Superboy is under the control of Manchester Black! With the mastermind (and master plan) revealed, Superman and friends must stop Black and restore Jon’s will before things escalate further. But can they? Find out in an extra-sized Superman #25!
A little muddled early on
The first half of our story deals with the inevitable battle set up last issue. Devoting that much real estate to fisticuffs is tough, because there’s only so much entertainment to be had in the physical conflict itself. Tomasi, Mahnke, and Gleason do alright, adding some nice Frankenstein and Batman moments along the way, but Black’s cocky talk annoys me more than it interests me, and I can’t help but wonder if this is where pages were added to fill out the “anniversary” format. Most of the scene is alright, but it does feel longer than it needs to be, and it looks and feels a bit messy.
But strong where—and when—it counts
That said, the team shines bright throughout most of the book, giving us the humor, heart, and hope that have made this my top book for a year now. While it’s easy to miss amidst the chaos, Black has actually latched onto the perfect angle for exploiting Jon. Sure, he’s literally controlling him, but offering Jon something that his parents have been denying him—unrestrained access to and development of Jon’s own power—makes the hold an especially strong one, because there’s a part of Jon that wants what Black is offering. Jon’s recognition that he has been deceived makes him all the more relatable, and his parents’ open arms in spite of his “betrayal” is the sort of emotional comfort that we all long for when we find ourselves in similar situations. My heart can’t help but be warmed.
There are several delightfully funny moments, too. Whether it’s Clark saying “listen to Batman, son”, the predictable-yet-hilarious interactions between Frank and his bride, or a very kooky epilogue, there’s plenty of the trademark Tomasi wit that I’ve been enjoying since Batman and Robin.
Good, mismatched artwork
In concept, Mahnke and Gleason make a great pairing on a book with multiple line artists. Their character faces have some distinct similarities, and I can recall my untrained eye not immediately noticing the occasional Mahnke fill-in back on Batman and Robin.
But you can really see the difference between the two when they’re side-by-side, and Superman #25 gives us such an opportunity. Mahnke and Gleason just about split this one in half, and the split is not a clean break, with the latter artist taking over in the middle of the climactic battle scene that begins the book. Immediately, I notice a big drop in the number of lines, as Gleason’s (preferable, I think) character aesthetics come into view on several facial close-ups.
Thankfully, each artist looks great on his own, though I would much rather see a simpler approach to the inks. I suspect Mahnke needs more time to turn in his lines, because it’s become very common to see multiple inkers going after him. While less common for Gleason, I perceive some of the same for him here. The credits list six (!) inkers, but not which pages they worked on, so it’s hard to say for sure who did what; but I will say that Mahnke seems to suffer the most from the variety. He tends to look his best when it’s just he and Mendoza. Still, as I said, his stuff works, even when it’s not working as well as it could be.
Simple joys for Superman fans
Manchester may be a bit much, and the artwork is a bit confused with all of the hands in it, but when you get down to it, this book hits the high points it needed to. It almost seems too simple and cute to say that people being kind, hugging each other, and reminding one another of their mutual love are sufficient for covering narrative drag and incongruities in the artwork, but they kind of are. Of course, this doesn’t hurt, either:
- You like Mahnke and Gleason, and you can get past a jarring shift between the two.
- The purity, simplicity, and unembarassed optimism of this book have drawn you in from the start. Even contending with flaws, those core principles win the day here.
- Cows. Trust me.
While this issue’s dose of Manchester Black may exceed recommended levels, Superman #25 delivers enough of what we’ve loved about this run to leave a very favorable impression. While the handoff between the two is a bit jarring, both Mahnke and Gleason continue their trend of big action and emotionally-effective character work. A year in, Superman remains the strongest fulfillment of Rebirth’s promises of purity and quality.