Superman #21 review

What a week.  With Superman #21 here, we effectively get two Super Sons issues in one day.  What a wonderful world it can be.

Before jumping into the issue proper, I just want to admire the opening page there and the very next panel.  It’s… it’s just wonderful.  Jon is so full of hope and joy that I couldn’t help but get a huge smile on my face.  This kid will one day grow up, and he may eventually become jaded and cynical, but right now?  Right now he’s a kid dreaming of growing up to be Superman.  Superman is nothing if not inspiring, and who better to inspire than his own son?

It’s a great opener to a pretty solid issue, even if nothing that follows quite lives up to it.

If you’ll remember the end of Superman #20, Batman went to investigate some mysterious goings-on at the Cobb farm.  The tests he ran on young Superboy came back with some suspicious, surprising results, indicating that Jon should have been more powerful at this point than he actually is.  So, being the World’s Greatest Detective, Bats took it upon himself to get to the bottom of the mystery of Superboy’s not-quite-superpowers.  The trail led to Cobb’s farm, and more specifically his cow Bessie, where Bats was overtaken by totally not the Venom symbiote a strange black goop.  Come morning, Batman hasn’t returned to the Kent household, and that makes even Damian a little worried.

Tracking down a missing person over hundreds of acres of rural farm land?  This looks like a job for Superman.

And… Robin and Superboy.  Who have to hitch a ride.

I love that Damian isn’t afraid of showing sass to even a guy like Superman.  Granted, he knows that Supes won’t retaliate in any way and he piggybacks off his own father’s apprehension toward Clark, but it’s hilarious to see Damian talk down to people like he’s their superior.  That’s part of what makes his chemistry with Jon in Super Sons so much fun.  Tomasi and Gleason have had a bit of practice writing the kid for quite some time, sure, and it shows.  There’s even a throwaway line about owning a cow that shows just how petty the kid can be in trying to one-up other people.

But, being a son who still cares about his father, Damian is still focused on finding Batman.  The search for Batman takes the trio to a local carnival, where they fight a giant squid creature.  As one does.

It’s the same creature that Clark and Jon encountered way back in Superman #2, which is a nice bit of continuity, and it’s been set loose by a bearded, smoking man.  A mysterious bearded, smoking man.

While Gleason’s always excellent pencils certainly bring the big action setpiece to life, special credit needs to go to letterer Rob Leigh for his glorious sound effects.  In the course of the fight with the giant squid, the boys have to tussle with some strange, oily ink creatures, and there are some amazing onomatopoeias thrown in there.

Those are two of my favorites, but there’s also a reliable FWAM, some THOOMs, and SPLORCH’s first-cousin SPLORRT in there too.  It’s great and creative lettering, perfectly capturing how I’m sure it must sound to punch a big blob of ink.

I think the best thing about this “Black Dawn” arc is that it feels like a campy old B-movie.  You have the giant monster terrorizing the town, an untrustworthy neighbor who just may be an alien, and an overall “body snatchers” type atmosphere.  Even though the previous issue ranked pretty high with me thanks to its focus on optimism and Superman’s innate goodness, this is moving the arc into some decidedly silly territory.  Frankly, I’m ok with that.  It’s still great fun and a good representation of Superman, plus there’s the added bonus of having more interaction between Damian and Jon.

That goofiness is also what brings it down just a touch, though.  The previous issue was so good that it would have been hard to live up to, and this doesn’t quite meet it.  It also feels like an issue of Super Sons at certain points, but even there it’s missing a sort of spark.  It’s still a ton of fun, but it’s missing… something.  Save for that great opening sequence, there wasn’t much that left my inspired.

Some of it may be due to Superman getting a little gruff with Jon late in the book, which I totally get as a dad but am still taken aback by as a Superman fan.  It does look as though the book is leading to some answers, though, finally tying in Jon and Kathy’s recent excursion into Deadman’s Swamp.  Even so, it’s a good issue and one of my favorite books at the moment, and even great books are allowed to have ok issues.  And this one is pretty ok.

Recommended if:

  • You like Superman.
  • You want to see said Superman, Superboy, and Robin fight a giant squid.
  • You’re a fan of crazy sound effects.

Overall: Rock solid entertainment, this feels like an issue of Superman smooshed together with an issue of Super Sons.  It never reaches the highs that either book is capable of, but it’s still a ton of fun.  There’s some great action, fun dialogue, and an overall lightness you wouldn’t expect from a story called “Black Dawn.”  It only occasionally feels like “super-inspiring Superman,” but it constantly feels like “crazy Silver Age Superman,” and I’d say that’s a pretty fair trade.

SCORE: 7.5/10