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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Superman: The Black Ring Volume 1

Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Pete Woods, Cafu, Pere Perez and Sean Chen
Inkers: Pete Woods, bit, Pere Perez and Wayne Faucher
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics

Today's guest review has been written by Anj, who usually blogs about all things Supergirl related at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary, one of the best resources for Supergirl fans on the web.  Here he introduces himself:

This is Anj from Supergirl Comic Box Commentary and I was thrilled to be asked to review the Lex Luthor-centric trade Superman:The Black Ring Volume 1, which collects Action Comics #890-895. As a lifelong Superman Family fan, I think this is an interesting choice for review. Despite its name, Superman is not seen in this portion of the story at all, having gone on an introspective walk across America in a story called ‘Grounded’ in the Superman title. With Superman away, Luthor steps into to star in the title. And Lex is also free to do what he wants. It is most definitely a Luthor story but with a couple of interesting wrinkles to his characterization.

Whats it about?
This is the first half of a story arc in which Luthor is questing for Black Lantern energy globes and therefore ultimate power. From a continuity point of view, this story takes place after Blackest Night, a huge crossover event in which beings called Black Lanterns, essentially zombies, wielded the power of the dead to try to destroy all life. The details of this event aren't necessary for the new reader as long as they can roll with Luthor’s goal of finding and controlling Black Lantern Energy.

Luthor’s quest for this power takes him on a journey where he encounters numerous other villains of the DC Universe: Mr. Mind, Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, and Vandal Savage. He also meets Death from the Sandman universe. Luthor is joined on his quest with some allies, a right hand man named Spalding and a Lois Lane robot (a Lois-bot) who acts as lover, confidant, and counselor.

Whats good about it?
There is a lot to like about this series.
Cornell does a good job showcasing Luthor’s character – his motivations, his need for power, his hatred of Superman. By having Lex interact with a variety of other villains, Cornell is able to contrast Luthor and his goals to these others. This contrast helps better define Lex.
There is also a nice current of dark humor throughout this storyline. There aren’t laugh-out-loud moments or pratfalls, but there I found myself smirking or chuckling many times here.

And Cornell really has a nice handle on the Death character. She is funny and cute but also exudes the strength and nobility of someone in her position.
Perhaps the best introduction to the DCU in this book was Lois-Bot. For one, there is something creepy about the fact that Lex built this thing in the image of Lois, showing just how jealous or outraged he is that someone like Lois would love Superman/Clark. She also has some nice moments, nudging Lex to do some things but clearly loving him. On top of that, she is the muscle of this couple breaking out the guns when she has to. She is fascinating to watch because she has the feel of a Femme Fatale in a Noir movie. What are her motivations?
Whats the art like?
Pete Woods does the bulk of the artwork here and really shines. His style is slick and organic, with no hard edges. He clearly is having fun here, especially with Lois-Bot who he dresses in a wide range of styles – 40s glamour, jungle explorer, Amelia Earhart style aviator. There are a lot of quiet moments here where Woods is able to add to the moment with good expressive work on the characters. He also handles the fight scenes well.

Sean Chen does the art on the Grodd issue which veers towards the silly with the gorilla’s physically humorous acts. While Chen’s style differs from Woods, it works fine on that story.

Whats bad about it
The one drawback to this book is that it is clear that Lex is being manipulated by at least one other villain/presence. As a result this book shows a much more impulsive, hands on Luthor. I usually think of Lex as being a step ahead of everyone, putting pawns in place to do the dirty work, more restrained and calculating. I think Lex would rather bide his time and do things in the most discrete way instead of racing into things himself. As a result, this book isn’t the quintessential Luthor book. New readers shouldn’t expect Luthor to physically investigate things himself rather than sending out his lackeys to do so for him.
That said, it is clear that Luthor knows he is acting unlike himself. He voices when he thinks he is acting unusually. And the reactions of other characters do help build a sense of who the ‘real’ Luthor is. 
If you don’t know much about comics, this book will be a nice way to meet new villains. But the books are written in a way that information about the other villains is assumed. You may find the Savage issue confusing if you don’t understand that Savage (below) is immortal, has lived for millennia, and has a daughter who is also a super-villain.
Other info
The hardcover is currently available priced at £14.99 (that's quite cheap for a hardback comic), ISBN: 0857682105.  The paperback will be released in February 2012, details are here.
Volume 2 will be out in September 2011 priced at £18.52, ISBN: 1401232035.
Cornell has written Captain Britain and MI13 for Marvel as well as Knight and Squire for DC. There are trades for these available.

Pete Woods' work can be found in the World of New Krypton and Last Stand of New Krypton trades.

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