Review: Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 4: Dark Truth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I wrote the other day that I like my comics political, and I was much happier at the beginning of Greg Pak's Superman: Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth when Superman took part in a sit-in than I was at the end when he was fighting formless shadow monsters. Pak's Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts -- part of the same storyline -- failed to thrill because its fixation with subterranean monsters, a hard sell for a Batman story anyway, lacked at least the partial real-world grounding that Truth contained.

Of this mega-event, then, Peter Tomasi's Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 4: Dark Truth emerges as the best of the bunch so far. It doesn't get more political than an entire issue spent on Clark Kent explaining his newly-revealed secret identity at the White House. Things get even "darker" from there as Superman and Wonder Woman engage in some particularly rough and nefarious dealings to reach the villain of the piece. Tomasi's ability to mix action and emotion is long-since proven, and he shines of course paired with frequent collaborator Doug Mahnke; there are scenes in this volume that I think rank amongst Tomasi's best work.

[Review contains spoilers]

I thought Greg Pak did well thinking through the implications of Superman's identity revealed to the world, but Tomasi has some dialogue for the ages here. Standing in the Oval Office, ARGUS's Steve Trevor opines that heroes with masks have suddenly become more trustworthy because Superman, inadvertently or not, lead the world to believe he had no identity to hide when he actually did. That's a brilliant flipping of arguably one of Superman's most recognizable aspects, his openness, and Tomasi also does well with Superman's frustrated response, that his growing up, becoming a journalist, and serving as Superman hardly makes for a conspiracy. At that conversation's most fraught, Tomasi layers on it a walk in the Rose Garden with President Obama, and then on top of that an attack by the Parasite and two pages-worth of double-page spreads by Mahnke. This chapter alone is not to be missed.

But then over almost eleven fraught pages spanning two issues, Tomasi has Superman and Wonder Woman kidnap and essentially brutalize the Parasite in order for help to find the book's power-siphoning villain. It's rowdier material than one might expect from Superman if not Wonder Woman (especially as compared to the personas Tomasi set up in Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Casualties of War) and reflects I think the negative influence the New 52 iterations of these characters can have on one another. Here shortly before a story called the "Final Days of Superman," we get a clear indication of how this New 52 Superman differs from the previous one, with "Truth" codifying many of the rougher and darker elements of this Superman that we've seen sprinkled throughout. Stories like Superman: Grounded have tried to show a more down-to-Earth Superman, but I don't think we've seen anything like the pugilistic Superman of Pak, Tomasi, and Gene Luen Yang's "Truth" stories before.

If an entire issue at the White House and extended negotiations with the Parasite at the end of a fist weren't enough, in only his second Superman/Wonder Woman volume, Tomasi has the couple break-up. Being serial soap operatic comics, this was inevitable, and inevitable too that it would be rushed and imperfect, which it is. Ostensibly the issue is that Wonder Woman does a couple end-runs around Superman either simply because she thinks she knows better or out of concern for his fading powers; Diana's right because Clark's acting recklessly but Clark's right because Diana's not respecting his wishes.

Parceled out over a longer period, this might have worked, but Diana only cuts Clark out twice in the span of a couple issues, and his declaration -- "I don't know if I love you anymore" -- is overwrought; there's considerable span between "I wished we'd discussed it before you rescued my friends" and "I don't know if I love you." Tomasi gets it better right after that scene, where Clark explains that he has to focus on the issue with his powers and not their relationship. DC collects this book's DC You "Divergence" teaser at the end of this volume because it's an early draft of the breakup scene that doesn't quite match what ended up on the page later, and I wonder if some of the final breakup scene's original unreasonableness and then mitigation comes from Tomasi working his way in and out of what was established earlier.

Dark Truth rests well on some of the Smallville work from Greg Pak's Superman: Action Comics Vol. 7: Under the Skin; it's Tomasi's book but in large part Pak's crossover, and it's a nice touch that this feels legitimately part of Pak's universe, including putting in the background some of the villains from Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth. The loose crossover elements between the books function well here -- with Superman and Wonder Woman facing another "head" of the multi-pronged villain attack shared with Action, Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth, and Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts -- though Tomasi might have introduced White House chief of staff-turned-villain Angelo Bend earlier; it pushes even comic book believability that the political figure we meet in one issue is a bad guy in the next. The only place Dark Truth really loses a step is right in the end when the story becomes over-concerned with Bend and others' robot suits, and perhaps not coincidentally where Mahnke steps aside for guest-artists Ardian Syaf and Tom Derenick.

I thought Peter Tomasi's first volume of Superman/Wonder Woman hewed a little too close to stereotypical portrayals of the characters (though the New 52 appearance of a specific pre-Flashpoint anti-hero made up for it well!). Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 4: Dark Truth offers much more nuance, as well as some genuinely surprising, gripping work. Still none of this indicates how Tomasi might write the pre-Flashpoint Superman in Rebirth, but I'd count this volume as one of the definitive portrayals of the New 52 Superman as he approaches his final days.

[Includes original and variant covers, "Divergence" preview, penciled pages]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 4: Dark Truth
Author Rating
4.5 (out of 5)
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

4 comments:

  1. "a hard sell for a Batman story anyway"

    I'm confused.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts ... failed to thrill because its fixation with subterranean monsters, a hard sell for a Batman story anyway ..."

      I wasn't thrilled with Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts because it involved subterranean monsters (of a fanciful rather than urban horror variety), which I thought didn't quite work with use of the Batman (Jim Gordon) character. I'm sure there are exceptions, etc., but for me it didn't feel like a story where Batman fit well.

      Delete
    2. Ah, I missed the "Batman/Superman" part of the title.

      Delete
  2. That's the cheat that bothered me: Tomasi wrote that "I don't love you anymore" scene at the end of the sneak peek, which made me wonder what was going to happen for their relationship to get to that point, but he apparently didn't know how to set it up, so he rewrote that dialogue exchange for issue #22, and it still didn't make sense in the context of the storyline.

    ReplyDelete