frames to help establish a sense of place. Tomasi himself falters once or twice, as well. Yes, there are errors here, some more obvious than others. But at the end of the day, these problems are so strongly outweighed by the positives. You’ll pay three bucks for a book with great artwork–including some stunning color work by Wil Quintana–superb characterization and dialogue, and some big, bonkers concepts that should make all but the most cynical readers smile.
- You have a pulse.
- You don’t have a pulse but can still somehow read comic books.
- Some third option that still makes it possible for you to imbibe this goodness.
I love this book. Superman has been a joy on just about every level, and this week’s installment continues to play to its strengths while layering on some unexpected treats. Every work of art has flaws if you look for them, but the enjoyment of art is not attained by filling out a score card. In spite of its warts, Superman #5 is one of the closest things to perfect I’ve read in a while.