Title: Up, Up and Away — part seven
Writers: Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek
Artist: Pete Woods
By Joe Sergi
29 August 2006 — This is it, the moment we've all waited for: Superman versus Lex Luthor. The whole storyline has been building to this, and Superman #653 is essentially a 22-page title match for Metropolis. To bring you up to date: Superman sacrificed his powers by plunging through the heart of a red sun to stop Superboy-Prime. "Up, Up and Away" picks up one year after that event and tells the story of Clark Kent: a powerful man without super powers. Clark relies on his journalistic skills and his fellow superheroes to save the day. Conversely, the year has not been good for his nemesis, Lex Luthor, who has been shunned by Metropolis. Luthor goes underground to plot his revenge on Metropolis by utilizing a Kryptonian crystal and every last piece of Kryptonite to take control over an ancient Kryptonian battle cruiser. Luckily, Clark's powers return in time for him to face off against Luthor. He says, "All right, Luthor. Let's end this."
Once again, characterization is at the center of this story. In one corner, we have the egomaniacal Luthor, who feels a sense of entitlement to destroy Metropolis, the city that betrayed him. He views Metropolis as his city. In order to prove this, he is willing to obliterate the city and all the residents. For every part of the city that he demolishes, Luthor explains how he is responsible for its creation. From being a silent partner in a restaurant to the main donor of a museum, Luthor justifies what Superman refers to as "Luthor's search and destroy mission down memory lane." I don't think Luthor has been written this well since the Silver Age. This is because the authors have put him in a role that he has not played in years. This is not the businessman or the President, who secretly schemes behind all of our backs. This is Lex Luthor: supervillain. He has no need for subterfuge or fear discovery. He is going to openly destroy his city.
In the other corner, we have Superman, a strategist, who is concerned for the wellbeing of the citizens of Metropolis. He realizes that he cannot fight Luthor with brute strength or his other amazing powers. However, what Luthor doesn't realize is that Clark Kent did not have these powers for the previous year and learned to adapt. Instead of simply relying on Superman's brawn, Clark Kent also uses his brains. He taunts Luthor, which focuses the attack on him and away from the citizens. He then uses his newly enhanced brainpower to destroy Luthor's communication module, saving Metropolis. It was also impressive how the authors were able to convey Superman's balance between his concern for individuals and his need to stop Luthor. For example, Superman is willing to let the tanks run free and endanger citizens while he analyzes the ship. He realizes that this is necessary, but it still bothers him. It is perfectly in character for Superman.
Finally, the story is about sacrifice. One year ago, Superman sacrificed his powers to stop Superboy-Prime. In this issue, Superman is faced with the same decision. Realizing that the Kryptonian battle cruiser alone cannot stop Superman, Luthor uses his stolen Kryptonite to fuel the ship, which is transformed into a giant Kryptonite battle suit. Luthor's strategy is successful and he has Superman on the ropes. In fact, Superman's death is narrowly averted because of the last-minute save by Jimmy Olson, who selflessly blocks a kryptonite beam and suffers third degree radiation burns. Superman knows that the only way to stop Luthor is to risk losing his powers again. Although Superman is afraid, he cares so much for these people that he is willing to sacrifice himself over and over to save them. And the last page has a great Superman / Luthor moment, one that had me laughing out loud.
Previous issues showed Woods' strength at illustrating quiet, human moments. Superman #653 proves he can do action as well. I especially liked the two-page spread where Superman, dwarfed by the Kryptonian battle cruiser, is all that stands between Luthor and Metropolis. Anderson's coloring on this page, and the last, is particularly impressive.
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