Superman #38 review

So yeah, I totally thought this was supposed to be the final chapter of “Super Sons of Tomorrow,” and read it accordingly.  On the one hand, I’m glad that it isn’t the end, because the way things wrap up here would be a pretty unsatisfying conclusion.  On the other hand, this crossover hasn’t been stellar, and this chapter doesn’t do much in the way of redeeming its reputation.

Like the preceding few chapters, this Superman issue doesn’t really feel like a proper installment of its namesake.  That in itself isn’t necessarily a problem; what’s more distracting than being deep into a story coming out of the ending of an issue, only to shift gears in the next installment to focus on something else entirely?  Take the recent CW show crossovers: each episode of “Invasion!” felt exactly like the title series each part was relegated to.  There were some almost contrived gymnastics getting the characters from one show off the board so the stars of the next part of the story could believably get a spotlight.  It was distracting and, while the crossover was enjoyable enough, it definitely took you out of it.

The second crossover between those shows, “Crisis on Earth X,” was much more effective in telling one long story rather than a bunch of different smaller parts.  To be fair, that will make it that much more difficult for each of those individual episodes to stand on their own, but they’re all part of a larger story and should be viewed as such anyway.

Of the two, “Super Sons of Tomorrow” is closer to the former than the latter, but even then it’s a different beast altogether.  Each installment has felt like not only a different series than the other entries, but a different series than their titular branding would indicate.  Superman felt like a Batman issue, Super Sons felt like Teen Titans, Teen Titans felt like Super Sons, and now Superman feels like half a Super Sons issue and half a Teen Titans issue.  It’s a crossover with an identity crisis, unsure of what it wants to be and unable to justify its purpose.

Because really, what is this story trying to say?  That Superboy could eventually become a threat?  I suppose you could draw some parallels in the portrayal of Tim Drake, illustrating that even the most noble of intentions can still lead someone down a path toward darkness.  Even then, this is less a story about a hypothetical threat than it is the fall of a former hero.

Not a bad concept in itself, but I really don’t think this crossover has hit the mark much, if at all.  I can appreciate bringing Conner, Cassie, and Bart back into the fold, even if they’re future versions of them, but future Tim is aggravating at best, yet the main focus of the story.  When he donned a new costume and code name in Teen Titans I about rolled my eyes out of my head, it was so silly.  Tomasi and Gleason are great storytellers, especially together, but they just aren’t making this click with me.  I don’t doubt that there isn’t at least some sort of editorial mandate here, so this may not have been a story they’d had planned on their own, and I’m sure they wouldn’t purposely sabotage something they didn’t want to write.  Even still, this isn’t really a great example of what they’re capable of.

At least, for the most part.  There are individual aspects of this issue in particular that show flashes of brilliance.

The duo know how to play Damian and Jon off of each other, especially in the midst of skirmishes and conflict.  Damian gets more abrasive and arrogant, while Jon tries to be proper and polite… even when he’s using Kid Flash to hit somebody else in the face.  Their friendship/rivalry with each other is always a joy to read as well, and Tomasi and Gleason give the boys a few nice moments together.

Love taps, am I right?

If anything, the most intriguing aspect of this crossover has been the inclusion of Conner Kent, Cassie Sandsmark, and Bart Allen, and boy, do they have a particularly great scene here.

That’s Bart, cradling the disembodied left hand of Tim Drake, using it to guide the trio through Hypertime.  That is bananas, and I love it.  It’s still early, but I’m pretty confident that Cassie has one of the best lines of the year right there: “Tim’s severed hand is like a chronal beacon!”  Poetry.

I loved that spread’s visual inventiveness too, even if it’s mostly a few repeated panels from recent issues of ‘Tec copy and pasted over and over again.

The visuals are a strength this issue, to be sure.  While I really wish Gleason would pencil more issues of Superman than he has been recently, Sergio Davila does a fine job.  Other than a few questionable facial expressions, Davila’s work is quite good.  It’s nicely detailed with some interesting uses of panel layouts and perspectives, and along with Gabe Eltaeb’s colors it conveys a nice sense of movement and action.  The first few pages take place underwater, with a nice blue hue to each panel.  Davila has a good eye for sea life, which really sells the natural environment.  It’s nothing major, and those pages don’t really have a huge impact on the plot.  I was just impressed that even transitional pages like that were as involving as the big fight scenes later on.

He even manages to draw an angry Superman whose eyes aren’t glowing red, which is a nice change of pace.

I’m the first to cry foul when Superman is portrayed as overly aggressive, angry, or even borderline evil, so “fiery red eye Supes” isn’t one of my favorite images.  Threaten to kill his son, though, and it’s completely understandable that he’d react that way.  Plus, this version of Tim is just the worst, so there’s some satisfaction in seeing him put in his place.  Truth be told, that’s about the extent of what Superman does here, as he’s barely in the issue at all.

Like I said earlier, each installment of this crossover has felt like an issue of a different comic entirely, and that’s just as true here.  It starts out as a Super Sons book and ends up a Teen Titans book, and not particularly great ones at that.  Feeling like a different series isn’t inherently a bad thing, nor is the title character serving a supporting role.  If the content and story are great, it shouldn’t matter what a book “feels” like, yet neither has applied so far.

In the end, this issue leaves the story on a strange note: is Tim supposed to be a hero or not?  At face value, the answer is a resounding no.  Wanting to kill a ten-year-old, no matter how noble the intent, is despicable and outright villainous.  He rechristened himself “Savior,” a metatextual irony in trying to be the hero only to end up the villain.  Yet… the final page narration leaves it a bit more ambiguous than you’d expect.  I don’t think Tomasi and Gleason are trying to justify his actions at all, but instead send him on some sort of path to redemption.  That’s the more likely scenario, yet it’s an incredibly quick heel turn if so.

Even with momentary bursts of inspiration and enjoyment, this issue and the crossover as a whole are average at best.  From such a prestigious creative team I expected more, and while the way things are left I’m glad it’s not actually the ending, I’m not exactly confident that the conclusion will be satisfying.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been reading the other installments of “Super Sons of Tomorrow.”
  • You’re all about that Hypertime.

Overall: I don’t know what this crossover is trying to be, and I don’t think it has any idea either.  While the overall story is treading water, this issue does have a few momentary flashes of greatness.  Tomasi and Gleason know how to write character interactions, and some of the zaniness with Hypertime is a blast in how insane it is.  Despite some clever visuals and a few bits of inspiration, though, “Super Sons of Tomorrow” continues to be a frustratingly average story.

SCORE: 5/10