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Superman #9 review: The Ultraman and the vision

Dreams and horrors! Multiversal doppelgangers! The House of El!

Strange Visions. A day of peace and prosperity. A moment of unity. And then an armada arrives. Chaos ensues. So go the strange visions of two kryptonians, Superman and Zod. Both are different, populated by different individuals at different places, in different times, yet always, the day of unity recurs. The visions are strange and neither Superman nor Zod can understand or explain them. One moment they’re like everyone else, living and the next they’re transported to a different place as the visions strike.

Zod’s vision takes place on Jekuul, showing the union between the Houses of El, Zod and Kandor. He dreams of a united kryptonian race, where in they may be a species of new supergods. Superman’s vision occurs on Earth, filled with all the heroes of the DC lore, with some fun additions. Both visions feature an attack on this prosperous day by an armada. In the first vision, it’s unclear who or what this armada is. Their arrival is followed by that of the warmonger and genocidal maniac Rogul Zaar. In the second vision, the one Superman has, however, the silhouettes are crystal clear. The armada is The Legion Of Super-Heroes.

The vision also boasts other intriguing things, such as a new daughter for Clark and Lois and an adult Jon Kent with a missing eye and a metallic arm. The latter, in all his Cable-esque glory, is particularly charming. Series fixture Ivan Reis gets to really gets to cut loose in these scenes, capturing all the grandeur and majesty of the events. Reis is one of the defining superhero artists of the modern era and it shows, as he grasps both the poise and the weakness of characters whenever necessary, forging icons that feel larger than life yet human. His talent for blockbuster action and great spectacle is also on full display here, giving the story the much needed epic scope it needs.  Getting to design and redesign some characters for these fun sequences in Perezi-ian tradition, you can tell Reis is having fun.

Bendis is very much providing the artist great room and pulling out his best, as he’s known to do. The collaboration of Reis and Bendis has thus far proven to be a power-combo, as they simply just click together and enhance one another, pushing the other to experiment a bit more or try new things. Reis, for instance gets to play around a bit with the use of a distinct filter to indicate shadows upon the armada’s arrival in the issue, which is a really neat effect that’s new to his work. Sinclair’s colors are also a perfect match here, as his blend of rich blues and yellows alongside the deep reds makes for state-of-the-art superhero comics. It feels definitive and important, even at a cursory glance. With a character that runs on light, Sinclair nails the usage of light for a book about a character powered by light and the radiant yellows enrich every scene, while the scenic blues give a lovely contrast and look to pages.

As for the visions, neither the reader nor Superman have any clue as to what these visions are or why they’re coming to them. But there’s clearly a purpose here, a larger design. Although one may not know what it is yet, it’s certainly intriguing. The source of these visions, their meaning and their ultimate consequence is a really fascinating mystery for The Unity Saga.

Beyond the opening visions, the issue picks up right where the last left off, with Jon Kent telling his parents about his stranding on Earth-3. The world is back in play again, fully operational with its own variant of The Hall of Justice for The Crime Syndicate. The moments between the family as they try to slowly process the information and come to terms with things are really tender and earnest, with the entire creative crew in perfect sync. Josh Reed’s lettering in particular is fantastic, as ever. The great letterer is arguably the best at delivering Bendis’s text on the page, grasping the appeal of his naturalistic speech and marrying with the work of the artist carefully so that it may land as intended. It’s what sells these emotional familial interactions, which are rendered beautifully by Reis, who has a delightful range for expression.

 

From there on, we’re thrust back into the past with Jon on Earth-3. Ultraman is the central figure in Jon’s narrative, as he grabs Jon and takes him away to a volcanic lair, his supposed Fortress Of Solitude, if you will. Except rather than be filled with anything, it’s a desolate place full of rubble, lava and ash, which fits the evil doppelganger pretty well. The flashbacks are done by Brandon Peterson and while drastically different, they serve their purpose and help give Earth-3 a distinct flavor and in doing so, re-emphasizes the familiar icons of Earth-0 that we so love. Sinclair’s coloring choices to fit with Peterson have some interesting results here, with the ‘hot’ colors lacking the genuine warmth that accompanies the classic superman. The reds are a grimy crimson, evoking danger and dread, rather than love and comfort. The volcanic oranges that bathe Ultraman and his Earth-3 lair don’t evoke a touching radiance but a suffocating and destructive power.

All of that is a huge part of the actual character as well, with Bendis and Peterson’s take on the doppelganger being really interesting. He’s a whiny, self-obsessed, entitled and insufferable jerk that borders on parody of the hero we love and that’s very much the point. He’s both scary, able to rip you apart, but also utterly pathetic and amusing in his existence. Bendis’s signature sense of humor is ever present, as even while he lists off threats and cusses, Ultraman comes off like a try-hard failure that’s overcompensating.

There are moments where he even borders on Superboy Prime’s level of poor behavior, but there’s a lot more to the character than just that. He’s a lonely, cruel man who just wants to be loved and feared yet isn’t and cannot be, not in the way he wants. He presents himself to be strong but he’s a coward at heart. It’s why, for all his threats, he keeps Jon in his lair and sobs to him in sadness. Ultraman and the Earth-3 doppelgangers have always been fun and scary, but Bendis and Peterson mine the angle that is often overlooked: the tragedy and sadness of their existence. It’s a great conceit and it lands really well.

The story ends with the promise of exploring another icon of the Crime Syndicate, as once again, Jon’s tale continues. The only flaw here is, the decompression doesn’t land terribly well in the monthly format, with the book clearly being a long-form narrative that reads best collected. In the immediate, it can feel a bit stretched out at points and the endings feel abrupt, as one is surprised that the issue’s already over. Jon’s flashbacks and the general slowdown of things also add to this decrease in momentum for the book, in stark contrast to the first half of the story. The Phantom Earth, as it was dubbed, kept moving at a rapid pace and the decompression worked a lot better as events kept occurring in real time. House Of El struggles with that, as it’s essentially just the family sitting down to chat and the flashbacks are interspersed with commentary at points. That choice leads to some of the energy the book had prior being lost, although the story still remains solid as ever.

Superman continues to be a fun cosmic epic with family at its heart and unity in its mind. A tale boasting Green Lanterns, The Legion, Lobo, The Crime Syndicate, Jor-El, Zod and a whole lot more, it’s a book where the creative team’s clearly having a blast. If any of the above elements and their alchemical mixture intrigues you, you owe it to yourself to be reading this book.

Superman #9
Is it good?
Superman soars as an emotional family drama built around the theme of unity and the struggles that come with that. It's exactly what Superman's always been about.
The new take on Ultraman, which spins him in an interesting direction. Bendis and Peterson's take on the evil doppelganger makes for a fun foil to the Big Blue
The mysterious visions, filled with grandeur and great intrigue, especially with how Reis and Sinclair bring them to life
A big story with a lot of elements. From Rogul Zaar, The Legion, Earth 3 and The Crime Syndicate to Jor-El, Lobo, Green Lanterns, Zod and more, the team is playing with a lot of fun things here
The story's decompression and shift to Jon flashbacks have led to the momentum of the story being taken away. Phantom Earth, the first half, moved quickly and built very well and House of El doesn't really keep that going.
8
Fun
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