[Comic Review] What the H’El — Superman #14

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Clark and Lois’ friendship is tested when Clark confronts her about her plans to move in with her boyfriend, but that conversation takes a backseat when Kara, aka Supergirl, barges in on the conversation unexpectedly. While Lois misses the connection between Supergirl and Clark, Kent whisks Kara to a construction site for a private conversation.

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Last issue, readers got their first glimpse of H’El, a mysterious figure dressed in a color schematic similar to the Super-relatives.  In Superman #14, he makes a full appearance and introduces himself as a fellow Kryptonian who had been sent to Earth in an experimental ship. H’El claims to be a student of Jor-El, and the test ship he arrived in was the precursor for the unmanned vehicle that brought Kal-El to Kansas.

Skeptical and clearly jaded, Superman refuses to believe H’El’s story forcing the visitor to prove himself by threatening Superboy. That prompts an immediate response from Superman that escalates into violence, forcing him into conflict with Kara who wants to believe H’El. Action pours into the city where H’El makes quick work of the Super family and leaves the scene but not before he spills his plan to use Kara to save Krypton.

Things move quickly in this issue from one scenario to the next with characters jumping from one location to the next. Superman’s attitude and personality also go through some unexpected changes/growth — the person inhabiting the Superman suit in this issue feels less like the Superman readers know and love. His speech and behavior toward Kara and H’El  is brusque, and with last issue’s text incident where Kent uses his superpowers to read Lois’ phone, Superman is coming across more as Superjerk. It’s reasonable to expect Clark to feel less in control with the way his relationship with Lois is unfolding, and believable to accept the fact it’s influencing his relationships with others. But the lack of real gravity and the quick pacing makes the story feel like it’s on rails. Rather than feeling natural and emotional, the plot and sequencing feels forced and narrated.

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H’El seems like a compelling foe — he’s like an older and stronger brother to Kal-El, which makes him a threat if he’s going to fill the villain role. His physical and mental maturity — even if he may be insane — could combine to make him a worthy character in Superman lore. For the immediate future, H-El’s affiliation with Krypton and his desire to save it at any cost may drive the members of the Super family apart, making this a larger and more epic story with possible repercussions that will change relationships and define characters.

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The art at first glance is pleasing to the eye. With its saturated and vibrant colors over muted and minimalist backgrounds, there’s a sort of watercolor aesthetic about this issue thanks to Sunny Gho’s colors. Kenneth Rocafort’s characters, with the exception of H’El who looks like a savage Superman with his long hair and shredded clothing, look youthful and attractive. Creatively shaped and placed panels do much for the presentation and add another dimension to the art which collectively shows how much effort the creative team is putting into these issues. Still, there are flaws below the surface that need addressing. Character posing seems a little iffy with stiff character models that don’t sell the drama. And because the artwork has a cel-shaded vibe to it, the story crosses into cartoon territory when characters begin to throw each other around, like when Superman launches H’El into a used car lot for reasonable reason. If Superman cares enough about his identity to bring Kara to a quiet place, it doesn’t quite make sense for him to launch people near civilians and gasoline-filled automobiles. Even though Supergirl addresses the same issue, Superman’s answer and logic don’t make it more palpable, and there’s a worry that the people behind the scenes are trying to ingrain the notion that Superman is a testosterone driven creature who thinks with his fists.

The fight between Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and H’El spills into the city, which is conveniently void of any civilians. It’s a scene that sums up the entire issues — There’s enough here to make things interesting, but the creative team needs to do more than fill the coming issues with good art. Superman lives in a sort of void and he lacks an identity — he feels like a husk clothed in lore. People know his origin, his powers, and his motives. He gets into fights, throws down against powerful villains, and saves the day.

What’s missing is why anyone should care.


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Superman #14 (2012)
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Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Kenneth Rocafort
Inks: Kenneth Rocafort
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: Rob Leigh

Previous Issue: Superman #13 Review

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