Saturday, April 30, 2005

LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #2

If this were Geoff Johns instead of Brian Azzarello, I'd have taken the choice of naming the union shop steward Tony Amonte as intentional and looked for a none-too-veiled comment on the NHL lockout. (Non-hockey fans: here). As I have no idea about Azzarello's puck proclivities, I'll just chalk it up as random funny.

This was a second marvelous issue in this series, rich enough both to stand on its own as a single story within a mini-series as well as overcome the asynchronicity of the aborted SuperStorm project. [An editorial crossover with Wildstorm writers handling Superman themes, this book along with Rick Veitch's The Question remain; fabulist Micah Wright was fired before his Vigilante series got anywhere.] We already know that the Science Spire is not a testament to human achievement and a whetting of human aspiration -- or, at least, it is not just that. It's also a giant weapon aimed directly at Superman and we know what Vic Sage does to it.

But that doesn't matter; Azzarello is so deep into Luthor's mind that we see only the genius and not the madman. Luthor plays dirty, but it's a rather pedestrian sort of dirty. He burns with resentment of Superman, but it doesn't boil over and he doesn't froth at the mouth or look like he'd even contemplate green battle armor or an association with Dr. Psycho and Deathstroke the Terminator.

This Luthor is a business shark and a brilliant one -- you can almost see the gears turning. But we also see him emotionally engaged in ways that have nothing to do with corporate machinations or superheroes -- the scene at the tank is amazing for its subleness in showing every layer of Lex's heart. He's pensive and witty and human and Azzarello has done such a good job of making us forget that this is a guy who has streamlined his entire life to a purpose (killing Superman) as well as Bruce Wayne has (for pursuing justice) that when Luthor and Wayne get together in the next issue, it will necessarily be electric because it won't just be Supervillain Pretending to be Businessman chatting up Superhero Pretending to be Businessman. (Perhaps a poor choice of words; go back and re-read the one-sided phone conversation and realize that it's Bruce he's talking to.)

I was cranky with the end of Azzarello's run on Superman because there were so many good ideas wasted. Here, perhaps, is where he will get it right -- it can be his Supreme Power to his Rising Stars, a second chance to work the same themes but with greater experience and control. Superman had the man-versus-superman dichotomy from Kal-El's perspective, so it's only fitting that Lex Luthor is the same question from Lex's.

If you haven't figured it out, I'm exhorting you all to go pick this up. Even if you're not a big Superman fan. Lee Bermejo's art is stunning and this is such a thoughtful look at Superman's world that I think it will have a broader appeal than just the fans of Big Blue.

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