Superman: Space Age #2 is here as the Black Label epic by Mark Russell and the Allred’s continues this week with a new decade to be tackled. This issue takes us back to the 70s, and even though the decade was a little more than 40 years ago – the topics, themes, and discussion are more timely than ever. Of course, as well as that there is plenty of glorious Silver Age comic book action.
Mike and Laura Allred’s bold illustrations that seem to mix pop art with a cartoon-like style are always pleasant on the eyes and have fitted the retro setting of Space Age since day one like Darwyn Cook. At this point in the story, the Justice League has formed and is operating out of the Hall of Justice. So now, they get to draw all of Superman’s super friends and they waste no time in doing so with the default cover. Superman runs alongside Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman, and Green Lantern with a shiny silver diesel streamliner train of decades past as if it’s one of them. There is also a retro-style rocket in there similar to the one that Kal-El arrived in. As you will soon read, this cover can actually tie into one of this issue’s main topics.
Nick Derington gives us a great Superman illustration in general with his variant cover. Superman crushing through rock and Earth with it shattering like glass all around is as an iconic image as his flying pose. Superman isn’t in a smashing pose, but a lifting one as he holds up several tons of crumbling rumble with one hand. Derington’s smooth execution and slightly texturized colors and shading help make this variant unique in his own way. The untrained eye would have to look for an indication that this variant is for Space Age because the cover literally fits any Superman book.
Darwyn Cook is also embodied with Dave Johnson’s variant of Superman facing a group of Brainiac sentries. Those three dots all connected by a singular line in a triangle are unmistakable – the world collector and harvester are on the loose. Superman seems to burst through the chest of one of the androids as he uppercuts another while the others attempt to swarm him in vain. Superman’s appearance, especially his face, feels inspired by his looks in his animated series from the 40s and 90s. The shading is on point and the glowing green is complimented by the dark metallic tones.
Despite being set in the 70s, you don’t really see any disco balls but that doesn’t mean Superman: Space Age #2 isn’t groovy. We have Superman in full swing as he has made Metropolis the safest place on Earth. In fact, he’s been out saving the Earth at times with his most recent exploit of stopping an asteroid. You got to love Clark – he even talks to the asteroid like a lost, angry animal charging the planet. However, his most recent interview with Lois introduces himself to the next question and crisis humanity is facing – morality and authority.
There are historical and story events to reflect these like Richard Nixon’s presidency, Watergate, Maxwell Lord becoming CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and the Justice League questioning their willingness and effectiveness in saving lives. Batman gets some great scenes in this issue as the classical Dark Knight he is and the sometimes bad cop of the Justice League. The Allreds did an incredible job with his suit design, mixing both Adam West’s costume and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight design. Even The Flash has some quality scenes as tries to learn how to disarm bombs. At this point, the Justice League have been virtually unchallenged by supervillains on Earth so they’re ready to assume that the greatest threats are themselves.
They’re in for a rude awakening. Out there, the genocidal Brainiac is destroying planets and feeding off their natural resources. But there’s something else that the crazed collector is anticipating – something far bigger than he. Pariah’s warning was just the beginning it seems. At the same time, Superman’s life with Lois moves forward as she climbs to new heights in her journalism career – especially in a time when people needed honest reporting the most. There are some pivotal Triangle Saga moments here in the Superman lexicon that the Allred’s bring to life and Russell integrates into the story.
Now comes the nitty gritty. Russell brilliantly has Superman and the Justice League tackle such themes as “if the world can’t be completely saved, can it be changed?” and “are we really saving lives?” in valid and also gripping ways. They even address the question of the trolley problem, which essentially asks would you sacrifice one to save a group of people? The Justice League has great reflections on it with every member having their own POV on it. While you may agree with their reasoning, Superman’s reasoning (especially when it comes to the trolley question) will really make you think. These inner monologues are some of the best to come out of the Man of Steel’s head and into thought boxes. Russell is also never lacking when it comes to the subtle jokes and easter eggs throughout.
At this point in the series of reviews, what has been said about the Allred’s art here, with Mike on the line-work and Laura on the colors, that hasn’t been said already. The pop art style couldn’t fit the choreographed action scenes of this issue well enough. With multiple figures, the reader’s eyes can follow them in order as the action plays out before them rather than going from panel to panel which skips some parts. This is often something that older readers complain that modern comics lack. The opening scene with Superman saving a sex worker from her pimp and Batman breaking into Maxwell’s property is this issue’s best example.
Superman: Space Age #2 keeps readers gripped not just with its action sequences, but also with what our heroes have to say and think about some of the most pressing of philosophical topics regarding the concept of saving the Earth. With the Crisis on the horizon for the next decade and final issue, it’s fair to say that we haven’t heard the last of it.