After an ambitious launch to the new era, “Superman” #42 feels like a step backwards in character and plot as Gene Yang introduces his big threat: an information piracy organization called Hordr. Readers will remember the issue as the moment this iteration of Lois finally confirms her suspicions about Clark’s real identity and, though there are some entertaining character interactions amongst the cast, the overall feel of the issue is slightly silly and almost instantly dated. John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson continue to deliver solid action and, though their downtime art is also good, they feel restrained compared to the moments when Clark breaks out and starts smashing heads.
Yang clearly wants to make his mark on one of the most iconic characters in pop culture and his greater ideas are certainly doing just that; Clark as an “out” superhero, no secret identity, is a refreshing turn of events and a great way to inject new relevance into the character. The execution stumbles in this issue as Yang introduces a new threat and “tells” instead of “shows.” Hordr_root — a name that sounds dated before one finishes saying it — is described as being more forward thinking than Superman’s greatest antagonist Lex Luthor and deals in information, the new currency of the 21st century.
The problem, then, is twofold; for one, nothing within the context of Yang’s story has proven this to be the case. Root’s skybase is filled with startup employees forced to work at the company due to blackmail info, yet no one there seems to be more than base level. No powerful people, aside from Clark, are affected by this villainous scheme. Luthor owns one of the greatest corporations of the DC Universe and is a man able to dodge justice and fulfill own interests by whatever means necessary. Yang sets his own creation up for failure with this comparison. It’s not needed and impacts the new character by immediately contrasting him with an existing heavy hitters with no evidence to back up the claim.
The second problem is that the rest of the “Superman” titles are dealing with the present and nothing in those stories has pointed to any type of Luthor-level plotting. It makes the character feel like a fan fiction villain inserted into a greater story that doesn’t really need it. Yang gives Superman the chance to beat up some robots but, again, Superman is an intelligent man and his plan boils down to sneaking into the facility and planting himself as a bomb. It’s flabbergasting that this is his plan, not thinking far enough ahead to protect the employees he’s been told are innocent. This is the same character that Greg Pak portrays as a man looking to protect those who need it at any cost in “Action Comics.” However, Yang sets up a bomb to destroy a database with his identity on it. Superman should be able to beat a person like this at their own game, not just punch his robots. Instead, the Man of Steel just grits his teeth and starts breaking toys. It feels out of character.
Romita and Janson do give the action the impact expected from their work, particularly as Clark solar flares, and the mystery villain that appears at the end gives the story some forward momentum for the next chapter. The visual team gives depth to Lois’ discovery early in the issue, with her rage and frustration and shock clearly visible as she literally uncovers the truth. Unfortunately, they don’t have much to add between these moments and it leaves an already struggling script with less of a fighting chance. Romita and Janson do well with wider scope visual language but many pages feel cramped, especially at the end of the story. Hordr_root’s visual design, in keeping with the idea of a startup, is minimal, but — instead of giving him a sense of sleekness — it comes off as rather bland.
The end result of this story is something great for the franchise and creates a new world to play in. The stories that have grown from it are entertaining, but — two chapters — in Yang’s tale of how the franchise gets there is proving to be troublesome. He writes Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane well and the smaller moments are fun,, but he is still having trouble finding a balance with the larger scale action. The villain that looks like he will force Lois’ hand to reveal Clark’s identity is laughable and, though this book will be remembered as the moment Lois found out in the New 52, it’s beginning to feel like readers would be better served to check out Clark’s other adventures until “Superman” catches up to the present and gives readers a chance to see the creative team tell a story with the character that involves the new status quo.