Review: Superman ’78 #2
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Wilfredo Torres
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Dave Lanphear of A Larger World
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
Superman enlists the recently paroled Lex Luthor for help, but it comes a little late as Brainiac arrives on Earth. The Man of Steel must then decide if surrender is the best option to save the people of Earth!
There are lots of elements that readers respond to when reading comics. One of the strongest is nostalgia. In doing a series set in the universe of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, nostalgia is probably the aspect with the biggest draw. Superman ’78 #2, like the first issue is a clear love letter to Richard Donner, Mario Puzo, Christopher Reeve and indeed the entire cast. People have always wanted to see Brainiac on the big screen, and it seemed like Superman III should’ve have been the film to do so, but alas Richard Pryor was given priority instead. Superman’78 realizes this wish as we get a Brainiac very familiar with comic book readers. That nostalgia is right on Ben Oliver’s cover as well, it’s a great place to start.
This nostalgia permeates the book. Venditti finds the right voice for Lois, Clark- even their interaction. Luthor is especially endearing in that “greatest criminal mind” sort of way. It’s hard not to hear Gene Hackman deliver this dialogue. Venditti picks phrases and words that not only sound like the things Lex would’ve said in the film, but words and phrases we can easily hear in our head. And, it works beautifully. Hackman’s casting as Lex continues to pay off, because even though we know he’s a villain- THE villain- Hackman is so charismatic that one can’t help liking him. Or, perhaps liking him in the role. As Superman goes to him for help, that likability plays into the plot point of Superman being ever hopeful that even Lex can turn over a new leaf.
Wilfredo Torres makes it clear that we are seeing the actors in these roles. It’s all part of the nostalgia of course, and he does a fine job of making us believe it, even down to Clark’s posture! Interestingly, there are a some classic comic artists whose work seems to shine through Torres’ style. There’s a moment that is clearly Kirbyesque in his pose of Superman facing off against Brainiac’s drones. Overall, Torres seems much influenced by Alex Toth. There’s a simplicity to Toth’s style in the ’70’s that paid off in his designs for the Superfriends TV show as well as other animated features. While Torres’ line is much lighter than Toth’s, there’s a definite resemblance based in simplicity. It’s very effective and allows Torres to suggest the actors faces with a economical linework.
Milton Caniff’s influence shows up as well. Toth was influence by him as well, so it’s probably no great surprise. However, the placement of blacks that Toth seems to have gotten from Caniff is not present in Torres’ work. Instead it’s the approach to faces, that same simplicity to suggest recognizable features flows from Caniff, through Toth and on to Torres. Look at the way Torres is doing the eyes in some of the panels, you will see this same stylized approach in some of Caniff’s characters. Don’t think that Torres is simply trying copy the actor’s faces, there’s a lot of craft going on here.
If there’s a negative in this issue, it’s Superman’s use of the cellophane “S” that he pulls off his chest emblem and throws at Brainiac’s drones. I know it was used in Superman II, and thus part of the movie universe, but it has always felt awkward and just too made up for one of Superman’s powers. The amnesia kiss can be explained as Super-Hypnotism a power Superman exhibited in the ’60’s in the comics, but it’s a bit cringey considering what Superman is hypnotizing Lois into forgetting. The cellophane “S” has that “oh, they shouldn’t have done that” even when watching the movie. At best it is ill advised here. Thankfully, it’s only a small part of the comic.
Venditti and Torres perfectly capture the look and feel of Superman: The Movie in Superman ’78 #2- I mean that’s why you’re here right? I’m not sure how this plays with an audience who isn’t a fan of Christopher Reeve’s Superman films. I’m not sure if that matters, but if you are a fan, this will bring you much joy, and you’ll want to read it again, because you don’t want that honest joy to end.