To say that I was unimpressed with Superman/Wonder Woman #19 would be an understatement. I have never liked the New 52 pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman. And, the new Dude Bro Superman direction for the character has been disappointing. Still, Peter Tomasi is one of my favorite writers who normally delivers quality reads. I have faith that if anyone can make this mess into an entertaining read that it will be Tomasi.
Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza and Sean Parsons
Colors: Will Quintana
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Dude Bro Superman in the oval office with two unconscious Secret Service agents in his hands. Sitting at the President’s desk is Steve Trevor. Superman says that he is here to speak to the President. Superman asks why Steve Trevor is here today. Steve says they are not about to endanger the President. Dude Bro Superman asks if Steve really believes that he would hurt the President. Steve says that he does not have the luxury of ever assuming anything.
During this scene, we hop back and forth between Superman and Steve and the government facility in Manassas, Virginia where Superman’s friends and acquaintances from Smallville are being held in captivity. We see that Wonder Woman has arrived at the government facility.
We cut back to Dude Bro Superman saying that what happened in Smallville was unacceptable. Steve replies that Lois Lane’s article forced the government’s hand. Steve says the entire country is on edge after the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman. Steve says that the government has been forced to batten down the hatches.
During this scene, we cut back to the government facility during this scene and see Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Steel, Lana Lang and others in containment units in the facility. We see Lana doing finger-tip push-ps. (Uhh, what? Why is she doing push-ups? And the hardcore type on top of it? Is New 52 Lana some badass MMA fighter now? Those are crazy hard to do!) Lois says that the government is just giving her a second story to write with their current actions.
Dude Bro Superman says that A.R.G.U.S. should be busy trying to bring humans together with super-humans. Superman said that he had hoped that the revelation of his secret identity would not spark fear in the people he has been protecting this entire time. Superman stares at the Oval Office carpet where we see the words “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Okay, okay. Ease up their, boss. No need to hammer the reader over the head with your literary theme.)
Steve tells Dude Bro Superman that he has fought alongside of Superman and the Justice League and that Steve believes in what the Justice League stands for. But, Steve places Duty, Honor and Country above all else. Steve says he has no problem taking down a super-human for the greater good.
Steve says the problem is that Superman sold the country the belief that he was exactly who he is: An America who was just trying to help. That Superman was not wearing a mask and trying to hide who he was. That Superman was who he was all the time. That being Superman was not a secret identity.
Steve says that there is talk that wearing a mask is actually more honest. That masked heroes are more truthful because they are not lying about who they are. Steve says that worst of all, Superman has now made people doubt Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg. That people are wondering if they have an ulterior motive for not wearing a mask.
During this scene, we see Wonder Woman busting into the government facility and taking down the military guards. We shift back to Superman saying that he was raised as a good American. That he wore the Superman costume to help and save people. But, Superman never stopped being Clark Kent because he wanted a full life. And he wanted to protect the people in his life that he loved from becoming targets.
Superman asks Steve if he ever wears his uniform to bed. Steve says “No.” Superman asks if Steve if he keeps his holster on in the shower. Steve says “No.” Superman asks if Steve actually closes his eyes and falls asleep every night. Steve says “Yes.” Superman says “Well, I don’t. I close them but I can hear everything. Every scream. Every cry. I hear it all. And what is worse is knowing I can’t stop it no matter how hard I try.” (Damn. This is a brilliant scene!)
We cut to Wonder Woman in front of the containment units where the people from Superman’s friends are being held. Wonder Woman smashes them open and frees everybody.
Suddenly, the President enters the Oval Office and is followed by several Secret Service agents. The President tells Steve to stand down. That he wants to talk with Superman. The President shakes Superman’s hand and asks Superman to take a walk on the White House lawn with him. The President apologizes for the beginning of the meeting and that they simply have to take certain precautions based on the revelation of Superman and the current political climate.
Superman says that he does not understand. That everything he has done as Superman has been in the best interest of the country and the world. The President says that unfortunately, clarity and national security are at the top of the list given what has occurred.
Superman replies that after all he has done that he is not worthy being given the benefit of the doubt. The President replies that he would not be here talking to Superman against the advice of his Cabinet members if he did not give Superman the benefit of the doubt. But, the President says that the public is scared and confused.
The President says that Superman’s friends will not be harmed. That after the government will gets some answers to a few questions that they have and then will release Superman’s friends. The President gives Superman his word. The President then quotes the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that is stitched onto his carpet in the Oval Office along with the John F. Kennedy quote. The MLK quote is about how the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. (Whew. Enough. I get it already.)
Suddenly, the Parasite attacks. Superman defends the President. Superman starts smashing up on the Parasite.
We cut to Wonder Woman talking to the freed friends of Superman. Wonder Woman says that the government needs the truth about Clark Kent. So, they are going to do things Wonder Woman’s way.
During the battle between Superman and Parasite we see Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, Perry White, Kat Grant, Steel, Clark’s old school teacher and a farmer who knew the Kents. They all talk about what a good person Clark Kent and that him keeping his identity secret is no big deal. The only person who drops a bomb during these question and answer sessions is Lana Lang who says that Clark should have saved her parents.
Finally, Parasite and Superman’s brawl comes to an end when one of the Secret Service agents runs out onto the lawn and deactivates Parasite with a handheld device. (Dude! These guys have been battling for several pages and NOW you finally step outside and turn Parasite off? Way to go.)
The President demands answers and says that he did not authorize the deployment of the Parasite. The Secret Service agent claims full responsibility and says that Steve Trevor knew knowing about what was going on with activating the Parasite. The Secret Agent felt he had no choice given that they did not know what Superman might do.
The President apologizes to Superman. Superman says that he has heard enough and expects the President to keep his word. The President tells Steve to give Superman the coordinates to the secret base where Superman’s friends are being held. Steve does so. The President says that they will assume that Superman will stay on the side of the angels. Superman replies that it is the only side he has ever been on. Superman then flies away.
We cut back to the government facility and see that Lois Lane is the last person to answer any questions about Clark Kent being Superman. We see that this entire time it has been Wonder Woman asking everyone the questions about Superman. And that Wonder Woman has had all the people in her lasso of truth while they answered her questions.
We see Wonder Woman standing there with Lois sitting down and wrapped up with Wondy’s lasso of truth. (Yeah, I am fairly confident that there is plenty of fan fiction running around the internet along a more adult version of this scene.) Lois says “Yes, let’s just get on with this.” End of issue.
The Good: Now that is what I expect from a writer as talented as Peter Tomasi. Yeah, DC’s editors have done absolutely zero favors for Tomasi with the current editorially mandated decisions for Superman. An edgy, gritty “hero” who curses? Check. A hero who is disillusioned about his role as a hero and his place in society. Check. A super hero who is an enemy of the State and distrusted by much of the public. Yup. A hero who has been de-powered? Of course. And to top it all of a terrible new look? Check!
DC’s editors basically took all of the most tired and unoriginal comic book concepts they could scrap together and shoved them all into Superman’s character as a part of the new DCYOU direction for the Superman franchise. So, poor Tomasi is now handed some rancid ingredients and told by DC’s editors to turn it into something that readers would actually want to digest and enjoy. And, you know what? Damn it all if Tomasi did not do just that with Superman/Wonder Woman #20.
Tomasi takes all of these limp and unappealing ingredients bought from a donkey cart in the market square and then puts on his chef’s hat. Tomasi proceeds to work his magic and pull together a brilliant five-star dinner from such uninspiring and unappealing ingredients. That is nothing short of stunning. Very few writers could pull this off.
We have seen a talented writer like Greg Pak struggle and fail to put together a quality issue with these lousy ingredients supplied by DC’s editors. This is a testament to Tomasi’s writing talents. Outside of Morrison and Johns, there has been no other writer working for DC who has consistently impressed me more than Tomasi over the past nine years.
Superman/Wonder Woman #20 is a beautifully written issue from a technical standpoint. This issue is well plotted and paced. Tomasi has a clear focus and purpose in mind and the story never deviates from where Tomasi wants to lead the reader.
Tomasi engineers an impressively structured issue. I love how Tomasi is able to construct a double track story between the scene with Superman, Steve and the President and the scene with Wonder Woman and Superman’s supporting cast in the government facility. This was so impressive. Tomasi is able to seamlessly weave the two scenes together in a delightfully organic fashion. The story flowed so naturally.
Tomasi shifts between the two scenes by alternating every other panel between the two scenes. And Tomasi does seamlessly without every breaking the flow of the story or making the issue a choppy read. That is hard. Like incredibly hard.
Each scene complimented the other. Tomasi uses Wonder Woman’s scene as a contrast to what the President is telling Superman during their discussion. Even though the President tries to come off as compassionate, the way that Superman’s supporting cast is being held is frightening and belies the President’s smooth words. It also emphasizes that Superman would like to trust the President but he simply cannot. Not entirely.
The scene with Wonder Woman and Superman’s supporting cast also support Superman’s argument to Steve and the President that he is not the enemy and the government is wrong in how they have reacted to Superman’s secret identity being revealed.
The structure of this issue helps to make each scene more powerful and to reinforce the positions and dialogue of the character. I loved how Tomasi has the President offer to release Superman’s supporting case once the government has gotten some answers to some questions with Wonder Woman using her lasso of truth to get answers from Superman’s supporting cast with the hope of allaying some of the government’s fears. This was a stroke of brilliance and some creative plotting by Tomasi.
The creative and technically tricky structure of Superman/Wonder Woman #20 made it a more textured and nuanced read. It gave the reader plenty to digest. This structure of switching between the scenes with just about every panel also slows the reader down. And not in a bad decompressed manner. No, this structure slows the reader down in a beneficial manner that requires the reader to carefully digest each word by the various characters. It also helps to build tension in the story.
This structure makes Superman/Wonder Woman #20 a more powerful and deliberate read that demands the reader’s full attention. The structure itself prevents the reader from just blasting through the issue in short order like it is possible with many super hero comic books.
I appreciated that Tomasi took the time and effort to flesh out both sides of the argument concerning Superman’s secret identity. It would have been far too easy, and a bit disingenuous, to simply have Superman’s side of the story be the obvious “right” side of the debate. However, Tomasi takes a great effort to give Steve Trevor and the President’s side of the debate a fair representation. By presenting both sides fairly, Tomasi makes this story far more interesting as the reader is conflicted about which side is correct in this conflict.
It is always better when a writer presents the reader with a tough decision on who to side with and then lets the reader make that decision on their own rather than presenting one side as clearly wrong and the other side as clearly right and then forcing it down the reader’s throat. It is never an enjoyable reading experience if the reader feels that the writer is preaching to them rather than telling a story.
Tomasi also crafts some strong dialogue at certain points in this issue. The high point for the dialogue is Superman laying into Steve about if Steve wears his uniform to sleep or his gun in the shower and if Steve can sleep at all. That was a phenomenal scene. Tomasi delivers a powerful moment that hits the reader like a gut punch. This is the first moment where Dude Bro Superman displays actual character depth and nuance.
I love the concept that Superman cannot sleep because his super hearing is capable of hearing every single cry for help or sorrow. Such a burden would be overwhelming for any other person other than someone like Superman. It shows how rare Superman is and how he shoulders a burden that most could never carry.
Wonder Woman comes across like a proper badass in this issue. I loved the methodical and calm fashion that she dispenses of the government soldiers. Wonder Woman’s calm but fiercely determined personality makes her character both impressive and appealing.
Tomasi also does a great job with the single panel insights into each of Superman’s supporting cast. Each supporting cast member gets a panel to discuss their impressions of Clark being Superman. These panels were tightly written and help to give additional insight into Clark’s personality through the lens of the people in his personal life.
Tomasi ends Superman/Wonder Woman #20 with an awesome hook ending. The final page is dripping with drama. It is hard to top an ending like this one. There are very few readers who could resist a hook ending like this one. To be sure, I will be coming back for the next issue to see what happens next.
The Bad: There were a few moments where Tomasi got a bit heavy-handed with the literary themes in this issue. The quotes on the carpet and the President laying another quote on Superman was too much like gilding the lily. Sometimes less is more. The reader already understood through the dialogue and the action in the panels what Tomasi was trying to tell them. There was no real need to go ahead and beat the reader over the head with the message by pointedly telling them.
Dude Bro Superman is still boring and uninteresting. Dude Bro Superman is like a serving of cold oatmeal that is dressed up to be “cool” and “edgy” by serving it in a big badass Harley-Davidson bowl. This new gimmick for Superman’s character cannot end soon enough.
Oh, yeah. I simply cannot let a single review for a comic book starring Wonder Woman where I don’t mention this continuing criticism. Wondy’s new costume design still sucks.
Overall: Superman/Wonder Woman #20 was a brilliantly written read. Tomasi demonstrates why he is still one of DC’s top writers. Given the horrible editorial decisions with Superman and Wonder Woman, it is nothing short of stunning that Tomasi is able to take what he is given and craft it into such a well written and enjoyable comic book.