Thursday, May 05, 2005

LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #3

There's a problem when you read the best book of the week first. There's no place to go but downhill.

Now, I haven't actually read anything else from this week's pile yet. So it's technically premature to award a title, but... I really, really liked this. And not just because it contains the best cameo of a comic book creator in a story that I've seen in a long time. (Missed it? Read the rest of the review.)

I was no great fan of Brian Azzarello's Batman. As with his John Constantine, the foundation was solid but something just wasn't quite right and the result was a little off. His Superman was better, at least until the pocket universe plot kicked in. This... this is Azzarello getting it all right the second time around.

I've waxed happily about Azzarello's Lex Luthor -- the brilliant man whose vision is so very much greater than everyone else's, but who still can't see what's right in front of him. Luthor is a dreamer in the most pragmatic ways, a believer instead of a fantasist, a strategist whose building materials are ambition and intellect. He is fearless when it comes to following his ideas to their completion, suffering neither fools nor obstacles and unafraid of the consequences not because he's Lex Luthor and rich men get away with anything, but because he simply doesn't think he will fail. Last issue, we saw him at work at both the Science Spire and his mysterious mermaid. This issue, the project is still protecting the world against Superman -- both intellectually and literally -- and the site of the project's next step is Gotham City.

During his guest stint on Batman, Azzarello thrilled a little too much to the ugliness -- Batman isn't a Vertigo title and it felt like he was writing it as one. This Batman is a far better version, one less inclined to derive joy out of criminals pissing themselves. Lex speaks of the fire in Bruce and you can see it yourself, both in the furious wordless fight between Batman and Superman as well as in the way Bruce handles Lex over lunch. This is no giggly Brucie playing impossibly dumb, this is a Bruce so carefully constructed by Batman that he can pull one over on a man as intelligent as Lex. He is charismatic and ferociously intelligent and yet it doesn't cross Lex's mind that this tangible, overwhelming intensity is focused on something so selfless and selfish all at once. Lex is fascinated by and attracted to Bruce's flame, but he doesn't see where the fire really is. Lex knows he's seeing a mask, but completely misjudges where the pretense ends and the substance begins. And it's almost funny because Lex really does understand Bruce -- he's just hearing the song in the wrong key.

Lex is just as tone-deaf with Superman, too. And this issue just reinforces that. He doesn't quite understand what the lumpen proletariat sees in the Man of Steel and doesn't appreciate that while myths themselves are beyond humanity's grasp, we are usually happy to try asymptotically approaching it just the same. As with Bruce, he sees what he wants to see -- not what everyone else sees. Everything he says to Bruce about Superman regarding how to control the powerful works for himself, too... something Bruce is more likely to recognize than Lex is. Which is why I'm not going to be surprised if what we've got here is an homage to the Jeph Loeb/Greg Rucka (who appears as Chef Gregory on page five) Superman #168/Detective Comics #756 story that had Batman, Superman, and Lois Lane combining to hoodwink President Luthor out of his kryptonite ring.

I've gone the entire review without commenting on Lee Bermejo's stunning artwork. All of you who are going to trample to the store on Saturday for free funnybooks should take a moment to flip through this book to see just how gorgeous it is. (And then buy it, along with its two predecessors.) To revert from all-powerful Shrew to human female for a moment: Bermejo's Bruce Wayne, with his floppy hair and trendy shades and just-too-big nose? Guh! The fight scene radiates strain and effort and those final two pages, with the ravaged face of the unmasked Batman and then Lex's reaction shot, pack a wallop.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. As usual I agree with your comments and observations.

I was surprised that you didn't mention the new twist in Lex's character.....his homosexual attraction to Bruce Wayne. Wierd twist.

Fri May 06, 01:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

I was surprised that you didn't mention the new twist in Lex's character.....his homosexual attraction to Bruce Wayne.

... I didn't take it as such. You can be fascinated by someone without being sexually attracted to them. Bruce Wayne is a charismatic, powerful (in many senses) man and Lex, a connoisseur of strength, is responding to that. You can put your slash goggles on and see all sorts of things with this issue, but as for my 'official' reading, I got no homoeroticism out of this whatsoever.

Fri May 06, 01:31:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I didn't understand about the issue - why in the world have Batman and Superman all of a sudden decided to fight it out? Bats has always (as we've seen so much lately) had a bit of K tucked away, why is it such an issue now?

Sat May 07, 04:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

...The reason I cited the Superman/'Tec crossover is because it features Supes and Batman having a very legitimate-looking fight over a piece of Kryptonite... that is completely staged. Batman sets up some very elaborate traps for Superman and they go at it hammer and tongs, but it's all fake. In this case, I think we're not getting any dialogue in that fight scene for a reason -- it could be a ruse or it could be a training session. It would completely follow for Batman to demand one of such ferocity.

Sat May 07, 05:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Well said. I'm loving this mini - and I don't love Azzarello - but I've been unable to put "why" into the right words. Now I can just quote you and point people over here! Kudos.

Mon May 09, 01:41:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Dan said...

For that matter, I suppose Wayne telling Luthor "you can have what you want" only serves to distance himself more and more from a secret identity that is getting less secret every year.

Tue May 10, 11:05:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

If Lex IS attracted to Bruce in this book, can you really blame him? I thought the only good thing about the book was how damn gorgeous Bruce was. This straight boy certainly developed an attraction on the spot. (It helped that his foodie details were spot on.)

Wed May 11, 06:58:00 AM EDT  

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