Friday, October 20, 2006

Random Reading: Superman 656

I've been in Windsor for well over a month and today was my first time visiting the closest comic shop to me. It's a nice little place called Rogues Gallery Comics and the owner was very friendly, offering me help almost immediately (even though, I pretty much look like the archetypal comic fan). Will definitely stop in there this year when I can.

I only got a few things, some back issues of Adventures of Superman from Joe Casey's run on the book, WildCats #1 and Superman #656, which I got for the purpose of this random reading.

My first thought is: who says comics don't teach kids anything? You want to teach your kid what deus ex machina is, hand them a copy of this comic. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Superman is in Serbia, fighting some weird looking creature called Subjekt-17 that is giving him a good fight. He's in Serbia as Clark Kent because an old friend asked him to come or something (why, I don't know--to do a story, maybe?), and his friend is in some burning military base, hunting for the details on this Subjekt-17.

Here, writer Kurt Busiek does something slightly interesting, almost Planetaryesque (yes, I just invented that word), with Subjekt-17's origin. You see, in 1949, a spaceship crashed somewhere in Russia. The pilot was dead, but further inside the ship was a pregnant female alien. She died on the operating table, but the child lived and was subjected to all sorts of nasty experiments over the years.

The interesting part is how it's described. Supes' friend tells him, "But in Earth's atmosphere, under our sun, her skin was growing harder, her musculature more dense . . . The infant began developing super-powers as well. But slowly, perhaps due to his youth." Sound familiar?

However, Busiek ruins it by having Superman narrate, "My heart goes out to him -- and I know that had my spaceship landed in the wrong place so many years ago, had been found by the wrong people--" Because subtle, allusive storytelling is somehow worse than being downright obvious about it. In fact, most of Superman's narration is obvious, overwrought and unnecessary. It helps set the stage at the beginning and recap the story, but after, it reminds me of old comics where the narration described what the character was doing in the panel. Busiek should know better, especially when he has someone as skilled as Carlos Pacheco providing the art (which is nothing but gorgeous throughout).

The story itself gets interesting as Subjekt-17's intelligence grows and he becomes angry at Superman for being an alien like him, but helping the humans that spent decades torturing him. And not only that, Subjekt-17's powers are growing and it's looking more and more like the only way to stop him will be to kill him--that is, until some weird time-traveller shows up and ends the fight on the second-last page.

Sorry, I spoiled the totally unanticipated ending that I didn't think Busiek capable of producing. It's hack work. He had a compelling, interesting story and ruined it with a deus ex machina in the form of someone named Arion of Atlantis, who says he's here to help Superman prevent a living hell created by Superman's "own ignorant hand." Okay, I'll admit this is interesting, but was it worth ruining the other story? Couldn't there have been some way for the Subjekt-17 story to be resolved and THEN have Arion show up and tell Superman he's an idiot (which he outright does)?

I would like to see Subjekt-17 return, because it's an interesting twist on Superman's own origin and could make for a great recurring villain. But, who's to tell, because Arion sent him somewhere and there's no telling what that means.

Overall, the story was interesting, the narration irritating, and the ending a fucking joke, but the art was fantastic. I'm actually tempted to pick up the next issue because I'm on board with any story that's about how Superman is stupid and fucks up the world. But, damn, Busiek, that ending? Come on, man, you're better than that.