SUPERMAN: Under Fire by Scott Lobdell and Ken Lashley is consistent with the previous TPB, Psi-War—adequate and uninspired. The primary story, involving Parasite and a Brainiac-enhanced pisonic Lois, isn’t bad, though it isn’t very good either. It’s also muddles multiple plotlines together—the opening issue involves the New 52 Supergirl and Superboy in an unrelated adventure, the final issue is part of a Doomsday Big Event—which while not as bad as It’s Coming, makes the TPB feel disconnected. I don’t require a collection all be one big arc, but the Doomsday plot (involving Superman becoming Doomsday seems to come out of nowhere).
And as with the previous collection, there’s Clark and his blogging.
Clark Kent has been with the Daily Planet (cover by Curt Swan, all rights with current holder) since 1940 (prior to that it was the Daily Star), but the 21st century is an awkward time to have a fictional newspaper reporter as a protagonist. Newspapers are struggling to stay profitable when their stories are circulated and excerpted for free on the web. There have been massive failures during the Iraq war, such as the NYT’s obliging parroting many of the administration’s war claims that were debunked (reporter Elizabeth Bumiller once said “no one wants to get into an argument with the president” at a press conference because the country was so worried). The New 52 seems to be trying to deal with that. The publisher, Morgan Edge, is a Rupert Murdoch sensationalist who emphasizes celebrity news; Clark quits and starts a blog with Cat Grant.
As I said reviewing Psi-War that would make sense if this were, say a dozen years ago. Blogs were fresh, they were touted as a freewheeling, indie form of reporting that was nimbler, faster (no waiting for the morning edition!) and less restrained than the “lamestream media.” James Lileks, a popular conservative blogger at the time, asserted, IIRC, that the papers were vaudeville 90 years earlier, sneering at movies and failing to see they were now a dinosaur.
It wasn’t true even then. Bloggers were almost never reporters, they were commenters writing and critiquing and transmitting other people’s reporting. Take away the regular media and political blogs would have bupkiss. And instead of blogs annihilating the media, papers and TV eventually embraced blogging too.
All that said, Clark is certainly positioned to make blogging work. He doesn’t need food, he’s not in it for the money, and he’s a good reporter …but in two volumes, I haven’t seen him do any reporting (the Silver and Bronze Ages, realistic or not, at least showed Clark was a real working journalist). In Under Fire he gets his big scoop from psionic Lois, that she’s telepathically gleaned her dad, Gen. Sam Lane, is being offered a vacant Senate seat. Clark (and partner Cat Grant) scoop the media … but so? I’m guessing Lane has a big role in the New 52, but it’s not made clear here, so I can’t see any reason everyone treats it as the scoop of the year. So big a scoop, in fact, that Morgan Edge wants to buy the blog out as a way to shut down their fearless, unbiased reporting, of which we’ve seen absolutely nothing.
This could be done effectively. A Rolling Stone profile of Special Forces leader Gen. McChrystal a few years ago ruffled a lot of feathers because the reporter, Michael Hastings, printed several things the general assumed were off the record (but didn’t ask that they be). Some of the feathers were ruffled because some reporters on the military beat said they’d have kept the remarks off the record to keep the lines of communication open (this wasn’t Hastings regular beat so he didn’t see it that way). Nothing in Clark’s scoop matches that.
Given the news media isn’t going to stop changing any time soon, I think they’d have been better off just going traditional. The NYT is still publishing, and despite its flaws it still does some great news pieces. Why not use that as a role model and make the Daily Planet a stubborn anachronism? That approach may not last forever, but I think it would look self-consciously retro which is better than unsuccessfully trendy.
Or you know, have Clark actually do some reporting. Can’t hurt.
I have sympathy for DC—this is a rough time to be writing a reporter—but sympathy doesn’t excuse the clunky execution. (cover below by Al Plastino, all rights to current holder)