Superman takes patriotic family vacation in Superman Vol. 5: Hopes and Fears
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Atomic Robo battles Dr. Dinosaur and then goes back to the Old West in two different Atomic Robo collections, and then we’ll take a look at Superman: Hopes and Fears, straight ahead.
Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast, where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.
I’d received the Atomic Robo Omnibus Collections, the Hell and Lightning Collection, which contained three different Atomic Robo stories; and so we did the first one in the last podcast and we’ll do the last two in this one. So, we’ll be discussing Volume Eight and Volume Nine of Atomic Robo. Volume Eight is The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, and the plot is that Robo and a team of scientists from Tesladyne are heading out to investigate a series of sightings of a mysterious cryptid in Venezuela as Robo has been dealing with some negative publicity, as well as just attacks from the military and the press as a result of an in-universe event known as Eight-Eleven – not really explained but clearly it is a bother. They end up stumbling into an underground city full of stone men under the command of Dr. Dinosaur, who is this insane, mad scientist dinosaur – and he has concocted a plot to fire a time bomb which includes several atom bombs that will wipe out history and return the earth to being ruled by dinosaurs.
At the same time there is an invasion of Tesladyne which is Atomic Robo’s company, top secret Government organization. Dr. Dinosaur is a great character – he’s over the top, he is insane and really entertaining in comic book form. One big challenge with the character that I think is a concern when I read about it, is giving him a five-Issue arc all to himself could be too much of a good thing. But here the invasion of Tesladyne plot really does balance out what’s going on with Dr. Dinosaur so he doesn’t get too much time, but just enough to really make this book work. He’s great; the interplay with Robo is fantastic. There’s some fantastic humour as well as just a lot of great action and adventure as Robo tries to stop him from destroying the earth, though Robo’s less sure that Dr. Dinosaur can do that. More like Dr. Dinosaur could cause just a major catastrophe.
And the story we get just has a lot of great action, some good humor, some really genuinely funny lines. Dr. Dinosaur has the most obviously funny lines. A lot of the people with Robo are also really funny as well; and so it’s just this great, over the top adventure, and I’ll give Sword of Dr. Dinosaur a rating of Classy.
Next up we have The Knights of the Golden Circle, and this one actually does follow right after the plot of the previous book which…and I’ll give a little spoiler for the end of The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, is that after fighting him over this time travel device, Robo finds himself in a desert where there are historic Native Americans on horses. And we learn in Volume Nine, The Knights of the Golden Circle, that Robo has actually been sent back in time, and he finds himself in the Old West and he’s just trying to stay out of the way and avoid interfering with history and messing up the timeline. However, Robo rescues a wounded man from the gang of Butcher Caldwell, and he goes to a saloon in order to get treatment, and in that saloon you have Doc Holliday who is in the process of being captured and arrested by Marshal Bass Reeves, Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves. And they end up teaming up against Butcher Caldwell who is there to get the injured man and to get Atomic Robo, and really ends up kidnapping the entire town that they’re in.
However, Caldwell is actually only the henchman or contractor of sorts working for Baron von Helsingard who plans to take over America and eventually the world through his zeppelins and automatic soldiers. This story has some great steampunk elements in it because you not only have von Helsingard’s stuff, but you also have Atomic Robo in the Old West having made like a steam powered motorcycle. It’s really cool.
In addition to that the story really captures kind of the Western pathos because due to a malfunction which can’t be fixed, Robo is dying and he wants to complete this last mission, and to get to the bottom of what’s going on and to make sure that Reeves and Holliday follow his last wishes. And he shows a lot of grit, determination and heroism; and of course you have just two great characters added in there. Doc Holliday is a very common character to appear in this sort of fiction but Bass Reeves not so much and he is such an amazing figure. He arrested 3,000 felons in his thirty-two years as a peace officer. He had been born a slave and then escaped to the Indian territory now known as Oklahoma, where he hid until the Thirteenth Amendment freed him. So, just a fascinating figure and so nice to see him featured in this comic.
Overall, a lot of fun and this is a surprisingly good Western from a writer who’s really not used to that genre. I think he captures the spirit and feel of that pretty well. If I had a criticism it would be that he did have a couple phrases mainly spoken by Robo that were more modern phrases than things that they would use back in the time, such as Robo refers to some folks as ‘human traffickers’. In addition, in the Hell and Lightning collection we have three Free Comic Book Day stories.
The first is the 2013 Free Comic Book Day story which has Robo fighting a giant robot that has apparently gone out of control, and it’s just pretty much for most of it, it’s just a standard ‘fight the giant robot, wisecrack action’. Pretty fun but nothing special but then there’s a twist at the end which also sets some of what we read later with the Government becoming hostile to Robo – it kind of works. Then the next one, they go to a small town and we learn the course of there that Robo has been there before and he shut down some experiments, though perhaps a bit hastily, and there’s a giant tree monster about. This one is fun, not really anything special but not a bad read. And then our final one is The Trial of Atomic Robo, and this is a story where Dr. Dinosaur is suing Atomic Robo and representing himself. And this is hilarious and goes off the rails and is pretty fun mostly. And so, yeah, I enjoyed all of those comics. I think that the first two were somewhat classy; I think the last one was classy though really a bit silly. And overall I’ll give the entire Atomic Robo: Hell and Lightning Collection a rating of Classy.
Next up we have Superman: Hopes and Fears. This is Volume Five of the Peter J. Tomasi run on Superman, and we have three stories in here that really examines Superman’s character. The first is Declaration/Independence Day. It’s a two-parter and the plot is Lois, Clark and John take a family vacation in an RV to see America and its history. And along the way they visit monuments and small towns, and they meet people who are in need. In the first Issue they meet a disabled Veteran down on his luck and invite him to a meal and help him out. Along the way, Lois and Clark they teach young Jonathan Kent some lessons about patriotism and freedom and free speech, what Veterans sacrificed, and Lois even explains what the Co-Exist bumper sticker means.
This is a much-debated comic book story arc among fans when you look at Superman Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight, these first two Issues. And I think that there can be some arguments on both sides – I guess if you don’t want to be negative about it, and my wife said this is really a very long lecture. And it’s really not the type of thing that we get in modern comic books at all. I have a softer spot in my heart for that because while I can see that’s true, I also think that what we’re seeing in this book is how Lois and Clark really raise their son and what they would tell him about America and… It’s also just really nice to see some really patriotic material in comics. I mean, you just don’t see that anymore, and it’s particularly…I think a pretty bold move at a time when it’s often just so counterintuitive to go that way, but I think it’s very true to who Superman is and I liked it some. That is actually the only two Issues that were written by Peter Tomasi.
The next two Issue story arc, Issues Twenty-Nine and Thirty, and this one the title is slightly confusing because in Issue Twenty-Nine it’s called a minute longer. In Issue Thirty it’s given another title for that one and it’s stated that it’s Part II of A Moment Longer. So, good job keeping track of what the title of the story arc is guys. And it’s written by Keith Champagne and the plot is that kids are being kidnapped from their homes under mysterious circumstances, and the kids are being turned into really creepy looking things and been possessed by an alien entity which is Parallax, a longtime DC Universe embodiment of fear that in the post-crisis world actually bonded with Hal Jordan after he left the Green Lanterns. And this also leads into a fight with Sinestro who wants to capture the Parallax entity.
This story’s OK. I think that there is some really creepy art but I don’t think creepy like a disgusting way, but in a kind of cool and slightly scary way. Doug Mahnke does the art and he’s pretty good at that sort of style. You also get to see what some of Superman’s fears are, and though it’s a good insight – even though I don’t think many of the fears were particularly surprising – I do think that the Sinestro stuff was not as exciting as really it could be. Partially, I guess, it may be because there’s just not that history between the two, but it was just a bit lackluster overall. But it does point out that Sinestro may be returning, I guess in the Green Lantern book, so that’s kind of interesting.
Then we have Breaking Point and it’s written by James Bonny, and essentially Lois Lane goes out to interview an international bad man, and in order to protect her Clark gives her a stun device. And she gets into a situation where she gets attacked by like six guys and so she uses it, but it has a signal in it that actually summons Superman, and he flies in and takes care of it and then Lois gets annoyed that he’s interfering in her job, and that he didn’t tell her about the homing signal – which to me was just kind of a silly reaction because she definitely did need his help. And as he explained he wasn’t hovering overhead – he just made the assumption that if you use the stun device you’re probably in trouble, and there was no way she was going to take care of all six of these attackers.
However, the international badman she’d intended to kill is himself killed by Deathstroke so she has the idea about tracking down Deathstroke and interviewing him. And she does that and gets a good story out of it. Unfortunately, then Deathstroke comes to Metropolis with orders to kill her, and essentially the way Death Stroke acts is to push Superman to kill for reasons that aren’t revealed till the end of the comic – which I probably not really the best explanation I could think of. Again, you have an interesting exploration of Superman’s character, as well as Lois’ getting to show her strength, although I thought the part where she got annoyed at Superman for showing up was, like I said, a little bit silly but perhaps not unrealistic to a degree. I like the part that as we get to the end it does become clear that Slade really does hope that Superman is right that he doesn’t change, and that he continues to choose that path. And it does show that even the people who are less than moral, less than savory, there’s a part of them that wants Superman to be that thing that they can’t be.
Overall, this is a tough book to evaluate. I don’t think any of the stories were great – I think the first one was actually probably the best. There are problems I think you can argue with each and every one of these stories, but if you take the book as a whole, as an explanation and examination of Superman, it does work. It does look at him as a character, and I think all three writers really do get Superman and I think that’s been a challenge at DC with so many writers who just want to do Batman and don’t think all that much of Superman, somehow ending up writing the title. So, I really did like that part.
So, despite some problems in the plot – like I said, none of them were great but I don’t think any of them were bad despite whatever flaws there were – I’m going to give this one a rating of Somewhat Classy. It definitely works as a character examination. And so, to go ahead and summarize, Atomic Robo – we gave The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur, a really fun and energetic story a rating of Classy; and we also gave The Knights of the Golden Circle with all of its steam punk[?] elements, as well as a good bit of Western pathos in it a rating of Classy, and we give Superman: Hopes and Fears a rating of Somewhat Classy. Despite a few flaws in the plots, you really do get a nice exploration of who Superman is and what he represents.
Alright, well that’s all for now. If you do have a comment email it to me firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @classycomicsguy and rate and review the show on iTunes. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.