I think I’ve cracked the Tom King code.
See, the reason I find his work so frustrating is that he’s too ambitious. Let me explain.
When you hear the plot for Superman: Up in the Sky, a story where Clark Kent goes across space to find a kidnapped little girl, you imagine exciting scenarios that would be fit for a blockbuster.
But Tom King doesn’t want to do anything that exciting. He’s…too ambitious. Whether it’s Batman or Miracle Man, he stretches and subverts our expectation. You want Darkseid conflict? Sorry, here’s a whole Miracle Man issue where our protagonists discuss house decorations. Problem is, like The Last Jedi, subversion doesn’t inherently equal greatness. In fact, it often makes for bad pacing and muddled themes (hint, hint).
With every issue, the central plot and stakes fade further away. Sure, Superman is driven to rescue a girl, but we never check in with her or the danger she could be in, leaving us in the dark. For all we know, it was a big misunderstanding and she’s an honored guest at the best day care in the galaxy.
Instead of seeing Superman get roped into crazy situations, we’re just dropped into the middle of them. But one scenario that takes up a whole lot of page space, Superman waiting in a DMV line of Brazil/Kafkaesque proportions, doesn’t involve the missing girl at all. Superman is waiting in line to call Lois, and I know he loves her and all…but do we have to spend or waste this much time?
It’s clear King is more interested in examining Superman as a Christ figure. And that was great in the first issue. But roping Superman in with Sgt. Rock for an extended WWII battle? What is the purpose of this? There’ve been countless superhero stories at this point about “What if ___ superhero fought in ____ conflict and secretly saved history?” Heck, that’s Captain America’s entire shtick. It’s certainly not done here with any new purpose.
Oh, and there’s a third thing going on—we see all these alternate realities where Lois is dying because Superman isn’t there. Apparently Superman is imagining all these scenarios where she’ll die if he’s not on Earth. Yet, these come across as an indictment of Superman; that he leaving the love of his life vulnerable for some intangible goose chase. But that negates the whole purpose of #1 and the series, that Superman is a symbol of hope and that even the smallest child is worth his unwavering protection.
No matter what, it comes across as unnecessary and grotesque. I can’t imagine how confused a child grabbing this in a Walmart would be at seeing Lex Luthor literally shoot Lois Lane in the head on page one for the purpose of… 🤷♂️.
Andy Kubert’s art usually has a likably rugged, blotchy quality to it. However, it doesn’t work when that style is rushed, like it is here. Of course I don’t know if Andy actually half-baked his work here, but the Sgt. Rock segment especially suffers with its lack of proper rendering.
Proportions are just off enough to be distracting and unsettling (like huge foreheads, tiny hands, and massive chests). The onslaught of explosions and fighting is numbing in how little anything is given detail, so it all blends into a sludge.
Tom King has the best intentions with this series. But it’s a darn shame, because this series started out with a compelling plot and promise to delve into Superman’s psychology, but these past two issues have failed to bring the same rigor. Instead they fall into an episodic slop of tangled themes and sluggish pacing.