Johnny Bullet
DC Comics
Superman #659
By Jason Mott

February 28, 2007 - 23:55

Publisher(s): DC Comics
Writer(s): Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza
Penciller(s): : Peter Vale, Jesús Merino,
Cover Artist(s): Al Barrionuevo

An angelic Man of Steel? Yes, no, and maybe. This latest issue of Superman takes a brief moment to explore one of the lesser developed aspects of this last son of Krypton, his invariable ability to be perceived as a divine power. This story finds Superman still reeling from his recent encounter with Arion. Cloistered at the Fortress of Solitude, Superman reflects on his early days as champion of Metropolis and a specific incident involving an elderly woman and her belief that he was nothing less than an avenging angel sent by god to root out evil and wickedness (ala Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the hands of an angry god” sermon).

Busiek and Nicieza do a great job of showing their understanding of the Superman character with this issue. So much of Superman’s inner conflict comes from the fact that he is, by unfortunate circumstances, forced into an uncomfortable and ill-fitting Christly role. Throughout the issue Superman’s discomfort with the elderly woman’s exaggerated belief in his role as savior is poignant and sad. Like hearing that a newborn infant has contracted some exotic illness, we know that things will end badly here; but we are never quite sure how badly things will end or what effect they will have on Superman at a time when he is despondently ruminating over his role in humanity’s history. For the most part, Busiek and Nicieza keep the dialogue smooth and believable, only occasionally are they slightly heavy-handed on the “fire and brimstone” sermons of the story’s elderly woman.

The artwork of this issue is punctuated by a striking cover by artist Al Barrionuevo. In a single picture, Barrionuevo summarizes the good and bad of Superman’s heroic role in life. He is both an angel floating down to engage in the divine just as much as he is a victim waiting to be torn apart by the clawing, needy hands of the masses. Great job, Barrionuevo. Inside the book, Vale and Merino keep the panels smooth and simple. The style of artwork is detailed and gritty as Superman navigates the alleys of Metropolis’s “Suicide Slums,” yet it is still able to achieve a distinct contrast of grandeur when the Man of Steel battles an electromagnetic monster at the South Pole. Also, Vale and Merino make extensive use of Superman’s cape and its ability to speak. At times in the story, it serves as a cloak to conceal him from the rest of humanity and, at other times, his cape is an angelic representation of the divine. However, the artwork does lose its detail and descriptive quality in the close-ups of Superman. He becomes a bit of a blank character identified only by his distinctive cow-lick hair style.

Overall: 8/10. A small story that needed to be told.

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