The Wrath of Gog

Author: Chuck Austen
Artists: Ivan Reis and Marc Campos
Titan Books
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84576 066 2
Available 24 June 2005

When Gog, a mysterious villain of enormous power, attacks the Teen Titans, the Man of Steel is there to help in an instant, but Gog injects him with a liquidised form of kryptonite. Can a severely weakened Superman cope with the threats he faces from within and without, with his civilian life as Clark Kent also under fire from hostile colleagues, and Lois absent covering a war in the Middle East...?

Readers of the Superman comics might be forgiven for not being enthralled by the recurring "will they/won't they?" theme of Clark Kent's relationship with Lana Lang in the television series Smallville. After all, we all know that Clark will end up getting married to a reporter called Lois Lane, right?

Well, this graphic novel, which collects material from issues 812-819 of Action Comics, changes all that, by introducing seeds of doubt into the stability of Clark and Lois' marriage. Lana, having separated from her own husband Pete Ross, still carries a torch for Clark, and here she states her belief that Lois isn't the right woman for him.

This is all part of an ongoing retcon of Superman's mythology, which steers away slightly from John Byrne's pivotal Man of Steel reinvention in the late 1980s and brings the comic-book series more into line with Smallville. No longer is the embryonic Kal-El "born" on Earth: now he's back to having travelled from Krypton as a baby, just as in the pre-Byrne mythology. Clark's parents look several years younger than they used to (though of course still older than they are in Smallville) and Jonathan is slimmer these days, like the character that John Schneider plays on screen. At least the executives at DC Comics have steered clear of changing Lana's hair colour from its traditional red.

One change that I definitely don't approve of is the one in Clark's character. Former X-Men and JLA writer Chuck Austen makes Superman far cockier than I think he ought to be. For me, the whole idea of Superman is that he is an immensely powerful being, yet his might is tempered by the morality that was instilled in him by his honest and humble upbringing. Austen's Superman threatens to give an armed felon's gun "a guided tour of [his] intestines". He later tells the super-villain Steppenwolf: "It's in the name. Superman. Get it? 'Super,' as in 'I am better than you are.'" The Man of Steel was never this conceited before.

Then there's the absent Lois. Austen, through Lana, argues that Lois only ever wanted Superman, but settled for Clark Kent, and does not care enough to come to his aid when Gog's kryptonite weapon saps his powers. However, this is in blatant contradiction to previous instances when Superman has lost his abilities over the last ten years or so, such as immediately after his death and rebirth, when Clark was entirely without superpowers and Lois rescued him for a change.

Fortunately, Superman's essential selflessness shines through. Even facing the prospect of his own death, he continually devotes himself to ensuring the safety of others. And the Clark/Lana/Lois love triangle idea is an interesting and provocative one.

Despite its title, this graphic novel is more to do with Clark's - and, to an extent, Lana's - personal journey than it is about Gog, who only really appears in two of the issues collected here. Before and after Gog's arrival, Superman engages in (seemingly endless) fights with other super-villains, including Darkseid's forces, the Weapons Master, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

The work of penciller Ivan Reis and inker Marc Campos is richly detailed and dynamic throughout, with some nifty depth-of-field effects. However, I got more enjoyment out of this book's moments of genuine poignancy than I did from the frequent fisticuffs.

Richard McGinlay

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