“Superman/Wonder Woman” #18 offers readers another take on the new status quo of the Man of Steel, introducing a new mystery that hits too close to home for Clark. Peter Tomasi’s script focuses on moody, roiling tensions that are beginning to bubble to the surface for Superman as he starts to show signs of cracking under the weight of the world’s new knowledge of who he is.
Diana provides narration and serves as the source of stability and reason for her boyfriend, trying to help him maintain an even keel and resist exploding. Doug Mahnke’s art is as wonderful as always; after decades of experience with the character, he delivers a recognizable, powerful Superman even with the changes in appearance. There is some slight inconsistency across the book, which can probably be chalked up to having four inkers. It’s not enough to halt a reader’s enjoyment of the comic but may leave a nagging feeling that something feels off going from page to page.
Tomasi approaches Clark as a man who’s been put upon, beginning to fray at the tension in his life. This is a departure from the man seen in the pages of “Action Comics” or “Superman,” a man who is trying his best to keep his anger in check as he investigates a deeply personal attack on his life. Once the secret was out, it was inevitable that someone would go after Clark Kent. Now that there is no Clark Kent, Tomasi uses the mystery to investigate why there is a need for the remnants of the life of someone that never really existed. Mahnke illustrates the titular character as pained, confused and angry. His eye work has always been a strong point of his art and the close ups of Superman’s face are some of the best panels in the issue. They really get across the conflict Clark is experiencing and how much it’s taking for him to keep it together.
Diana is a strong voice in the issue and her determination and support go a long way to making the issue work. Without her, it would have been reminiscent of much of DC’s “New 52” output: a lot of ’90s influenced yelling and pouting. Wonder Woman’s confidence is a much-needed bright spot. Diana has not felt the need for a secret identity and is relaxed in the newfound openness of her boyfriend’s life. No longer does she need to avoid half of her partner and, in the intimate opening pages, Tomasi gives readers her mission statement: doing her best to help him adjust.
The issue ends with the setup for a throw down next issue and, though the characters that confront Clark and Diana are part of the mystery, they’re definitely not the masterminds. It’s a little tonally concerning that this book is as dark as it is; the ’90s showed that brooding, pouty Superman stories are some of the worst. The upside is that Tomasi is a writer who knows how to dig deep on a character before lifting them back up; after all, he was the guy who dealt with almost all of Batman’s stages of grief after the passing of Damian Wayne. Fans looking for a darker perspective on the new status quo and a big mystery to boot will want to jump on this issue.