Stories don’t have to contain lots of surprises and sudden twists in order to be good. Take some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Hamlet.” You can go into those plays for the first time already knowing the endings, but still enjoy them because of the skill in the execution and craft that’s on display. I mention this because while Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., and Klaus Janson’s “Superman” #34 is incredibly predictable, it’s also still a fun comic to read.
“Superman” #34 continues to lay out the parallels between Superman and Ulysses, the hero from Earth whose origin is remarkably similar to Superman’s. Even as Johns continues to show how the two are the same, though, we’re also getting our first glimpses of how they’re different. Last month’s revelation that Ulysses’ parents were still alive is followed through here, and Johns mines that well for quiet, emotional moments for both Ulysses and Superman. It all builds up to the fight in the second half against the Machinist, where Johns pulls the proverbial trigger.
Most of you can guess what happens in the fight against the Machinist that shows the biggest difference between Superman and Ulysses, but the important thing here isn’t that they’re different. Johns brings more to it than a simple separation between the two of them; we get a reaction that brings at least a little bit of a question on if this is an ideological difference, a lack of experience, or some combination of the two. Johns gleefully turns the knife here, too; the big moment is undercut in a way that changes it from a small event to a large one, and that’s a smart little moment that continues to place the two characters in peril.
It doesn’t hurt that this story feels in many ways created with Romita in mind. Romita’s art style has always felt a little blocky and full of hard lines, so having a character whose powers involve electronics and machines is a great thing for him to draw. The circuit board walls, the tiny-but-effective mind-ticks, the robotic wolves… all of them look familiar and eerie at the same time under Romita and Janson’s pencils and inks. Add in some beautiful and unearthly glows courtesy Laura Martin, and the entire book is handsome. When the big moment comes near the end of the comic, it’s nice to see an artist who can use half of a two-page spread for that show-stopper and still make it feel massive, while reserving the other half of the spread for an additional five panels to keep the story moving forward. Romita could have easily made it so the moment was entirely on its own page and the other panels on the next one, but this layout is much smarter; it keeps the moment hovering over the aftermath, so that you can’t ever look away from it even as Superman and Ulysses deal with the consequences.
“Superman” #34 is fun, and the book is clearly in good hands. Now that we’re three issues in, I think we should all have a good feel for what the Johns, Romita, Janson and Martin run on the title will be like. And based on that, I’m sticking around. You may see what’s coming before it actually appears, but it’s executed with skill in a way that you won’t really mind.