Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Superman: The Coming of Atlas (comics)

Writers: James Robinson, Jack Kirby
Artists: Renato Guedes, Jack Kirby
Collects: Superman #677-680, First Issue Special #1

I didn't really expect a lot from this story. James Robinson seems to be one of those polarizing names these days and you don't really hear anyone excited about his work anymore, at least you didn't prior to the announcement of the Shade miniseries. This story had some mixed reactions, probably with more negative than positive. I managed to get some enjoyment out of it, so in my personal opinion I'd say it's not terrible.

Make no mistake, this story has problems. Robinsons purple prose is in full effect here, completely outclassing Face the Face in that regard. I'm not exactly sure Robinson has a handle on Superman either. At times, he just doesn't sound like big blue; more than a few lines sound unnatural coming from him. The opening sequence in space with Hal - and the remarks about former Green Lantern Jade - make me wonder if Robinson forgot he was supposed to be writing Superman here. Actually, if we're being honest, almost everyones dialogue is clunky.

Then there are moments in the book where plot elements are brought in, amount to little and then peter out. The shadowy general? No clue who he is, who he's working for and how he really pertains to the plot. Supergirl shows up, is dropped in two pages, is asked to find the truth, then leaves? We don't see her again, so what does she do and what was the purpose of using her? Robinson was around on the Superman books for a while, so I assume some of it's set-up for the future - at the least, I know for a fact that the General will show up later - but the manner in which these seeds are sown is clunky at best.

One other thing worth noting, for good and ill, is that this ends up being a fight comic. It's four issues of action with Atlas portrayed as a real threat to the Man of Steel on a level he hasn't seen since Doomsday. Conceptually, that's pretty okay; it seems like we never really see Superman have a knock-down drag-out with someone, since few are on his power level. Still, it's four issues of action when it could have been less; hell, over a dozen pages are spent on the Metropolis Science Team fighting Atlas who, once they're dispatched, don't show up again or factor in to the plot*.

Now, looking at what I've said thus far, you may be thinking, "then how is it that the bad rap isn't entirely deserved?" To tell the truth... I kind of liked reading this. I cannot explain with a hundred percent certainty why - again, this book reads awkwardly and some choices are questionable - but I actually had a smile on my face a couple of times.

Could this be, in some respect, because of Krypto the Superdog? I cop to being a total Krypto mark**, in part because I've always been a big animal lover in reality. Robinson writes Kryptos thoughts in a way I can sort of see a dog thinking, if he thought in english. It doesn't bother me much, but when you think on it, it's almost amazing how often animals are written with thoughts in the fluent English you might expect from a human. It's nice to see the occasions a writer doesn't go that route.

On top of which, it's always awesome to see Krypto defend his master; anybody will tell you that screwing with the owner of any given dog is a terrible plan, so you can imagine what happens when the Man of Steels kryptonian dog decides he's going to tear out your neck muscle because you just knocked his owner through a building.

Hell, maybe it's the fact that Robinson decided he was going to use an old Jack Kirby concept. Why the hell not, right? Not sure kinda-sorta villain was what Kirby was going for back then, but it's a character that seems to suit Robinsons writing tendencies better.

So, in all, it's kind of a conflict. There are several problems - though admittedly, a few may just be plot threads being dropped for the future, time will tell on that - but I still enjoyed it. How the hell do you grade something like that? Does it mean Robinson's just rusty? I don't know.

Included as back matter if the First Issue Special where Jack Kirby created Atlas. It's... well, it's certainly a Jack Kirby comic. Can you really go wrong with that? Still, it's there for no other reason than to pad this volume out, since this was the only story Robinson got to do with Superman before New Krypton dropped.

There's another problem. The suggested price is twenty dollars for the hardcover. For four issues and a reprint. This is a THIN ASS VOLUME. The covers are thicker than the contents. Obviously, this isn't DC's fault; Marvel does crap like this on purpose, but DC didn't have a choice here, since Robinson barely got four issues out before New Krypton took over. Still, it must be noted.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

In good conscience, I can't give this a good grade. It's not, however, trash. I'm having a hard time figuring out the circumstances that would determine whether a given person would find some enjoyment here. It's pretty much a crapshoot. May be worth a read, though I'd say you should see if your local library has it if you're interested. Hopefully Robinsons work gets better***.

* On the other hand, I'm grateful Robinson went this route rather than jobbing a couple other superheroes to make Atlas look like a threat. It still went on a bit too long - and we spent an odd amount of time in the heads of characters that don't amount to much - but credit where it's due.

** Shut up! Don't you judge me! Krypto's the best Superman support character no one uses.

*** Yeah, yeah. I know he wrote Cry for Justice. But he's got several things he did in the past that are regarded as classics. His track record evens out enough for me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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