At this year’s Free Comic Book Day, DC Comics dropped a big bombshell: Lois Lane knows Superman’s secret identity and has outed him to the world. The effects of Superman having a public identity have begun to be explored in the loosely connected “Truth” storyline as seen in Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. Finally, Superman #41 where writer Gene Luen Yang of American Born Chinese and Avatar: The Last Airbender fame and veteran penciler John Romita Jr. will show the “how” of the exposure of Superman’s identity by Lois Lane.
The plot of Superman #41 mostly deals with Clark Kent the journalist with Superman as a counter measure to get him and intrepid photographer Jimmy Olsen out of tough spots, like investigating the manufacture of a 3D printers that makes special weapons. Yang’s story for the first two-thirds of the issue reads as a rare opportunity for Clark Kent to fight for justice through his writing, but then he introduces some seemingly random characters, and it all goes down in flames with a clever nod to John Romita Jr’s Daredevil work. It seems like Yang intended for the big chase scene at the end to play off the whole idea of disguise mentioned by Jimmy and Lois Lane (about the weapons manufacturer and his fake mustache), but Romita’s art fails to sell the tension.
Early, in Superman #41, Romita does get to demonstrate that he can portray Superman at his prime and lowest point with him sitting on an airplane after losing his powers and being outed versus unleashing his new-ish solar flare powers. Even if Klaus Janson’s inks seem to meld the speed lines and the lines of Superman’s stubble, the first page of Superman #41 is a look at the paradox of freedom and constraint in the new status quo Superman. He is free from ducking into phone booths to change into his costume, but he also can’t live in his old neighborhood (as seen in Action Comics #41) or even fly. On the other hand, colorist Dean White’s pure yellow blast is a glimpse at his god-like abilities before he becomes the Kryptonian road warrior in Action Comics, and Romita uses a slow motion series of panels to let readers bask in it before he becomes Man without Fear Daredevil. (At least, Romita draws Lois Lane like a human being unlike Elektra in that comic.)
But these slow-building moments with symbolic or visible payoff turn choppy as Superman #41 turns into its not much of a cliffhanger ending. Romita cuts from guns to jumping to Jimmy Olsen smacking gum and more gunfire presumably for the reason to build a thrill in readers. However, instead of feeling suspense, I was laboring to follow the chase/fight scene. This is sad because Romita’s figure work and anatomy is solid even if his faces aren’t particularly expressive. (There is also the rough Klaus Janson inking which has become the trademark of his post-Kick-Ass work.) The panels in the Daily Planet have an easy back and forth with some shadows matching Yang’s natural dialogue. But when the story is supposed to get good, the momentum from sketchy government people and journalists in the shadows grinds to halt even if Romita’s cars have real volume to him. (Maybe he should draw a Batman book next.)
Writer Gene Luen Yang excels at writing Clark Kent go-getter reporter and Clark/Superman and Jimmy the best of pals. But he abandons the danger and mystery of Clark and Jimmy investigating a piece of futuristic weapons technology that will affect the welfare of Metropolis for a vague mystery story and a costume swap with Daredevil. It’s great that Yang is deciding not to use traditional Superman villains, like Lex Luthor, Zod, or even Parasite, to weaken him, but these baddies lack bite, style, and motivation. Artist John Romita Jr. also abandons his crisp (with some extra lines) compositions for a quick cutting car chase that needed some extra pages to breathe. Superman #41 starts strong, but ends up losing its solar energy just like its protagonist by the final page.