With the crossover between “Superman,” “Supergirl,” and “Superboy” having finally come to a close, it means that writer Scott Lobdell can finally start showing his vision of what the “Superman” comic will be like. But with three artists playing round-robin on the interiors, one of them unfortunately falls up short enough that the entire issue comes crashing down.
Each artist is assigned a different story, and as such it’s almost easier to look at each one individually. First up is Aaron Kuder, illustrating both the prologue and epilogue for the book. Kuder starts “Superman” #18 out on the right foot, with a gorgeous splash page that has the level of detail and power that you’d expect from artists like Rafael Grampa or Geof Darrow. Orion punching a behemoth in Undertown never looked quite so great; the dinosaur/Godzilla like creature’s head is whipping back in a way where you can almost feel the punch, and I like how its body is crumbling at that very moment. Kuder’s pages have more than just detail, though, they’re laid out beautifully. The splintered panels radiating out of Orion in the center of page 4 look great, even as it draws all your attention to Orion. Seeing Lobdell tackle Orion (whom up until now has only been in “Wonder Woman”) is interesting, too. I’m not convinced that giving him thought balloons to probe his inner thoughts is the way to go — it feels a little dumbed down — but this look at both Orion and another New God to appear is certainly intriguing, if little more than a tease.
Tyler Kirkham is next, with his pages looking the most like Kenneth Rocafort (who drew the cover and the preceding issues, but whose continuing on the title appears to be in question right now). That’s not to say it’s the same at all; while Rocafort’s is geometric, Kirkham’s is very textured and full of long lines strung together. Still, there’s an odd sort of similarity (perhaps thanks to Sunny Gho’s coloring) that makes it feel like it fits. On the other hand, Lobdell’s script here doesn’t feel like a Superman who’s been active for five years, but more like a brand-new hero. He’s very naÃ¯ve and arrogant on this pages as he goes up against the Senate, and that’s frustrating because it doesn’t match the Superman we’ve seen elsewhere in the New 52, let alone “Superman” comics in general. Even though Superman’s points are valid, they’re presented to both the Senate and the reader in such a condescending, bossy manner that it’s actually annoying. Lobdell might be trying to get away from the “Superman as Boy Scout” image, but this is not the way to make that work.
Last up is Robson Rocha and Jaime Mendoza, and it’s unfortunately here that the wheels completely fall off the comic. Ignoring for the moment that Rocha’s style does not match at all with either Kuder or Kirkham (who are very different and yet feel like they belong in the same title), this is an art style that doesn’t work for “Superman.” Superman himself is drawn like a 16-year old manga character, with wide eyes, an extremely youthful face, and a certain incredulous expression from start to finish. This is the wrong depiction of Superman, one that feels too young for even the set-in-the-past pages of “Action Comics.” It’s still better than how we see Cat Grant, though, whose visual depiction comes across as so scheming and conniving that it turns Lobdell’s script (which isn’t that flattering a depiction to begin with, but at least not negative) into one that’s telling the story of a villain. It’s a horrible clash of script and art, and the book collapses at this point.
I understand that when you’ve got a round-robin set of artists, it’s usually a last-minute substitution (no doubt for Rocafort, whose name was originally in the solicitation credits), and at times beggars can’t be choosers. Still, after finding two artists that worked, it’s a shame that the third one felt so off base. Then again, the story itself in “Superman” #18 is lackluster and uninspiring on the whole. When Lobdell first took over (before getting almost immediately drawn into a crossover) I felt like there was some potential for “Superman.” Now, I’m struggling to maintain interest. Things need to turn around fast, because this isn’t a “Superman” title that I want to keep reading.