Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Lost Chapters From The OMAC Project, Superman: Sacrifice Is Surprisingly Engaging.

The Good: Good story, Decent overall artwork, Concept for characters
The Bad: Still a little light on character development, Erratic artwork, From a story already in progress.
The Basics: An engaging series of missing chapters from The OMAC Project, Superman: Sacrifice finds Superman wrestling with violent images as he is manipulated from without!

It might surprise some who read my review of the new Superman graphic novel Luthor (click here for that!) that I would pick up a graphic novel from Superman. And yet, when I found out my local library system could easily get in Superman: Sacrifice, I leapt on the opportunity. The reason for this is simple. A few weeks prior, I had enthusiastically read The OMAC Project (click here for that!) as part of my Wonder Woman Year project. That story promised to have a critical character event for Wonder Woman and it did, so I felt largely pleased about taking the time to read it. Unfortunately, it also had three missing chapters (at least). Those missing chapters are encapsulated in Superman: Sacrifice.

In The OMAC Project, Superman suddenly begins behaving irrationally and after a cutaway where the first half of Superman: Sacrifice is revealed, "Sacrifice" Part 4 was included in that graphic novel (it would be absolutely impossible to gloss over that last "Sacrifice" chapter for the other story). From there, the two books diverge again and while The OMAC Project explores the breakdown of the Checkmate organization and the rise of Brother I and the OMACs, Superman: Sacrifice does something quite wonderful; it focuses on the character consequences! While I picked this up mostly for the thrill of the filling in the missing chapter which promised me some pretty incredible battles with a mind-controlled Superman, this ended up having a tremendous Wonder Woman story which actually made me respect her character about a thousand times more. Yes, deep in Superman: Sacrifice there is one of the essential Wonder Woman stories.

As Max Lord continues his machinations which have already resulted in the death of Blue Beetle, Superman wrestles with the memory of battling a creature he was almost unable to stop and then discovers he cannot kill because a human is inside it. But then, he confesses to Lois that he does not feel right. Shortly thereafter, Blackrock - a new incarnation of a fairly minor villain - pops back up and in the process of subduing him, Superman goes a little aggressive and uses his heat vision. This turns the humans nearby who witnessed it against Superman, feeling that he is being overly aggressive.

But Superman's angst is only beginning; he arrives at Lois's office (as Clark Kent) to find Brainiac there. Brainiac abducts Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Lana and Clark's boss and in thwarting Brainiac, Superman witnesses the death of his friends and he kills the cyborg Brainiac. As Justice League heroes fan out to find Superman and protect Superman's loved ones, Superman goes through a similar scenario where Darkseid arrives, fights Superman to a standstill, and then kills an enslaved Lois. Superman, blood on his hands, awakens in Justice League custody to realize he has attacked one of his own people and in fleeing from the Watchtower, Wonder Woman becomes the last hope to stop a mind-controlled Superman and how she chooses to thwart the crazed superhero changes everything for her, Superman and Batman!

Superman: Sacrifice is more than just a mind-control story about Superman and it is certainly less accessible to those who do not know the richness of the story already in progress. Ideally, one ought to get The OMAC Project, read it up until it does the encapsulation of Superman: Sacrifice and then switch over for this storyline, then go back into the other book for the rest. The fundamental difference with the two books is that after the crossover point, The OMAC Project goes off to build plot for an impending storyline, while Superman: Sacrifice wrestles with the consequences of the actions in this book. As such, Superman's sense of uncertainty following how he was manipulated is palpable and his retreat to try to figure out what his next actions ought to be is a compelling character journey.

But even more, Wonder Woman's character is hugely enhanced by her actions in this book. Operating on a higher moral level than the monolithic "good is good, bad is bad" dialectic Superman operates with, Wonder Woman's actions reveal a sense of judgment which make her into a true hero who does what she has to in order to save the world, not just Superman. And the result of her actions is a huge rift with her colleagues. Her story in this is minimized until the middle, then becomes the catalyst for the latter half of the book and it forces all but the youngest readers - who probably shouldn't be reading this anyway - to actually think about morality and the nature of heroism.

Max Lord makes for a good villain, but this is not his story (The OMAC Project is); instead, this starts as Superman's story and it is admittedly light on character development for quite some time. Superman wrestles with the newer perception that he is an alien and should be feared as opposed to revered, but then he enters into simple battles with both a simple conflict and obvious psychological trigger - Lois being put in danger. The reader watches as he slowly degrades from the continual manipulations, so it becomes understandable what he does and how he acts (and, consequently, how Wonder Woman feels compelled to stop him). But, until the latter half where he has to wrestle with understanding how he was used, it's not much of a character story for Superman.

As for the artwork, Superman: Sacrifice is a collection of eight comics from Greg Rucka, Mark Verherden, and Gail Simone spanning Superman, Adventures Of Superman, Action Comics and Wonder Woman, so the art teams are different in every few sections. The writing is generally consistent and presents the darkness of the story well, but the different artistic impressions of Superman vary some with some having him look more like an iron-jawed adult and others having him look more like a steroid-infused kid.

While the coloring is good in every single panel - this book has beautiful, glossy pages like a magazine - the pencils are not as consistent. The Wonder Woman sections are pretty wonderful, including a wonderful shower scene for her, with a consistent sense of the characters throughout. But some of the panels in the other sections are glossed over with sketches that are more like thumbnail sketches than actual detailed drawings. In those panels, it is only context and coloring that allows the reader to know what is actually going on. On the plus side, most of the battle scenes feature strong illustrations which do exactly what they are supposed to; exciting the imagination and clearly telling the non-dialogue portions of the story.

Superman: Sacrifice may be the middle of a story, but it is a good middle and one which anyone who wants to read a decent action story with a fair amount of character to it will likely enjoy.

For other D.C. graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Crisis On Infinite Earths
Blackest Night: Tales Of The Corps


For other book reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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