SPOILER ALERT!!! The following review does contain some major spoilers for “The Darkseid War,” and some minor spoilers for “Imperius Lex.” You’ve been warned!
I’ve said before that the Superman books have been in a really good place with DC Rebirth, and the latest volume of Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke’s Superman proves it yet again. The sixth trade paperback, “Imperius Lex,” came out this month, and while I hate to admit it, I have for the most part been trade-waiting for this title and just read the story for the first time (I am fully aware of the fact that online booksellers are taking a bite out of the comic book store, and I am one of the reasons why, unfortunately… a topic for another day). Needless to say, it did not disappoint.
This trade consists of seven issues of the ongoing series, the first four being the “Imperius Lex” storyline, which spins out of the events of Geoff Johns’ “Darkseid War” in the pages of the New 52 Justice League. The story begins with Luthor, and subsequently, Superman and his family, being transported to Apokalips against their will. Upon arriving, they find that there is a gigantic power vacuum following Darkseid’s dethronement, and various factions- no less than four of them- are all vying for the throne. A group of denizens of Armaghetto- the dregs of Apokalips, much of the planet’s peasantry- want Lex Luthor to return to the throne he briefly occupied to restore order to the planet and its people. Luthor is reluctant to accept, and attempts to convince them that Superman is the ruler that their prophecies have foretold and that they need.
This book had all of the wonderful features we’ve come to expect from a Peter Tomasi book- great action, art that flows with the story and some good character moments mixed in throughout. Doug Mahnke has really impressed me with how much he has improved as an artist, and how good of a Superman artist he has become, really since that first Rebirth special hit the stands two years ago. The action, in particular, is fantastic, and all of the artists do a great job featuring that. The plot works for Superman in that it gives him, and his family, a good threat that doesn’t require his powers be weakened to make it interesting. For that matter, it seems to me that any comic book writer or artist can’t wait to get into the sandbox that is Kirby’s Fourth World and play with the toys the King established now nearly fifty (!) years ago. Rarely, if ever, are the New Gods, Apokalips and New Genesis in a bad story, especially when they crossover with Superman.
While Superman and Luthor try to restore order to the planet, Lois and Jon have their own personal adventures as well, each dealing with the theme of family, and it is here that we reach the heart of the book. This story did a great job, once again, of showing how Superman, Lois and Jon truly are a family, juxtaposed against other “families” they encounter on this strange world. Jon has a run in with a group of roaming savages who enslave and kill hunger dogs (the giant beasts of burden on Apokalips), who he steps in to help as they don’t have anyone else. Lois has an encounter with Granny Goodness’ Female Furies, a “family” in their own right as they have been raised by Granny and belong to her and to one another. And finally, Superman and Luthor encounter a blind prophet (echoing Tiresias of Homer’s Odyssey) and a younger woman named Ardora (who seems like his daughter, although it is never stated) from Armaghetto who long to have a ruler, the only “father figure” they know, back in their lives. In each case, the Super family is put up against other “families,” which lets us know a little something about who Superman, Lois and Jon truly are and works wonderfully as a theme for the book.
While Imperius Lex is the feature story of this volume, the book also contains some other solid entries, as well. There is a nice one-off which shows Superman taking a group of kids with cancer on a day trip to the Justice League watchtower, always a fun type of story that works for Supes. There is also a two-parter by James Robinson in which Superman and Jon attempt to rescue a planet that, like Krypton decades before, is about to explode with billions still living on it. As much as I usually love James Robinson, I can’t say I enjoyed this last story terribly, which admittedly felt more like a commentary on the dangers of fanatical religiousness, as the aliens don’t want to leave their planet because they believe their gods have willed for them to be destroyed. More than that, however, the interpersonal dialogue between Clark and his son is just not at the level of competence that Tomasi makes look effortless, and when the theme of family is not at the center, the stories just don’t work quite as well. Still, they weren’t bad and are worth including.
Ultimately, this book made me realize, once again, how good Rebirth was for Superman. After reading this one, I’m almost sorry that there’s only one volume left of each book that I haven’t read yet (Action Comics Vol.5, “Booster Shot,” is in the mail!). While Bendis’ work has been better than I expected, admittedly (which we’ll get to at a later time), I’ve really enjoyed Tomasi and Gleason’s run with Supes and the Super-Family these last two years. It’s not a stretch to say that “Imperius Lex” may have been their best work to date, and the stories that follow aren’t enough to diminish the awesomeness of this volume. Highly recommended!
Capeage Meter: 9.5 out of 10