“What Price Tomorrow?”
Writer/Breakdowns/Cover artist: George Perez
Pencils/Inks: Jesus Merino
Colors: Brian Buccellato
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
George Perez has always been one of my favorite comic artists, if not the favorite. His style was probably the first one I could recognize in a comic book, and after I first saw his work in the original New Teen Titans series, I sought out his work wherever it turned up. Yes, he’s a dynamic artist who brings an awe-inspiring level of detail to his work, but that can make some people forget he’s an accomplished comics writer as well. Not only did he co-plot New Teen Titans with Marv Wolfman back in the day, but he was responsible for one of the most popular and well-received interpretations of Wonder Woman has published in its history. I was curious when DC announced Perez would pen this new series featuring its most recognizable icon, and after reading Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1, Perez had an unenviable task ahead of him. He offers up one of the densest and topical of the New 52 debuts in Superman #1, and his take on this new version of the Man of Steel jibes well with Morrison’s, set five years earlier.
It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for Metropolis, as the old Daily Planet building is demolished to make way for the new Planet headquarters. Metropolis’ No. 1 newspaper has been acquired by Morgan Edge’s media empire, and it means big changes for the Planet staff. With live reporting to the web and a continued print edition that delves into detail no broadcast medium can offer, the Planet finds itself competing with its new sister company, the Planet Global Network, Edge’s new 24-hour news network. Clark Kent is irked over the changes, but perhaps moreso because they’ve lured Lois Lane away to the broadcast-news division, not as a reporter by its top producer, the woman in charge. The new Planet and PGN are about to get their first big scoop, as Superman has to contend with a fiery creature causing havoc in the heart of Metropolis.
One of my favorite aspects of Perez’s script is how he presents Edge’s Galaxy Communications as being the DC Universe equivalent of News Corp., complete with allegations of tabloid journalism and ethical breaches. Galaxy’s acquisition of the Planet gives the reader something grounded and familiar with which to connect, and I love the discussions about journalistic integrity, the decline of print, and the different advantages offered by various media to the profession. I find it interesting that Perez doesn’t look at digital versus print, but print and digital together versus television. I also found it interesting to read of Lois’ approval of a less-than-legal method to get a story. Her intentions are pure — she wants to protect those working for her — but when one hears the term “hacking” connected to journalism, it certainly evokes a negative tone, now more than ever. I hope Perez explores Lois’ breach and her connections with police thoroughly in future issues.
Another advantage of the incorporation of multiple media in the Planet dynamic is how it’s pitted Lois and Clark against one another. They’ve often been portrayed as rivals at the newspaper, always working to scoop the other, but now Clark sees Lois has being on the wrong side of the profession. Clark’s irritation with Lois really just reflects his irritation with circumstances that have separated them, not only professionally but personally as well. The final scene rang true. Clark’s sadness and frustration over his unrequited affections is something to which we can all relate.
While I enjoyed the socio-economic exploration of media, ethics and business in the story, the actual portrayal of journalism was a major let-down. For a significant portion of the issue, Clark’s story about Superman’s encounters with a couple of crooks as well the fire monster is incredibly poorly written, from a journalistic standpoint. While we know Clark knows of what occurred and what passed through Superman’s mind first hand, he’s supposed to be writing the story as an impartial observer. His story is full of assumptions, artistic flourishes and clear bias. Journalism is written in plain language; for example, “conflagration” is a word one should never find in a news report. It’s a $10 word; a good reporter would’ve used “fire” (or maybe “blaze” to avoid repetition), and even if a reporter used the word, a good copy editor would cut it faster than you can say, “thesaurus.” Writing hard news for print is a completely different kind of writing, and a lot of comics writers don’t get it right. Perez is among them, I guess.
This is the strongest art we’ve seen from Jesus Merino, and I have to believe Perez’s breakdowns have a lot to do with it. Perez’s influence is more apparent in the layouts — there’s a lot crammed into each page. Perez’s style detectable in the linework from time to time, but for the most part, Merino’s style stands on its own. There were several panels that put me in mind of Mark (Brilliant, Ultimate Spider-Man) Bagley’s style, and others gave off a clear Jim Lee vibe. I suspect the latter is being adopted — either officially, unofficially or even subconsciously — as the DC house style in this new era for the publisher. Perhaps the most important thing Merino does in the art is to maintain a more youthful look for the title character. While this version of the Man of Steel has a few years on Morrison’s hero from Action, there’s still a youthful look to him. Superman’s still not a part of the establishment here, but neither is he the same rebel we saw in Morrison’s story earlier in September.
This is still the Superman from Morrison’s story, just a little more grown up. He’s not the authority figure from the past (or that we saw in Swamp Thing #1). There’s still some attitude in the character, and he seems more driven by emotion than past incarnations of the character. Perez is also clearly taking a lot of cues from the Superman story of the 1980s, which is ironic, since there was no more vision of Superman as part of the establishment than that one. The late Curt Swan’s Superman of the 1970s and ’80s was the ultimate father figure, so it’s curious and intriguing Perez would choose to evoke that era with this different take on the character. The recasting of Morgan Edge as an African American is noteworthy only because it brings a little more diversity to the cast, but really, the biggest change is his attitude. He comes off as more of a ballbuster and plotter, whereas the 1980s version of the character was more of a charmer.
The fire alien is a fairly generic threat (in appearance and concept) wasn’t all that interesting. Its power to transform objects into fire instead of setting them on fire seemed kind of… goofy. The effect is awkwardly worded, poorly conveyed in the art and a bit too much for reader to swallow.
As I noted earlier, this is a dense read. One definitely gets one’s money worth with this comic book. Despite the inclusion of plenty of action, there’s a lot going on in the “regular” corners of Metropolis. Perez gives his readers a lot to think about, which I appreciated, but I wonder if he tried to jam too much in this debut issue. While it’s accessible, it’s also incredibly verbose. Perez also introduces a few tangential characters that didn’t really need to show up in this first issue, such as the new, biased PGN anchor and the new publisher of the Planet. Still, while this issue had its missteps, there’s a lot of potential in the smart, mature script and subplots. This isn’t a perfect first issue, but it will get me to come back for the second. 6/10
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