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Superman: 'Til Death Do Us Part
Various Writers and Artists
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That's especially true
in the modern superhero comic, where creators must balance the need to keep
regular readers entertained with fresh, exciting developments with comic
companies' need for a consistent character for purposes of long-term marketing
-- as well as attracting curious would-be readers who remember, say, Spider-Man
from when they were kids.
It's a tough line to walk, and creators of mainstream superhero comics -- who
presumably also feel some responsibility, as keepers of modern legends, not to
muck around too much with their iconic charges -- have had mixed success doing so
ever since Peter Parker evolved from outcast science geek to stud-muffin.
When dealing with as enduring a character as Superman, that balance becomes
crucial. After all, the granddaddy of modern superheroes is well over sixty
years old by now, and has arguably achieved a status that transcends the iconic,
reaching into the mythic.
All of which is to set up 'Til Death Do Us Part, the third and most
recent paperback collection following the successful "reboot" of the regular
monthly Superman titles a couple of years back. For in the stories collected
here, there are indeed changes afoot, from the re-imagining of Metropolis to the
painful disintegration of Clark Kent's marriage to Lois Lane.
Marrying off a superhero is tough enough to pull off, as anyone who's had to
endure the utterly ridiculous trials and tribulations of Peter Parker's marriage
to Mary Jane Watson will attest. (One could argue that the generously-endowed
supermodel/actress Parker ended up with is not the same straight-haired teen
vixen of his youth, but that's fodder for another forum.) The Superman titles
managed to get it right, deepening and enriching the Man of Steel's evolving
mythos by following the relationship between Kent and Lane to its logical
Which is why the idea of shaking up that union is so appealing -- if handled
well it could conceivably, again, add another layer to the characters'
And at the outset of this storyline, 'Til Death Do Us Part handles
things very well. The various writers of the monthly comics -- Jeph Loeb, Mark
Schultz and Joe Kelly in particular -- render the crumbling of this relationship
with vivid emotional accuracy. As one who's endured the ritual of divorce more
than once, your humble correspondent can all too readily vouch for the
authenticity of the pain, frustration and hopelessness our Man of Steel
undergoes in the face of his beloved's abrupt, icy turning away.
Alas, at the eleventh hour, the Powers That Be pull a demoralizing copout,
one which certainly makes sense within the context of Superman's ongoing
mythology but nevertheless disappoints. Yours truly is too much of a gentleman
to spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that, as all too often happens,
things are not what they seem.
Which is a real shame. Given the track record of the current creative teams,
this all-too-common part of modern married life could have opened up fascinating
new vistas, story-wise, and more importantly hauled our Kryptonian protector
ever more into the real world, enhancing readers' empathy with what has all too
often seemed a staid, stagnant character.
That nagging disappointment aside, this collection does hit some high notes.
The artists charged with rendering these adventures concoct an exhilarating mix
of soft-edged cartoon and striking photo-realism, especially Stuart Immonen, Ed
McGuinness and the gifted Doug Mahnke. And the highlight of the book has nothing
to do with the Kent/Lane relationship at all: "Creation Story," by Schultz and
Mahnke, is a wonderful extra-length tale in which Superman and his ally,
up-and-coming scientist John Henry Irons (also known as the armored,
hammer-swinging hero Steel) utilize the advanced technology of the "new"
Metropolis (basically, a sleek and sparkling future version of the city
"downloaded" onto the current one in the previous volume by Braniac 13) to
restore/remake Kal-El's Fortress of Solitude. Schultz, best known to most for
his work on Xenozoic Tales, shows a flair for plausible sci-fi
technobabble that rivals that of Grant Morrison in JLA, Flash and
the recent X-Men. (Elsewhere in the book, Schultz also finds a way to
work some of the same environmental themes for which Xenozoic was so
So, in summation: Until the very last chapter, 'Til Death Do Us Part
raises the Man of Steel's personal stakes considerably, tantalizing with the
gradual erosion of one of popular culture's most famous relationships. The
last-minute twist, which in truth is fairly easy to spot coming, will satisfy
those simply looking for an extremely well-executed adventure tale (which is,
misgivings aside, exactly what we have here). But it's also apt to cause those
excited by the possibilities of some real, permanent change to shake their heads
in wistful recognition of what could have been.
Those who like this version of the Man of Steel should seek
out the two previous editions collecting stories from the "reboot" of the
Superman titles. No Limits introduces the new creative teams for
the monthly titles, which had for the preceding decade had resembled a
weekly ongoing soap opera, with each title seeming very much like the
other. Endgame introduces the "new" Metropolis, a marvel of sleek,
Even In Death
Superman fans should also check out World Without
Superman, which picks up after the infamous and muddled Death of
Superman storyline. It's a testament to the rich legacy, mythology and
supporting cast surrounding Big Blue that these stories, in which Superman
himself is dead and gone, are so vividly engaging.
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