Superman #686

Story by
Art by
Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalhaes
Colors by
David Curiel
Letters by
John J. Hill
Cover by
DC Comics

In Baltimore, last September, James Robinson remarked to a fan at the Superman Panel that none of the Super-writers had plans for the beloved barkeep, Bibbo. Robinson said. "Just because you bring him up in that way, one of us might step up and take that challenge." Robinson proves with this issue that he's up for a challenge -- even a challenge that includes writing a book where the titular character is AWOL.

Even though the title of the book is still "Superman," it does have the trade dress "World Without" next to Superman's S-shield. This issue sets the table for the experiment of Superman serving on New Krypton, with his appointments of heroes to mind Metropolis during his absence. Never actually shown in full, we glimpse the Man of Steel over his shoulder, the back of his cape, and in silhouette. Robinson, meanwhile, fills this issue with enough moving pieces and character bits that we never miss Kal-El. This, of course, was one of Robinson's strengths with "Starman," where he developed a habitat so lush with characters who could spring from the page that the titular character need not always be present for a great read.

Guedes' art is phenomenal, but like a large swath of today's artists, coloring is his crutch; Shading appears to be a lost art. Guedes' cityscapes are technically impressive. The two-page spread with a Tom Welling-esque Mon-El flying through the friendly skies of Metropolis shows it all. The monolithic buildings of Metropolis sing with art deco imagination coated in a post-modern filth. I'd pay easily twice the cover price of this book just to have a Metropolis atlas rendered by Guedes.

As mentioned earlier, coloring is seen as a crutch among a number of today's pencil artists. Here, David Curiel steps up to the challenge. Although there are some points where the characters are bathed a little heavily in sunlight, the book maintains a strong color palette that is surprisingly rich in its blue and red deficiency. Yes, Mon-El's costume is almost the opposite of Superman's, but the sum total of the book has a wider array of colors employed than the standard issue of "Superman."

This issue puts the pieces in motion across the board, as Mon-El finds his place in the heroic landscape of Metropolis and meets his guides for the tour. For what is effectively a first issue, this comic offers a great deal of enjoyable reading and a pinch more of things to come in future issues. A Superman-less "Superman" book might sound like a flop waiting to happen, but this book is ready to soar.

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