The boys complete their first intergalactic/dimensional mission as “Planet of the Capes” draws to a close. This is the second big arc on the title and, while it still has its charms, there is a bit of wear showing. It disheartens me to say it, but Super Sons feels like it’s slipping.
Looking at the concept and the creative team’s pedigree, the ingredients for greatness are all there. Tomasi is writing one of the best runs on Superman I dare say ever, and he wrote my personal favorite Batman title of the New 52. Heck, as the writer of both of those titles he has extensive history with both Jon and Damian, and he’s proven he can capture their voices perfectly.
There’s just… something missing here. This arc in particular felt rather aimless, starting out as a crossover with the Teen Titans and ending up with the boys liberating the citizens of an alien world. The dialogue and chemistry between the leads is still snappy and fun, it’s just that the plots they’re put in are almost afterthoughts. After starting so very, very strong back in February, the title has been on a gradual downward slope that I was hesitant to even acknowledge. But, sadly, the proof is there: Super Sons needs to get great again.
Take this venture to Ygarddis, living planet with inhabitants of clay. There are some good ideas put forth here, especially the use of a completely forgotten Z-list villain as the catalyst for the boys’ journey. After four issues of aimless wandering, the boys barely have a hand in the resolution. In fact, without getting into what actually happens, the conflict on Ygarddis isn’t resolved.
It’s a two-edged sword, too: from a storytelling standpoint, it’s really frustrating going on this journey with likable leads and not having much of a payoff. Looking at the broad strokes, this feels like a four issue arc that could have (and maybe should have) been resolved in two.
But man, if there isn’t some great character development for the boys. Despite Robin’s best efforts to assert himself as Jon’s superior, Superboy steels himself and delivers some inspiration that would make his dad proud.
Like, really, really proud.
Sure as heck, if Superman wasn’t so great right now I’d say this is some of the best Superman stuff to come along in some time. The speech is endearing without being saccharine, inspiring without being too corny. It works well with Jon’s character, too, in that he’s not trying to copy his dad but instead inspire others just as he would. His charming naivete is still present, he’s just becoming more comfortable as a hero in his own regard.
Tomasi does go for a different payoff than I was expecting, so I’ll give him that. Again, without spoilers, even if the boys don’t directly defeat Ygarddis their presence absolutely inspires others to do so. It’s a fairly clever change of pace, and a welcome change from the typical battles you’ve come to expect.
Typically, the art on this book is almost enough to give it a passing grade on its own, but with two credited artists and colorists it suffers from inconsistency. Now, multiple artists on an issue isn’t usually a make or break deal for me. Even if the styles are disparate, there can be some really interesting visual dynamics with different points of view. If there have to be multiple pencilers on an issue, I do prefer that they work on specific sections or sequences and not just trade off pages. That way, even without total consistency, it’s clear that the artists contributed to different parts instead of just haphazardly taking pages. As a general rule, I’m ok with that approach but I don’t love it.
Needless to say, that’s how this issue is laid out. Artistic duties are split between series mainstay Jorge Jimenez and Carmine Di Giandomenico, with Alejandro Sanchez and Ivan Plascencia coloring, respectively. Both artists have distinct, unique styles, with Jimenez’s work a large part of the series’ appeal. He pencils the first and last few pages, with Di Giandomenico taking the lion’s share in the middle of the book. There isn’t a sense of whiplash from the changes in style, but try as they might it’s hard to reconcile their two styles.
Take a look at this sequence from Di Giandomenico. It’s good in its own way, if a little ink-heavy and static. Damian’s expression is fun, and there’s some nice posing in the background of the first panel before transitioning to a “talking head” approach to the conversation. Had the entire issue looked like this, I might have lamented Jimenez’s absence but appreciated it on its own terms.
Now look at this sequence from Jorge.
He tells more of a story in three panels and subtle facial movements than most artists can tell in an entire issue. It’s no secret that Jimenez has become a personal favorite of mine, and with good reason: like Tomasi captures the characters of the boys in words, Jimenez does so with his visuals. Di Giandomenico staged the above panels in a similar fashion, with head-on shots of the characters’ faces. Even without the brilliant sequence from Jimenez, Di Giandomenico’s style would have looked a bit cold and workmanlike. When a much more energetic style is present in the exact same issue, however, it makes the artistic differences stand out that much more.
I still enjoy this book, I really do. It started out as a solid 10 and has gradually fallen down the scale, but it’s never a book that I dread reading. The concept is great and the characters are fun, it just needs a bit more direction. Hopefully that will come soon, as the boys are set to get a headquarters next month along with their very own annual. It will have doggies, so that’s fun. Now that the book is approaching a year of publication maybe it will get a clearer focus and just embrace its concept.
If nothing else, we can always thank Tomasi for giving us this burn:
- You’ve been liking this title.
- You like strong character work even in the midst of weak plotting.
- Seriously, that shot Supes took at Damian is classic.
Overall: Coming off an unclear plot direction, the rather abrupt ending and dissonant art make this the weakest issue of Super Sons yet. There are individual moments and character beats that are incredibly strong, along with some amazing visuals from Jorge Jimenez, but it never gets to be enough to make the issue great. This is a book that I hate to disparage, as it’s still entertaining and has great potential. Hopefully the creative team realizes that potential and is able to bring the boys back on track from here on out, because I still want to love Super Sons.