Monday, September 7, 2015

Anatomy of a Betrayal: Superman #43

The following is my review of Superman #43, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


It takes many years of work and dedication to build trust. Conversely, it takes only seconds to destroy. It's akin to a wholly unfair law of physics. It takes a master artist years to craft a beautiful painting or a sculpture whereas it takes an idiot with a hammer or a blowtorch just a few seconds to destroy it. Trust is like a work of art that everyone tries to create. For Superman, however, this work of art might as well be in a museum surrounded by pyromaniacs and drunks.

Despite his dedication to helping his adopted home, Superman does not readily trust others with the intimate details of his personal life. It's how he maintains both an alien and a human persona. And for decades, this has been a big part of his identity. Being able to live both lives helps anchor him to humanity, even though he's an alien with the power to bench press a planet. Now, one of those lives is shattered and the other is severely wounded. And it hits him in way that makes a bath in liquid kryptonite seem relaxing.

Of the very few people that Superman has trusted over the years, Lois Lane is the trustworthy equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Whether they're married or just respected co-workers, few relationships have been integral to the Man of Steel's mythos than the trust he has in Lois Lane. She's the one who helped introduce Superman to the world. She's the one who helped create the very concept of Superman. Like Steve Jobs and Apple, Lois Lane helped create the iconic brand of Superman, minus the turtleneck and jeans.

Yet in Superman #43, she's the one who does to most to undermine that concept. She betrays a trust that was once as implicit as a dog and his bone. It's this betrayal that gives weight to the, but that weight turns out to be hollow in some areas. The main purpose of this story is to put Lois Lane in a position where she has to be the one to expose Superman's identity. By that most minimum of standards, it succeeds. Anything beyond that, however, requires the story to be graded on a curve.

Even without that curve, the details of the story still warrant a passing grade. The entire first half of the story is dedicated to reaffirming the trust and bond that Superman and Lois Lane share. It's a trust and bond that circumvents the usual romantic undertones and in many respects, that helps make it more genuine. Superman and Lois trust each other in a way that isn't clouded by emotion. It's built heavily on mutual respect. When the concept of every romantic comedy and 70 percent of all sitcoms revolve around friends becoming lovers, it's a refreshing moment.

It's this moment that gives Lois' actions a sense of impact. It's also a moment that adds complications to the ongoing conflict between Superman and Hordor. It's a conflict that began with Hordor revealing that he knows Superman's identity as well and is using it to extort him. It has already put Superman in a difficult position, one of which ended up with him waking up naked in a bed next to a fully-clothed Lois. The idea that it could lead to some much more volatile situations isn't too much of a stretch, especially for someone dating Wonder Woman.

The circumstances are in place. The details of the story are present to give Lois' actions significant emotional weight. Like all the ingredients to a good turkey dinner, everything is in place. But when the time comes to put these ingredients together, the end result isn't as savory as it could've been.

The main issue with the cooking process of this story is that it was rushed. The clash that unfolds between Superman and Hordor seems to skip multiple steps, some of which might have involved pre-heating the proverbial oven. Superman basically goes from confronting Hordor to doing exactly as he says, not making a significant effort to work around it or find another way. For most heroes, that could be understandable. But this is Superman. Even if he's at half-strength, he's still more resourceful than an army of Angus McGuiver clones.

Because this process is so heavily rushed, Lois Lane essentially follows suit. She skips those same critical steps, never stopping for a moment to contemplate another way to remedy the situation. Instead of trying to find a more cunning way to stop Hordor from extorting Superman, she essentially jumps the gun and exposes his identity. And even though she told him earlier in the story that she would keep his secret, she does it in a downright callous manner. It gives the impression that Lois Lane treats her promises the same way Donald Trump treats bankruptcy.

This is the biggest shortcoming of the story. It doesn't give the sense that Lois revealing Superman's identity was the only solution to the problem. And even if those details where present, there's nothing emotional or dramatic about Lois' decision. She just assesses the situation, shrugs, and goes through with it. That is the impression she gives. It's not outright cold, but it is still callous on a level more befitting of Hillary Clinton than Lois Lane.

Even with this shortcoming, Superman #43 still accomplishes its main goal. It creates the circumstances in which Lois Lane has to be the one to expose Superman's identity to the world. Those circumstances aren't wholly unreasonable. It's just the execution of those circumstances that limits the impact of the story. It doesn't create the impact of an unavoidable tragedy. It just creates the sense that Lois Lane is a lousy friend.

There is still merit to the story in Superman #43 in that it makes an effort to establish an impact. It effectively asserts that even in a world where Superman and Lois Lane are not Shakespearean star-crossed lovers, there is still a powerful connection between these two. It's a connection that is now heavily damaged, but not completely shattered. However, it's probably going to be a while before Superman trusts Lois with anything other than his shoe size.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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