Thursday, December 31, 2015

Superman Annual #3 - A Review

There's two good comics contained within Superman Annual #3. One details the new origin of the immortal conqueror Vandal Savage, tying his origins indirectly into the Superman mythos.  The other showcases the problems Clark Kent faces as he continues to try and help people as Superman, despite his waning powers, lack of a secret identity and Lex Luthor running Justice League.

Unfortunately, these stories ultimately exist only as a set-up for the latest big crossover. And that proves to be to their detriment. It's apparently not enough to tell a story which shows that the meteor that empowered Vandal Savage came from a comet that was redirected from Krypton. We can't just tell a story where Clark Kent tells a teary-eyed Lana Lang that he can't just quit being Superman, even without his powers. It's all just build up for yet another excuse to boost sales.

It's a shame because there's some truly great writing on display in this issue.  The Vandal Savage story is just plain fun. And the modern story proves the point that what makes Clark Kent Superman isn't his powers - it's his ability to inspire other people to greatness. It also subtly disproves Lex Luthor's postulation  - that Superman's existence will cause common people to stop striving to be better - as Lex begins exploiting his power and authority to keep Clark Kent from trying to advance himself. Rarely has Luthor's evil and Clark's goodness been so well and simply exemplified.

The artwork, sadly, isn't quite so evenly handled.  The artwork for the Vandal Savage story is grand, showing a good deal of variety as we follow Savage through the ages.  The artwork for the Clark story, while skillfully done, utilizes a gritty, more realistic style that doesn't really seem appropriate to the story at hand.

Superman Annual #3 is a model for everything that is right and wrong with DC Comics since the New 52 revamp. There's a number of brilliant innovations and reimaginings of classic concepts and this comic showcases the ideal that the hero aspect of a character is more important than the super one. Yet all of that is undercut by a relentless grittiness that is grim for its own sake rather than to make the light shine brighter and the fact that this story exists only as introduction to yet another sales gimmick.

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