The Jou

Author: Mark Verheiden
Artists: Ed Benes, Thomas Derenick and others
Titan Books
RRP: 8.99
ISBN 1 84576 245 2
Available 21 April 2006

After failing to rescue several South American villagers, and following suggestions in the media that he could use his powers against mankind, Superman is growing unsure of his place in the world. Can he put his self-doubt aside in time to save Jimmy and Lois - and himself - from the threat of terrorists, the cybernetic OMACs, his imperfect duplicate Bizarro, and a deadly new incarnation of Blackrock...?

This graphic novel brings together the stories originally published in issues 217 and 221-225 of the Superman comic book. The reason for the absence of 218-220 is one of story consistency. The events in issue 217 effectively prequel the events that follow in issues 221-225, such as Superman's creation of a new Fortress of Solitude in the Peruvian rainforest. The volume also includes the Bizarro/Zoom race sequence (four pages) from Action Comics issue 831.

The title of this book refers, of course, to the emotional journey that Superman must undertake. He's certainly been having a tough time of it lately. Apart from his failure to save the Peruvian villagers, Clark has recently lost his job, his marriage has been under strain, he has been used as an unwilling pawn of Maxwell Lord, and Wonder Woman's response to Lord's actions (depicted in the graphic novel Sacrifice) has brought the superhero community into serious disrepute.

However, Jimmy Olsen also undergoes a journey of his own. Having taken Clark's old job, Jimmy initially disrespects his colleague. He soon learns the error of his ways, though, first of all when Lois knocks him down a peg or two, and secondly when he fails to manage the kind of workload that Clark was capable of (after all, Jimmy doesn't have the advantage of a super-fast typing speed).

Writer Mark Verheiden is no stranger to interpersonal angst, having worked as a staff writer on the "teen Superman" show Smallville. Lex Luthor's back-story takes a distinctly Smallville turn during the penultimate chapter. Here we learn that Lex was transferred to Smallville High School when he was 18. During his Smallville days, his only real friend was a farm boy called Clark. Sound familiar? This chapter cuts between the physical trials that Lex and Superman are separately undergoing, comparing and contrasting their thoughts and methods in a way that would not have seemed out of the place in the recent Lex Luthor: Man of Steel graphic novel.

The other villains are fairly impressive, though Bizarro's dialogue has taken an even sillier turn than before. Rife with mirrored-meaning contradictions, it's often hard to tell what he is supposed to be saying. Neither Bizarro's story arc nor that of the OMACs is resolved in this volume.

The art is generally good, though a little inconsistent as several other artists aside from Ed Benes and Thomas Derenick contribute. A noticeable and slightly unsettling trend is the way in which the artists exploit the female form. For instance, we are treated to detailed views of Lois's tight tracksuit bottoms, new Daily Planet employee Kelly's various revealing outfits, Supergirl's midriff and micro-skirt, and the new female Blackrock's barely-there rocky costume. Not that I mind personally, but this is only going to lend support to the widely held misconception that comics are read only by teenage boys.

The Journey is OK, though it isn't as Earth-shattering as certain other recent volumes. Worth making the journey to the bookstore.

Richard McGinlay

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