Superman #689

A World Without Superman ain't so bad after all.

A World Without Superman ain't so bad after all.

“The Tourist”
Author: James Robinson
Artist: Renato Guedes
Inker: Jose Wilson Magalhaes
Colorist: David Curiel
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover Artist: Andrew Robinson
Assistant Editor: Will Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson

Against all odds, James Robinson’s Superman has become, for me, the most interesting Superman book on the stands.  That Robinson achieved this without its titular character is no mean feat.

The issue opens with a snidely amusing xenophobic diatribe from Bill O’Reilly knock-off, Morgan Edge.  Widespread fear of the Kryptonian threat has created PR problems for its new protector, Mon-El, and even Superman himself.  As he’s dispensing with two-bit supervillains (and no doubt listening to a television in the distance), Mon-El reflects upon the fickleness of Metropolis, and humanity at large.  Not out of judgement, but out of pure fascination with the human condition.  Why all the existentialism?  Mon-El has been told the baddest of bad news – he doesn’t have long to live – and having spent a majority of his life in dimensional purgatory; he’s got a lot of living to do.

(This may require a history lesson: some of you may remember Mon-El, the boy from the planet Daxam, who met Superboy all those years ago.  Superboy was delighted to have found a friend (or a big brother, so he thought) he could relate to; someone else just like him, with the same powers.  But he wasn’t just like him.  He didn’t have a weakness to kryptonite, and they soon discovered he had a different planet of origin, and a far more fatal weakness: to lead.  And so it was that a lead-poisoned Mon-El was projected into the Phantom Zone until Superboy (now Superman) could find a cure.  The recent destruction of the Phantom Zone meant that Superman had to get Mon-El out of there, pronto.  Thankfully – for reasons best not discussed in this review-cum-history lesson – an anti-lead serum had been left for him.  After running a series of tests at S.T.A.R. Labs, Dr Light discovers that the serum is working its magic, but that his superpowers are trying to metabolise the serum.  Thus, the more he does to protect Metropolis, the closer he comes to his own death.)

And a lot of living he does!  As soon as he’s dealt with the D-listers, he flies off to Russia to see St. Basil’s Cathedral, goes on a date with one of the Rocket Reds(!), fights an imitation Blue Hulk in England, takes a break to admire the art of Georges Seurat and the architecture of Gaudi, and helps a vampiress fight crime in Barcelona!  What a rip-roaring, rollicking tour of the world according to DC!  The result are some beautiful drawings from Renato Guedes, no doubt leaping at this chance to spread his wings.  I believe James Robinson is also taking this opportunity to include a few of his favourite comic book characters from across the globe (Will Von Hammer, La Sangre, Beaumont and Sunny Jim), and the fun he’s no doubt having is almost tangible.  The character and his creative team are going on an adventure, and they’re taking us with them.  It’s an amusing relief from the heaviness of Mon’s terminal illness.  This is the strength of the medium: gravity and levity, reality and fantasy, can somehow co-exist to deliver an emotionally rich and entertaining story.

Mon-El’s story, though it is the most interesting, is not the only one this issue tells.  There’s a weird little interaction between the Guardian Jim Harper, and his alien friend, and still I’m struggling to discern the importance of that particular plot thread (one that requires reading the Guardian and Jimmy Olsen one-shots in order to follow).  Another interesting plot thread emerges from these pages involving John Henry Irons (aka Steel) and a long-dormant character.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll leave it there.  As much as I’d prefer to see these stories of Metropolis’ heroes advanced in separate stories, I understand the difficulty in selling a Mon-El series or a Steel series separately.  Huge respect to DC for using one of its biggest titles to explore the untapped potential of these characters.  I hope they are rewarded for their efforts with a deeper roster of characters and a richer catalogue of stories.

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