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Superman Confidential #8-9
posted March 13, 2008
 

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Creators: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Chris Batista, Cam Smith, Prentis Rollins
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, December 2007/January 2008, $2.99 each
Ordering Numbers:

I bought these two comics at a local video store while waiting to get a prescription filled next door. There were two amusing elements to that purchase. The first was that the manager was inordinately pleased by my sale, as if he were relieved that at least a couple of the books had moved (they were among six or seven comics at the bottom of a rack with some newer manga/anime-looking magazines nearer the top). The second was that the clerk hesitated right after telling me the price as if there had been a complaint when someone else bought two Superman comics and was told "$6.41." I imagine that could be a pretty crazy-sounding amount of money in terms of what most people my age and older likely remember in terms of the price of a new comic book, so I can't blame the clerk for flinching. The experience made me feel bad for the comics, like the store people were scary Glass Menagerie parents who loved their child but thought she might never be asked out on a date.

In terms of plot and execution, these issues of Superman Confidential are some pretty dopey, standard American comic books. In the first issue, Superman meets the Forever People and gets in a brief tussle that includes an encounter with a BALCO-sized Darkseid. In the second issue, Orion fetches the Big S to New Genesis where our hero engages in "I'm all down with humans" banter with Highfather -- a character best known for winning three straight Shazam Awards as the most boring of all the major godlike being comic book patriarchs. It's one of those issues where Superman gets called "Kryptonian" a lot, if that helps. One thing that sort of interests me is that each issue feels like only about 2/3 of a dopey, standard comic book of ten years ago. What plot exists reads as if it were stretched to cover a few extra pages, like one of those NBC sitcoms they make go 40 minutes because they have no more hit shows. One can't help but think Jack Kirby would have stuffed the content of both issues into two pages and managed to include Don Rickles in more than half the panels. There's nothing wrong with these comics except, well, everything. The art is fine, standard anti-septic DC muscle art, but it's boring because of that. The characterizations are straight-forward -- Orion is basically Douglas Niedermayer on super-'roids, Lois Lane gets to be grumpy in place of an actual personality, Morgan Edge is late-night commercial sleazy, Perry White is avuncular, Jimmy Olsen is tiresome -- but everyone feels like they were having their qualities checked off against a story bible rather than simply living on the page. Trying to find positive things to say about these comics is like trying to pick out the good episode among five separate installments of According to Jim.

The most noteworthy sensation these books offer up is that of deep and abiding bafflement. I'm not that far removed from being a week-in, week-out comic book reader, I pay professional attention to them, and I still have no idea why this comic is called Superman Confidential. I'm guessing maybe they ran out of titles at the title store, or Zalman King needed a few bucks, or somebody's more title-appropriate serial blew a major deadline. There were a couple of smaller plot points where I swear a bit of dialog or an event in #9 contradicted information imparted in #8, which was not only confusing but helped lend the entire reading experience a shabby air. Most of all, I was totally confused by the time in which this comic was placed. His encounters with assorted New Genesis citizenry and their Apokaliptic brethren tend to indicate this is a first time for Superman to meet these folks. That's fine, it's enjoyable to read stories about a character's past. My problem is I don't know when this past began. Did DC reboot after the last Crisis? Were there any reboots between that Crisis and the one before, the "Sweaty Midnight" crossover of '98 or something? Was there a just short of line-wide effect that could mirror the effects of that kind of universal do-over? It used to be you could buy a comic and it would be roughly the same as it was 20 years earlier; then there was a time after that where you could buy a comic and with some effort fill in the blanks of the character's recent past. This endless looping makes any one point look like the others, to the detriment of them all. Confidential to Superman: your comics made me sad.