By: Jon M. Wilson
Though some of the newness may have worn off, DC Comics — The New 52 continues into its second month, and I will continue to chronicle all that we can learn about Superman and his family of characters, and their new histories. I expect that, eventually, these articles may become shorter as the issues focus less on establishing where we are and more on moving forward with new stories. But this month has so far brought us Action Comics #2 and Superboy #2, with a lot of goodness to be had, and I’ll be looking at those issues here.
In Action Comics #2, Luthor’s capture and examination of Superman gave us a lot of insight into his physiology. Although they’ve bloodied him, they’ve found he has steel-hard skin and they can’t cut his hair. Make you wonder where the blood came from, right? His skin not only resists physical injury but reflects x-rays as well. The electric chair causes him pain but doesn’t seem to have any lasting effect. They did get him sedated with gas, however, a weakness that was handled inconsistently in the Golden Age. However, they are using gases that would normally be considered lethal. We see our first use of heat vision in this series, but also a vision power that, if it’s not new, I at least have never seen it — he emits microwaves from his eyes that fry the computer systems being used by Luthor, a small EMP or something similar. This seems like a natural extension of his other vision powers. Why limit his ocular emissions only to heat and x-rays? Why not other portions of the EM spectrum?
Superman’s t-shirt costume looks to be just that — a t-shirt, with no special qualities of its own. It’s sliced through in several places throughout the issue. The cape, however, is another story. Spreading it taut, soldiers subject it to bullets and flames, all of which it resists with no apparent difficulty. It does, however, have sentimental value for Clark.
We get our first inkling of origins in this issue. Though the word “Krypton” means nothing to Superman at this point, General Lane and/or Luthor have secured a rocket. They show Superman a dead four-legged creature, asking if that’s what Superman “really looks like” when he’s not (allegedly) assuming human form. It seems unlikely that it’s Krypto, since we’ve been told we’ll be seeing him in a future issue, but then what? A prop created by Luthor? That also seems rather unlikely. Why would Luthor invent the idea? And if he didn’t invent it, why would he think that Superman really looks like that creature unless he knew that the creature had come from space? This leads to the notion that the rocket that Luthor has, which is obviously Kryptonian from its language and address of Superman as “Kal-El”, might not be Clark’s own baby rocket, but rather another one that has landed more recently. Is it the same as the “something past the orbit of Neptune, getting closer” that Luthor mentioned last issue? Or is that instead the mysterious tentacled craft revealed on the final page? On another origin note, we do learn more about Clark’s recent past from the back-up feature. His loss of his parents is recent, and his current crusade is the result of simply determining that he’s the most powerful force on the planet, so he should do some cleaning.
Luthor gets some discussion in the back-up as well. And rather than mad scientist or diabolical businessman, this Luthor seems to be … well, just a big douche. He’s smart and accomplished (“Doctor” Luthor), and he has a great deal of resources at his disposal. But it looks like Morrison is going for the kind of snide, condescending, out-of-shape jerks we meet in our everyday life as the model for Luthor. As in the 1986 Man of Steel miniseries, Luthor knows more about Superman’s origins than Superman himself does. At this point, that’s not much, but it’s something. He is in communication with the tentacled spacecraft, but I am thinking he doesn’t realize that’s where his phone calls are coming from. Is it Brainiac? Is it something else Kryptonian? Is it an anti-Kryptonian force seeking to eradicate all remaining Kryptonian life? ooooo, eradicate… Is this the new Eradicator? Time will tell.
We met two new characters in the issue as well. Doctor Irons makes a brief appearance before resigning his service to protest Luthor’s torture of Superman. We find out that he had been involved in developing the Steel Soldier program. We also know from solicits that this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of him. Sergeant John Corben’s presence has a bit more immediate consequence. He has a history with Lois and obviously would like whatever they had to continue more intimately. If I may say, he comes off in this issue as a bit of a dufus with less than your average dose of self-respect. The issue ends with his determination to revive the Steel Soldier program with Professor Vale, which I expect means the robotic foe on the cover of Action Comics #4 is Metallo.
Speaking of Lois Lane, she doesn’t appear to have the closest of relationships with her father, who uses military security double talk with his own daughter. Lois’s career choice as a journalist was done to annoy her parents. They’re not overly antagonistic, but not close either. We see our first instance of Lois and Superman meeting in this story, though it’s unclear if this is their first time to actually meet face to face. We know that Lois is the one who invented the nickname “Superman”, but we haven’t yet heard of them meeting before this. Superman does address Lois by name, though, but of course Clark would probably know her face from working in the same industry.
The biggest thing I got out of Superboy #2, mythology-wise, is confusion about the kid’s power set. In the “one month ago” scenes, he continues to have telekinetic abilities that seem to extend to the ability to super-examine any object he’s manipulating telekinetically. He removes the tech from the guards and says he’s studying it at the same time. But in the “current” scenes, he describes his power as “tactile telekinesis”, saying that anything he can touch, he can “read”. This is not at all what the phrase “tactile telekinesis” should mean, nor what it was invented to mean in the original Superboy series. If anything, I’d call this a tactile telepathy or something along those lines.
Dr. Redhead continues to be a touch mysterious in this issue. When Superboy appears to be on the verge of killing his guards, she pulls him completely off his feet and hurls him into the wall with enough force to knock him out. She also gets a first name on the page this issue, so I’ll be calling her Caitlin, even though I kinda like the nickname “Dr. Redhead”. It’s sexy.
The “current” story continues the development of Superboy as a weapon of Project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. It appears that the sequence of events for the entire first arc will predate the Teen Titans attack that we’ll be seeing in that book’s first storyline. This is definitely true for this issue, and the solicit text and covers for #s 3-5 appear to bear that out for the near future. So as we see the conflict between the Titans and Superboy in Teen Titans, we’ll be seeing his preparation for that mission in Superboy.
In this particular issue, Rose Wilson gets to be our plot expositionist. First, she confirms that this post-Flashpoint Superboy has zero connection to the Conner Kent of pre-Flashpoint continuity. She says that Caitlin created the boy, named him Superboy, and dressed him in the trademarked “S”. This reaffirms that, despite what was said or at least implied in July at SDCC, the natural reading of Superboy #1 is the correct one — it’s an all new ball game, folks! As she stalks away, Rose implies a shared past between herself and Dr. Redhead. Her line “he was created in a lab and we were born this way” implies a lot without saying hardly anything about what it’s implying.
Rose Wilson also moves into handler mode for the mission. Superboy meets the real Rose Wilson for the first time, having previously only known the meek and pretty young version in the virtual reality chamber. Their first meeting appears to be charged with a certain amount of mutual hostility, which seems to be a language Superboy understands just fine, despite his still under-developed sense of social interactions. He’s even going so far as to talk a big talk that he doesn’t sincerely feel. His inner monologue confirms that he respects Rose, but he goes along with the posturing anyway. I’m not sure yet whether this is a case of testosterone being flung both directions to establish rapport or if Rose actually feels the disdain she is expressing.
The villain of the action fight is Prodicus of Sector Three, who really looks a lot like King Shark. I’m actually wondering if Lobdell had intended to use King Shark but then had to change late in the game to avoid conflict with Suicide Squad. In any case, Prodicus totally wails on Superboy, and we’ll have to find out if he survived next issue.
Interesting note: At one point in the fight, Superboy instinctively thinks the word “help” in Kryptonian. I would have thought The New 52 would have been a good opportunity to discard the Kryptonian alphabet from the Superman mythos altogether, but no. In any case, it does suggest some interesting things for how Superman’s genes are influencing Superboy’s mind.
Superman may have one other minor cameo this half-month, but it’s not clear. In Stormwatch #2, the Projectionist has warped the media in order to make it appear that the lunar attack on the Earth is being orchestrated by z-list villain the Fox. The Justice League responds, but we only see their feet after they’ve pummelled the Fox. There is no boot that looks distinctly like Superman’s, but there are also figures completely in shadow, and one of those may be Superman. The issue also has a nice homage when the alien attack lands on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It’s the Tenk Farm. (Hint: It’s an anagram.)
But that’s it for these two weeks! Next time: Supergirl #2 and Superman #2: “House of El Divided!” and “Invisible Threat!
Next month: Action Comics #3: “World Against Superman!” and Superboy #3: Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose!”