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Love & Dreck?

  Superman: 'Til Death Do Us Part


Various Writers and Artists

DC, 2002

Rating: 3.7

 

Posted: January 13, 2002

By The Gentleman

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 conclusion.

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' intriguing history.

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 famous.)

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.

 
Starting Over
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, futuristic design.
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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