In the wake of Darkseid’s death, several members of the Justice League have gained the power of Gods — but at what price to their humanity?
If you’ve been following Geoff Johns’ fantastically and appropriately epic “The Darkseid War” saga in Justice League, you’ll know that Darkseid died a few issues ago. It was a shocking moment and, for the time being, it appears as if the Lord, Master, Dictator, Tyrant, Ruler, and New God of Apokolips is really dead in the DC Comics universe. For the past month, DC Comics have released six one-shots spinning out of Justice League’s “The Darkseid War.” Exploring how the energies of Apokolips have empowered and corrupted each member of the Justice League, Francis Manapul’s story for Superman and Lex Luthor are two of the stand outs of this current mini-series bridging the gap between Justice League issues 45 and the upcoming 46.
The characters of DC Comics have always felt more mythological than the heroes and villains of Marvel. It’s just the nature of how they’ve been written, drawn, and depicted over the years. Interestingly, while the heroes and villains of the DC Universe have become more grounded on screen, the Marvel Cinematic Universe have built up their Avengers as more mythological gods of sorts. The end credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron depicts them as Greek Gods cast in marble! Despite the changes on screen, the comic writers have still held onto much of what have made the comic books so successful over the years and Francis Manapul’s Superman one-shot, “God of Steel”, and Lex Luthor one-shot, “The Omega Judgment”, explore both the humanity and mythology of two of DC’s most widely known of 75+ year old characters.
“God of Steel” reads like a cross between a classic issue of Superman pre-New 52 and a bit like the better parts of Superman III. Superman, presented as the God of Strength, after the solar energies of Apokolips corrupted him, is the embodiment of Lex Luthor’s fears. More so, Superman is the reflection of the world’s fears of power that corrupts. Manapul is a gifted writer and artist and it’s him and Brian Buccellato’s run of The Flash and Detective Comics that I feel are some of the strongest examples of art transcending the comic book medium. Manapul perfectly taps into the classic heart of each character, especially Superman’s supporting players – Perry White and Jimmy Olsen.
After Superman returns to Earth, he does battle with an alien who unleashes an all-consuming “mysterious black substance” on Metropolis. Jimmy rides his bike to a diner that finds Superman in his new black suit enjoying some pie. With a sense of clarity given to him by the energies of Apokolips, we learn that Superman feels that he’s finally broken an endless cycle of having to continually help others. “Help! Help! That’s all I hear. It drives me insane! Why can’t you help yourselves?” he asks Jimmy. The intrepid photographer, after attempting to reason with the Superman he knows is still deep down inside of the God of Strength, responds with “You hear more than our cries for help. You also hear our joyous laughter. You hear our adoration for you. In our beating hearts you hear our love…” It never felt more clear that Superman is a god to Metropolis. An alien, but a god nonetheless. Francis Manapul writes Jimmy’s dialogue so on the nose that it’s perfect for Superman. I’ve missed this quality from Superman, especially during the New 52 and post-Convergence era, so it’s nice to have an issue which taps back into the classic themes of the Superman mythos.
“The Omega Judgement”, Lex Luthor’s “The Darkseid War” one-shot, also taps into the classic Luthor of Superman mythology. Reading a bit more like Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex than Gene Hackman, writer Francis Manapul gives readers a story that reflects Lex’s earlier days (with hair), an encounter with Superman, and how he’s been personally affected by Darkseid’s death. One of the most fun aspects of Geoff Johns’ Justice League series has been following Superman and Lex as they explore Apokolips together. With both men changed by the energies unleashed after Darkseid’s death, we’ve seen Lex grow more into an arrogant, xenophobic, and insecure man both an active part of the Justice League, yet more so an alien outsider than Superman himself. Manapul explores Lex’s relationship with his father in a way that we saw play out over several seasons of Smallville, and something alluded to in Superman, Superman Returns, and the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Lex, now the God of Apokolips, is heralded as the prophecized “hero from Earth that will lead [the people]to freedom.” The character of Lex greatly represents man oppressed and man’s fear of power as a result of seeing power corrupt. His story works well being read back-to-back with Manapul’s Superman one-shot and having artist Bong Dazo and colorist Hi-Fi on both issues provide a more cohesive tale to be enjoyed by comic readers of the casual or enthusiastic like.
My one complaint against Lex Luthor is that in as many ways as it explores an aspect of Lex that we rarely get to see, it doesn’t necessarily feel as if it’s building to a far greater story arc; it reads more like a well plotted and drawn means to an end. Superman, on the other hand, feels like the perfect set-up for a really interesting story arc that could be told in greater detail.
While there are six one-shots that DC Comics have published in support of “The Darkseid War”, Francis Manapul’s work on Superman and Lex Luthor stand out as the two most classical in storytelling themes and nature as opposed to The Flash and Batman. For a fan of The Man of Steel such as myself, Manapul created the exact kind of tale that I’d want to read featuring Superman and his perpetual nemesis, Lex Luthor. My only hope for the new year is that DC Comics feature Francis Manapul on a run of Superman and/or Action Comics. Now that would be fantastically and appropriately epic.
Superman gets five stars. Lex Luthor gets four stars. Both issues are available now. To find a comic store closest to you, check out comicshoplocator.com