Writer: Keith Champagne
Artist: Ed Benes, Tyler Kirkham, Philip Tan
Cover: Dough Mahnke
What is Superman afraid of?
Or, perhaps more to the point, what could Superman possibly be afraid of, given that, you know, he’s Superman?
What do you fear when there’s virtually nothing that can hurt you, when you can leap tall buildings in a single etc., and you’re one of the strongest beings in the universe? Under those circumstances, is it even possible to be afraid?
Fear has been at the heart of this two-part storyline in which a search for missing children leads the Man of Steel into a confrontation with the fear entity known as Parallax.
For the unfamiliar among you, Parallax was the name originally taken on by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, after he made a heel turn and became a super-villain. Later, in a redemptive arc by writer Geoff Johns, who has been the architect of most of what’s happened in the various Green Lantern comics in the last decade-plus, Parallax was revealed to be an ancient creature that had taken possession of Hal, and was shown to be the source of the inability to affect anything yellow – the color of fear – that had once been the sole weakness of a Green Lantern’s power ring.
I’m not really up on the happenings in the Lantern side of the DC Universe, but I do know that there is an “emotional spectrum,” with every sentient being’s emotional states emitting a sort of background radiation that can be drawn upon as a power source, and in addition to the Green Lanterns – whose rings draw on the “Will Power” part of the emotional spectrum, despite the fact that, as has been pointed out many times, “Will Power” isn’t an emotion – there are other ring-wielders who each derive their power from a different emotion. Collectively, they are the Rainbow Lanterns.
In any case, when we left off last issue, Superman had tracked down the missing children after Jimmy Olsen mentioned that every time he took photos of the children’s parents for the ongoing series of articles running in The Daily Planet they came out with an odd yellowish cast. This clue led Superman to use his super-vision to seek out traces of the yellow radiation of Fear, and he found the children being controlled – and fed upon – by Parallax. To safe the children, Superman offered himself as a host for Parallax.
One could argue that this was a dumb move, as there is a greater danger posed to everyone by a Parallax-possessed Superman than there is to a handful of kids being tormented by the fear entity. Superman, however, doesn’t have time for that kind of moral calculus. These terrified kids are in danger and their parents are similarly-consumed by fear as they anxiously await any news on their missing children – and that latter point, which we’ll get into in a bit, hits Superman where he lives – and so something has to be done. Without any other options, Superman makes the only call he can, and has to trust that he will find a way to do what needs to be done to deal with this latest development.
And to go back to an earlier question, is it even possible to be overconfident if you’re Superman?
What comes next, though, is the arrival of Sinestro, a disgraced former Green Lantern who has embraced the power of fear, and led a corps of Yellow Lanterns known, not-so humbly, as The Sinestro Corps.
Sinestro, it seems, has been seeking out Parallax, hoping to re-imprison the creature inside of his ring. We started out wondering what Superman fears, but there’s also the question of what fear itself has to fear. It turns out to be that.
In a desperate bid to retain its freedom, Parallax/Superman attacks Sinestro, and very nearly kills its would-be jailer, save for the intervention of the Thunderers, the warrior class from the planet Qward in the anti-matter universe, a world which Sinestro rules. Using their thunderbolts, they render Parallax/Superman unconscious.
(It’s worth noting that the text also refers to the Thunderers as the Weaponers of Qward; traditionally, the Weaponers had been distinct from the Thunderers, serving as the ruling class on Qward prior to Sinestro’s takeover.)
Superman himself wakes to discover himself impressed in a cave somewhere, held in place by a large, monstrous construct created by Sinestro’s ring. Sinestro seeks to drive Parallax out of Superman so that he can capture it, and towards that end, he uses the power of his ring to force Superman to confront his fears, leading us to the answer to the question posed way back up at the top.
What does Superman fear? Well, Superman stuff, I guess.
There is, after all, more to being Superman than just outracing bullets and changing the course of mighty rivers. Superman never had an Uncle Ben, but that didn’t prevent him from realizing what comes with great power.
His primary fear, then, is failing to live up to those responsibilities. Nothing we see shows him ever fearing for his own safety or well-being. We see him failing to save the people who depend on him to keep them safe. We see him failing to keep his power in check and becoming a rampaging monster.
This is all to be expected, of course, and is a standard trope with the character, but there have been changes to the status quo that allow us the opportunity to see his fears about failing on a more personal level.
While it took an extremely convoluted path to get there, the current state of things as the result of the launch of “The New 52,” and the current “Rebirth” line-wide event, Superman is a husband and father, and we see his fears for his wife and son made manifest, and we understand why, in that moment, as he knew all-too well the fear and anguish felt by the parents of the missing children, he opted to sacrifice himself to Parallax.
Most notable are his concerns that his son, Jon, who, being half-human and half-Kryptonian, is unlike any other being in the universe, and as such, may find a difficult path to finding a place in the world, and his fear that he will not live up to the example of his human father – his son’s namesake – and will end up creating the monster that he himself fears becoming.
Sinestro’s efforts, it turns out, are for nothing, as Superman, who lives not in fear, but in hope, can’t be broken, and it turns out that Parallax has already moved on, taking possession of Sinestro’s paramour, Lyssa Drak, and then, once Sinestro turns his cruelty onto her, hopping out to take over the assembled Thunderers.
Sinestro attempts to deal with their “betrayal” with brutal efficiency, but even while imprisoned, Superman manages to protect them (via heat vision), a fact that does not go unnoticed by Sinestro’s servants turned would-be victims.
Sinestro takes the fight outside, leaving Superman imprisoned in the darkness of the cave, where, presumably, cut off from sunlight, he will eventually die. Of course, being Superman, he’s able to escape Sinestro’s construct, and make his way outside, where he finds Sinestro squaring off against a physically-manifested Parallax. It’s not going so well, and with Sinestro on the ropes, Superman swoops in and faces off against Parallax.
Who swallows him.
Inside of Parallax, Superman reveals that he yoinked Sinestro’s ring, and explains to Parallax that there is more to life than fear, and that Hope can hold all fear at bay. And, more to the point, it gives Superman the will to capture Parallax inside the ring, which he promises to deliver to the Green Lanterns, who will find a way to care for Parallax and ensure that it will never be forced to serve Sinestro again.
With that handled, Sinestro demands the return his ring.
That “Superman is a Dick” has been a humorous – and true – observation throughout the years. But sometimes, particularly when he’s being a dick to someone like Sinestro, that dickishness is fantastic.
After the standard “You have made a powerful enemy” speech, Sinestro beats a hasty retreat, with Superman getting in the sarcastic last word: “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
Drawing on the goodwill engendered among them by his efforts on their behalf, Superman asks the Thunderers Sinestro left behind as he bravely ran away to use their thunderbolts to send him home.
In our epilogue, we see Superman watching his son sleep, and we receive confirmation by way of Lois in an expository role that the missing children have all been returned home.
As for the fate of Parallax, well, you’d have to read about that in one of the Green Lantern books, so you’re on your own there.
While this was a very slight arc, and something of a filler as the Super-titles move towards solving the mystery of the enigmatic “Mr. Oz,” who’s been lurking in the background for quite some time and is connected in some way to the events that led to the New 52 and the current Rebirth events, it does a decent job of addressing some of the things that make Superman, well, Superman, and have accounted for the character being popular, in virtually every form of media, for nearly eighty years, despite the received wisdom that “Superman is boring.”
And while we don’t see much of the family dynamic that is part of the new status quo, we nevertheless bear witness to its impact on the character and his motivations. Would he have volunteered to take the place of the children if he weren’t a father himself? Of course; he’s Superman. But the fact of his fatherhood adds some nuance and greater depth to the decision.
That said, one of the shortcomings of the issues of late has been the lack of focus on Lois. Just as fatherhood marks some changes for Superman, motherhood does the same for Lois. Or at least, so one would assume, but there hasn’t been much time spent on exploring that, which is a shame because, 1. Lois is awesome and 2. Historically, one of the strengths of the Super-titles has been its deep bench of secondary characters and the narrative possibilities of providing them with some of the focus as something of a break from or addition to the main action. That’s really been missing in the Rebirth line, and is something that I hope is addressed in the future.
Ed Benes, along with Tyler Kirkham and Philip Tan, handles the art chores this issue. I’m not sure of the role Kirkham and Tan played – they seem to be responsible for some interior pages, such as the fear montage – but in the main, Benes’s style shines through. Benes is a skilled artist and storyteller, though if he as one weakness it tends to be his focus on T&A – well, frequently A more than T – which, even for someone like me who is a fan of both, goes well-beyond the borders of ridiculousness. (I actually wrote – and drew – something about it nearly ten years ago.)
This issue provides him little opportunity to go wild, which is why I’m surprised that he didn’t with the presentation of Lyssa Drak, who wears a skimpy outfit similar to the classic Cockrum/Grell-era version of Shadow Lass from the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Drak is a native of a world in the Talok system – Talok III – the same system for the homeworld (Talok VIII) that Shady hails from. Or rather, will hail from, as LoSH takes place in the 31st Century.
While her outfit is skimpy, there just aren’t any characteristically Benesian shots of her, which is not a complaint, but simply a somewhat surprising observation.
Absolute All Star Superman – Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely present one of the most iconic takes on one of the most iconic characters of all time, in the iconic Absolute format.
Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter – Though her history is often troubling, Lois’s journey, as revealed in Investigating Lois Lane, showcases her ability to always escape the gendered limitations of each era and of the superhero genre as a whole.
DC Universe by Alan Moore – Collected in this volume are all of Moore’s Superman and Batman stories, including “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and so much more. (More to the point, it includes another great story with Superman as a father – “For the Man Who Has Everything.”)
That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted (or tried to vote), and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.