Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Illustrated by Phil Noto
Published by DC
As I’ve noted before, I’m something of a Superman fan. I’m also a bit of a mark for the Jack Kirby’s Fourth World concepts, despite my assertion that few people outside of Jack Kirby and Walter Simonson ever got it (even halfway close to) right. (I live in hope that somebody else will pass muster.) I’ve found the three Jonah Hex trades, by the writing team of Palmiotti and Gray, that I’ve read to be solid if not requisite entertainment. With those three factors in mind, I decided that Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom was worth a look, hoping for a solid bit of escapism.
And it was basically what I expected, although much slower and more introspective than I hoped. The plot outline is Maelstrom, a violent evil god from Apokolips attempts to curry the favor of her lord Darkseid by killing Darkseid’s longtime rival Superman. Before fighting Superman, Maelstrom runs into Supergirl and gives the Girl of Steel a sound kicking. Fortunately, big cousin shows up and routes Maelstrom, sending her home with her tail between her legs. Superman then takes Supergirl on a cosmic camping trip, to a planet with a red sun, where they’ll both have to survive without powers. Superman shows her the ropes, things go bad, Superman’s hurt, Supergirl heals him, finds food and repairs the ship so they can go home. They get back to Earth, where Maelstrom, this time backed with allies, is again looking for Superman’s noggin. And the Super-cousins quickly and efficiently stomp the villains down again.
What was interesting to me is that three of the five chapters focus on the red sun survival trip, with the opening and closing chapters containing the confrontations with the villains. So you’re essentially getting three straight chapters of Superman lecturing Supergirl, and dropping Batman’s name maybe a little too often, and Supergirl finding those lectures valuable after Superman’s injured. Personally, I like seeing Superman in the role of teacher, something we unfortunately rarely see, so I enjoyed those aspects. Mostly.
I mean, it’s a nice idea, Superman sharing his experience with a rookie hero, who applies it all and comes out on top. The execution of the script is a little bit after-school specialy, however. The fighting, what there is of it, is anti-climatic, and if you’re a Fourth World fan – honestly, there’s nothing particularly Fourth World about the storyline. Palmiotti and Gray could’ve substituted any intergalactic headhunter and achieved the same affect. (Which isn’t to say it’s bad – I love The Great Darkness Saga, but I don’t consider it a Fourth World story, as there was no anti-life, no father/son conflict and ultimately, Darkseid could’ve been swapped out with any tyrannical cosmic despot.)
Phil Noto’s artwork is a tough one for me. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t quite grab me in any way either. I often like his cover layouts, but that design sense doesn’t carry over to the interior work, and his illustrations are competent, but stiff. His flat coloring doesn’t provide any lift to the artwork either; the entire book seems to take place during a perpetual twilight. On the other hand, the work didn’t appall me, and frankly, sometimes that’s all I hope for. Competent illustration has its place.
I guess this reads a little harsh on Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom. Honestly, I thought it was a decent read. I wouldn’t recommend it, per se, but it played to my personal interests, it didn’t insult my intelligence, and I found myself not thinking poorly of a Supergirl character for the first time since Peter David. Despite their saccharine tendencies, the character elements work, and I appreciated seeing Superman as a mentor. So I guess I’d say that Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom … , it’s okay. If okay’s good enough for you today, go for it. Okay has its place too.