World of Flame—Imperius Lex, Part Three (Superman #35 Review)

Superboy becomes the pack leader of the Hunger Dogs! Luthor needs Superman to save both himself and Apokolips!  But not if Kalibak has anything to say about it!

Superman # 35
Writers:  Patrick Gleason & Peter J. Tomasi
Artist:  Travis Moore, Stephen Segovia & Art Thibert
Colorist:  Dinei Ribiero
Cover Artist:  Patrick Gleason & Dean White
Publisher:  DC Comics

What You Need to Know:

Thanks to Lex Luthor, Lois, Clark and Jonathan Kent have been absconded via Boom Tube to Apokolips.  Lois has been forcibly recruited into the Female Furies and Jonathan is being hunted by the Hunger Dogs.  However, Luthor has tried to get himself replaced on Darkseid’s throne by persuading the citizens of Apokolips that he isn’t their prophesied leader—Superman is.

What You’ll Find Out:

Superman and Luthor are flying across the sky fleeing the people of Apokolips.  Superman is furious and chastises Luthor for planning to trap him on Darkseid’s throne.  Luthor tells him he improvised all that on the fly after Superman arrived.  Ardora, Prophet and their fellow citizens vow to make Luthor pay and Superman take the throne, but the two of them manage to escape.

At the same time, Superboy smells something cooking over the hill in the Armaghetto neighborhood of Apokolips.  It turns out the Hunger Dogs (the most savage and poorest men on Apokolips) are starving so they’re roasting one of their giant canine rovers over a roaring fire.  The other rovers are tied up or caged, howling to be set free before their masters eat them.  Two of the Hunger Dogs are arguing about who should take over Apokolips, one of them vowing that they won’t kneel before a woman like Granny Goodness if she ever took the throne.

Disgusted, Superboy uses his heat vision to free the canine rovers and together they dispatch the Hunger Dogs.  To Superboy’s surprise, the rovers lick him and become loyal to him. He asks them to help find his parents and the rovers bark in agreement.

Miles away, Superman grabs Luthor’s cape and hoists him up by his shoulders. Fed up, Superman lectures him that the “S” he wears means something and this time Lex has gone too far. Lex has a damn eloquent comeback…

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But before Superman can answer, Kalibak attacks them both: “Hope is anathema on Apokolips!”  Once he captures and ties them both up, he orders his troops to ready the Chaos Cannon.  He plans to blast through the Fire Pits of Apokolips and search them to see if Darkseid is trapped beneath the planet’s surface.  But his soldiers warn him that the cannon may not be stable.  Even Superman says there could be “disastrous consequences.”

At that point, Granny Goodness and the Female Furies arrive.  Granny belittles Kalibak’s plan to search for Darkseid’s body in the Fire Pits and calls him a buffoon.  Kalibak is insulted and declares war on Granny and the Furies.  While the 2 sides battle, Lois (drafted into the Furies) frees Superman who punches Kalibak and prepares to destroy the Chaos Cannon. Kalibak fires it anyway.

All the Fire Pits on Apokolips are extinguished.  Everyone starts freaking out at Apokolips’ source of power being shut down and now their whole world is cold and dark.  Kalibak grabs Superman announcing now he’ll find Darkseid and they don’t need Superman so he’s going to kill him. Lois punches Kalibak who is bemused at her ineffectual attack.

Suddenly the Furies shout the Hunger Dogs are coming over the top of the hill.  It’s their canine rovers, but with only one master leading the pack—Superboy!

What Just Happened?

This was the best chapter in the “Imperius Lex” arc yet.

Patrick Gleason and Pete Tomasi nailed it.  Energetic fight scenes are bracketed by moments of illuminating characterization.  Lex Luthor explaining to Superman how he inspires hope in downtrodden masses yearning to be free and that he, Lex, cannot be that hope? Lex humbling himself to admit Superman can do something he can’t? Whoa!

4 different factions on Apokolips—Kalibak, the Hunger Dogs, Granny Goodness and her Furies, even this world’s average citizens—all elaborating in detail what their hopes and perceptions for the future of their civilization are? Damn!

To be fair, none of the concerns expressed by those multiple factions is inventive or groundbreaking.  Everyone’s statements are standard stuff.  But for Gleason and Tomasi to break the action to allow for multiple panels and even multiple pages of characterization adds sincere feelings and gives readers insight into the cast that is more than superficial.  Luthor’s speech to Superman on hope was surprising, affecting and showed a side of his personality we rarely see.

In fact, on reflection, all the villains had more to do than just grimace, menace and smack people upside the head.  Granny Goodness seemed genuinely worried by Kalibak’s plan to shut down Apokolips’ power source and seriously upset when the entire planet’s power grid dies.  Kalibak comes across as if he’s truly concerned for the well-being of his father.  Ardora, Prophet and the people of Apokolips show a desperate need for a savior and, most of all, for hope.

Superboy saves a whole pack of giant puppies from being slaughtered.  Yeah, I know—it’s manipulative, but I didn’t care.  It’s Superboy and puppies.  How can anyone hate that?

Okay, Lois didn’t have much to do in this issue.  However, she did get to rescue Superman at the last minute. How often does that happen? Not nearly enough as far as I’m concerned.

This issue wasn’t just a mindless slugfest.  There was real characterization here enhanced by some touching dialogue.  Gleason and Tomasi should feel proud of this script.  I wish every issue had so many stirring moments. Those scenes added a sense of greater consequence to all the action sequences.  It feels like this arc is picking up and powering toward a potent and satisfying destination.

Sole demerit—we end up with 3 different artists in this issue with styles that don’t perfectly mesh.  Travis Moore, Stephen Segovia, and Art Thibert all do a nice job on each segment. But unlike other issues, the transition from artist-to-artist isn’t quite as smooth and the clear differences make it obvious who is drawing what.  It detracted from the story, albeit just a tad.

Rating:  7.5 / 10

Final ThoughtPatrick Gleason and Pete Tomasi continue to put in more hits than errors on their run of Superman.  This issue was a standout in its near perfect mix of action and characterization. Both the heroes and the villains all contributed something worthwhile in ways both big and small.  The dialogue packed a wallop and the characterization was unusually strong.

This is a fun book and a good story!

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