“King has already established that he can set up really great stories, only to sometimes flub them later. While that’s a very high possibility, let’s enjoy this first issue regardless, which dishes out introspective intrigue and gravitas.” That’s what I said in my review of the first issue. Of course I didn’t worry too much about #2. But maybe I should have.
OK, I admit I’m being a little hyperbolic. But this issue is a lot tougher to digest than the previous one, which was itself a hard pill to swallow on par with some of King’s other pretentious work. In this issue, we spend time on two vignettes. One of them involves Superman having to box a powerful alien in exchange for information if he wins. The other finds Superman being rescued by aliens who must decide if they want to heal him.
First of all, #1 didn’t outright set up that this would be an episodic adventure, so #2 is a bit jarring. Everything in the previous issue just felt like the lead-up to Superman entering “the new world” as he enters the second act (in traditional plotting terminology). However, here we’re given two stories that are too tangential to tie together in a satisfying way. It’s not cohesive enough to serve the wonderfully direct plot of “save the girl.”
As for the boxing segment…it’s decent enough. But we’ve seen all this before with King’s Batman. Superman agrees to not use superpowers, so he’s actually getting beaten by this other alien hunk. Surprise, surprise—Superman won’t give up. King has been hammering the same thematic idea with Batman ad nauseum. Isn’t it amazing? They’ll never stop! They’re machines, man! But with pure, edgy souls! Yet, I can’t complain too much, since this is in Superman’s character.
In terms of plot, it’s underwhelming. Superman fights this guy for information…but we never see or hear what that info on the missing girl is. It just ends on Superman winning. Oh, is that a spoiler? But did you actually think he’d lose? Perhaps King will reveal what Superman was told later for some reason, but that’s bad pacing and squanders any possibility of this being a mystery that will engage us.
Thankfully Andy Kubert is on pencils (Sandra Hope on inks), so King isn’t allowed to suffocate the artist in 9-panel-grids. Kubert’s characters are angular hunks of meat that snarl and grimace, which works just fine for this segment.
The more problematic story is the second, which does more pacing damage. Superman is now in his costume, not ridiculous boxing shorts with his symbol on it, floating through space. A group of generic looking aliens finds him and it turns out they have healers whose life-force goes down when they work their magic. Since Superman is so jacked, the healer in question can’t go on without dying. I won’t spoil the story from here, but you have to know how this ends up.
What I’m getting at is, this healer can now see Superman’s memories, so he sees one where Superman confronts the being that kidnapped the girl. We don’t see the kidnapper, but we hear his voice and then see Superman get zapped into unconsciousness. This left him floating in space. This…irritates me. King playing with the timeline and skipping huge revelations baffles me. Why do it? So there’s a tiny, unimpressive twist? It boggles my mind and really sinks this issue.
One more note: the aliens, apart from being visually generic, speak in a ridiculous cadence that’s supposed to signify how “weird” they talk. The only difference in their dialect is saying “foather” and “mather.” That’s it? What a contrast to the truly bizarre, creative means Grant Morrison goes to in order to convey alien speak.