Imperius Lex, Part 1 (Superman #33 Review)


Lex Luthor is kidnapped and forced to return to the throne of Apokolips—and he demands that Superman join him!  Unfortunately, Lois Lane and Jonathan Kent get dragged along, too.  Will it be fun or fatality for the whole family?



Writers:  Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Artist:  Doug Mahnke
Inker:  Jaime Mendoza
Colorist:  Wil Quintana
Cover Artist:  Ryan Sook
Publisher:  DC Comics

What You Need to Know:

Lex Luthor began using a battle suit of armor to act as Superman and protect Metropolis after the New 52 Superman died.  Then Superman returned with his wife Lois Lane and son Jonathan.  When Darkseid died in the pages of Justice League, the citizens of Apokolips bought into a prophecy that Luthor would be their new ruler. But Luthor walked away from the throne and returned to Earth.  Luthor and Superman have since worked as partners defending Metropolis from common thugs and super-villains while Lois works at the Daily Planet and Jonathan alternates between going to school and learning to be a hero as Superboy.

What You’ll Find Out:

We open with a wizened, bald and bearded man named Prophet and a woman named Ardora standing at the gates of Darkseid’s Castle.  She mentions the blood stains on his face and he replies one day it will be his own, but not until the one who has forsaken them returns to rule Apokolips with an iron fist.

Next we cut to half-a-dozen pages of Superman and Luthor apprehending a gang of crooks wearing superhero masks who jokingly refer to themselves as “the Justice League of Armed Robbery.”  After they catch the crooks, the Dynamic Duo briefly poses for pics before Superman flies off home and Luthor heads to Lexcorp.  Luthor is reflecting on how all the people of Metropolis needed was the passage of time to accept him as their hero when a Boom Tube opens.  Ardora and Prophet subdue Luthor, telling him they’ve missed him. He has “a destiny to fulfill.”

Meanwhile, Superman is dressing up as Clark Kent when Jonathan walks into the room dressed as Superboy.  He asks him where he’s going and Jonathan says he’s going out to do “super-stuff” with Robin.  Clark insists he go out with Mom and Dad to dinner and a movie and Lois says she gets to pick the flick; they pick dinner.  Clark and Jon are debating that when a pre-recorded hypersonic message from Luthor calls Superman to come to Lexcorp.

This leads to a more-than-slightly-baffling moment where Clark remarks it’s family night so they’re going to be a family and Lois is the one who has to ask why he doesn’t go check on Luthor…

Superman 33_page thirteen

While there is more than one way this scene could’ve been written, it is disturbing to see Superman grinning as he blithely dismisses an urgent message from the newly-reformed Luthor (his partner in crime-fighting for the past year) so he can take his family out on the town.  I have a tough time buying that Superman couldn’t be bothered to use his telescopic vision or fly over Lexcorp to make sure everything’s okay with the second Superman of Metropolis.  Why? Because he’d rather watch movies with loved ones?  Not my idea of a hero known for humility and self-sacrifice.

This sour note is followed by the eye-rolling panel where we learn Lois’s movie selection is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  I’m sure that would be Tomasi and Gleason’s pick, but most moms would’ve picked a romantic comedy or a kid-safe pic.  This pop culture reference rang false because it sounded more like what Bruce Wayne and Damian would’ve picked instead of the Kents.

The odd and off-key vibe continues with the arrival of robots from Lexcorp with another message from Luthor appealing to Superman’s sense of “good will and fair play” where Lex asks for his aid with a volatile situation.  Superman refuses once more, though at least this time he gives a slightly less selfish reason that he “can’t leave Metropolis unprotected.”  Again, though, Superman not taking the safety of a reformed criminal and newfound ally more seriously makes him sound self-centered and petulant.

After the obligatory fight scene between the Lexbots and Superman and Superboy, a second device appears to box up Superman which, of course, swipes Superboy and Lois, too.  Another Boom Tube opens and whisks them away only to break up mid-transport separating each of them in 3 different locations on Apokolips.  The children of the Firepits got Jon!  The Female Furies got Lois!  Superman’s at Darkseid’s Castle! Oh noes!!!

What Just Happened?

A lot of set-up, that’s what. It was nice to finally see an issue following up on Luthor’s abandoning his ascension to Darkseid’s throne.  It is also (usually) always a good thing to see the writers exploring Lois and Clark and Jon’s time-off from superhero exploits where we get to know them as a loving family and learn bits and pieces about their private lives.  Also, the “Justice League of Armed Robbery” was a good gag (though Spider-Man: Homecoming did think of it first).

But what reared its ugly head in this issue were many of Tomasi’s weaker tropes.  It is obvious from his other books in years past that Tomasi loves tough guys like Guy Gardner or antisocial hard cases like Damian Wayne.  The problem is the Kents aren’t tough or antisocial.

Superman really is the Big Blue Boy Scout.  He’s more Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks than Clint Eastwood.  And despite their 80+ plus years as enemies, Superman wouldn’t have ignored Lex’s plea to his good will and fair play, especially if the guy’s in real danger.  Superman saves people, both good and bad, and always comes to the rescue even if the person he’s saving may not necessarily “deserve” it.

Last but certainly not least, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza and Wil Quintana deserve a round of applause for being MVPs on Superman.  Every issue they illustrate is a textbook example of widescreen visuals in comics with strong characters, detailed settings and captivating action.

Rating:  7 / 10

Final Thought:  This was not one of Tomasi and Gleason’s better scripts, but in terms of setting up the Imperius Lex arc, it got the job done.  The inevitable consequences of Luthor’s twin roles as hero of Metropolis and ruler of Apokolips are coming to a head nicely.  Plus, the artwork on this series is almost always good, if not excellent.

Superman remains one of DC’s best books when the focus is primarily on family.  A weaker issue of the Tomasi/Gleason Superman, but still a better comic than most books currently on the stands.

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