Superman is one of the most recognizable comic characters in the entire world and is the co-star of a movie later this month. Green Arrow is currently being featured in the much talked-about CW series Arrow. One would think it would be the best of times for their comic series.
But since 2012, when DC rebooted its universe to the “New 52,” neither character has had a consistent creative team or even consistent characterization. Superman and Green Arrow both hit issue 50 this month, so Ray Goldfied and I take a look at what is, what was, and sigh over what could have been, especially with such a talent as Gene Luen Yang on the Superman title.
Superman #50 – writer: Gene Luen Yang, artists: Howard Porter, Ardian Syaf, Patrick Zircher, special guest artist: Ian Bogdanove
Corrina: A Good Ending.
Ray: Yang’s run comes to a close this issue, and I sort of feel bad for him. This is a man who has written brilliant comics on the immigrant experience, and him on Superman could have been brilliant. Instead, he spends his entire run on a crossover event involving taking away Superman’s powers and secret ID.
That being said, this final issue is better than most of his run. After an initial setup battle leading to Savage gaining the powers of a god, Superman wakes up to find himself… on Krypton. It seems the place is under the thrall of a mysterious High Priest who has saved the planet from destruction. After meeting his parents and younger self, Superman goes in search of the Priest, only to find… Vandal Savage. Savage seems to have the agenda of tempting Superman to join him as his general by showing him the good he could do. He shows him a living Krypton, a future where Savage and Superman team up to protect Earth from alien invasion–and a dystopian world where Superman rejects his offer, and Earth goes to hell.
But in the end, it’s the words of Pa Kent that pull Superman away from temptation and lead to him turning the tide. Savage’s downfall was honestly a bit anti-climatic after all that, but I like that we caught up with Lois and Jimmy before the end and left things in a good place. Overall, not a bad finish.
The title as a whole, though… oh boy.
This title had trouble from the start, with George Perez coming on board to do an old-school run that turned out to be only one arc. Dan Jurgens replaced him and did a decent job, but no one really seemed to have a strong handle on the character of the New 52 Superman yet. Then came Scott Lobdell, and things did not get better. Remember H’el? The deranged Kryptonian astronaut who tried to seduce Supergirl and create a new Krypton on Earth? He was the first and worst of an invasion of evil Superman analogues that every writer seemed to do, that included Snyder’s Wraith, Hitch’s Rao, and, of course, Geoff Johns’ Ulysses. The Johns/Romita run was easily the strong point of this title, but it unfortunately only lasted one arc and left us wondering what could have been. Yang picked up on a lot of Johns’ plot points, but the run was bogged down in a crossover… and also left us wondering what could have been. The best Superman run since the New 52 began has been the one starring the Superman from the pre-Flashpoint world. Besides the Teen Titans, Superman needs Rebirth more than anyone.
Corrina: No, I don’t remember H’el. I refuse to believe he existed. He’s been wiped from my memory, as has the horrible characterization of Supergirl from that story. ::alalalalalalaIcanthearyou::
Ray says no one seemed to have a handle on new 52 Superman in the beginning. I’ll go further and say that no one has had a handle on Superman for a long time now at DC. Even Johns’ run couldn’t quite revamp the character, as it was good but not great. For one, Superman isn’t a sad sack mooning over a girl, like he was shown in the beginning. That’s Spider-Man’s gig. This is Clark Kent, smart and centered reporter, and Superman, the boy scout, the fount of optimism, not an angsty, angry teen. “You will believe a man can fly?” Where’s your sense of wonder, DC?
That confusion about who Superman is can be seen in the reliance on Superman-like characters to be Superman’s enemy. Everyone wants to write people like Superman but no one actually seems to want to write Superman. I have a love/hate relationship with Grant Morrison’s work, but he, at least, produced wildly imaginative stories that broke the mold. Where’s the crazy super-science? Where’s the other dimensions that Superman can explore? Where is the Daily Planet staff getting the spotlight now and then? Superman works best when he’s reflected by ordinary people, rather than surrounding him with those who are uber-powerful, both villains and heroes.
Superman needs foes he can’t punch to defeat. He needs foes that he has to think to defeat. That’s why I loved the use of the Queen of Fables back from Gail Simone and John Byrne’s run and that’s why Luthor can work well as the super-genius businessman.
I’ve no idea who’s on this book next but, please, take some of what Neal Adams is doing in his ridiculous series; embrace all the out-there zany aspects of the character and surround him with ordinary people in the midst of all that zaniness. (But without the same bad dialogue, please.)
Green Arrow #50 –writer: Benjamin Percy, artist: Szymon Kudranski
Corrina: Will a Definitive Oliver Queen Creative Team Please Stand Up?
Ray: This run has sort of been a wild, crazy jumbled mess of a story from the start. A fusion of sci-fi, horror, suspense, and mystery with new threats every arc, often more than one at a time. It hasn’t been particularly great in most places, but dang if it’s not usually entertaining.
This issue doesn’t particularly feel like an anniversary issue, as it’s just an oversized continuation of the current arc, but it never stops moving and delivers a lot of action. Seattle is at war, as the Wargs–victims of a werewolf-like disease–are united under an evil gang leader and rampaging around the city with plans to infect the whole populace. Meanwhile, a hate group is getting bolder and bolder in their attempts to wipe out the Wargs, and Ollie is off his game being infected himself. Fyff has managed to keep the disease in check with an antidote, but it leaves him sluggish. The opening act of the issue takes place mainly in one big rumble at the blood bank, with both factions causing a lot of carnage and Ollie barely able to keep things under control.
Meanwhile, in Africa, a young doctor with blood that can cure anything is on the run, and everyone wants him. Including our new big bad, an ancient evil businessman reliant on blood transfusions to stay alive who is seeking immortality. Ollie decides to throw off the medication and embrace his Warg-ness to give him an edge, and he and Emiko head off to Africa to track down “Doctor Miracle.” Only our villain has sent Deathstroke after the guy as well, ending in an airborne shootout that leaves Ollie and Emiko behind enemy lines. A fast-paced, exciting issue that’s a definite step up from the last few issues. Oh, and did I mention that Ollie’s reprogrammed one of the evil drones from the first arc to work for him? It’s that kind of book.
As for the series as a whole, this one is a bit tougher to round up than others. That’s probably because it’s had EIGHT writers in its 50 issues! We started with a trio of acceptable but forgettable arcs by JT Krul, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen, none of which lasted more than four issues and all of whom introduced forgettable new foes for Ollie. Then came an origin story for GA by Judd Winick, who made Ollie the accidental killer of several hundred people. The less said about that the better.
Then came a slightly longer Ann Nocenti run that had Ollie fighting an evil yeti scientist–and then came one of the best three runs in the New 52. Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s year-plus run on the title was a game-changer, introducing Emiko Queen, John Diggle, and a host of new villains. The art was gorgeous, and the title introduced some very intriguing new elements to GA’s origin. Then Lemire headed off to Marvel and was replaced by the Arrow TV writers, who gave us an arc that was such a blatant TV tie-in it was shocking. It put every original character on the bus and introduced the TV cast, along with a generic new evil businessman. Then THAT went away and was replaced by Percy’s run, which seems to have brought back more of the Lemire run’s vibe. The Tarantula arc is weak, but other than that this run is probably the second best GA run in the New 52. I think the character’s biggest problem since the beginning has been continuity and focus. Who is this character? Every writer seems to have their own idea for going on 4+ years. I hope the creative team in Rebirth has a stronger idea from minute one.
Corrina: I figured out why I’m having issues with the storytelling by the current creative team. The build-up is sometimes missing. For instance, the reveal of the mastermind of the plot involving everyone getting infected by the warg stuff had no build-up. Instead, the immortal businessman seemed randomly added, and it was the same with Doctor Miracle and Deathstroke’s involvement in this issue. I also had issues with Deathstroke’s dialogue, as he seemed too over the top and angry for the mercenary. Deathstroke is a quiet, scary pro, not a blusterer. But Slade Wilson has hardly had consistent characterization lately, even in his own title.
Plot issues aside, the issue looked amazing, and I’m coming to like certain aspects of Ollie’s characterization, such as pointing out that doing the right thing doesn’t come easily to him. Fyff cracks me up as well.
As for the series as a whole, I tried to read it a few times since the New 52 reboot, and the brash, young Ollie didn’t do much for me at all. I think it was a case of wanting Ollie to be more like his television self but there was serious whiplash between serious, angsty Ollie and the freewheeling and callow Ollie from the beginning of the run.
However, Lemire’s run was excellent, having finally settled on a characterization more like the television show but with adding several new characters, like Emiko Queen, that worked well. Overall, I still prefer the older world-weary Oliver. I want the hero who had Team Arrow–Arsenal, Connor Hawke, Mia, and sometimes Black Canary. It’s not all the reboot’s fault. There were issues with Oliver’s characterization pre-reboot too, such as Winick making him a serious womanizer, something he never was before, and a deadbeat dad.
Which is to stay that I’ve yet to read an Oliver Queen story that matches the Mike Grell run, which includes The Longbow Hunters, and that goes back to 1987. Our wisecracking and impulsive archer needs a serious rebirth.