"Superman" #14 is now the third issue of Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort's run on the title, and the first to jump into the Super-title crossover "H'el on Earth." Reading this issue, two thoughts struck me. First, it's way too soon for a new creative team to get pulled into a crossover before they can establish their own voice on the title. Second, Lobdell and Rocafort don't actually seem that interested in "H'el on Earth."
The first quarter of "Superman" #14 picks up the storyline from last month's issue involving Clark having resigned from the Daily Planet. This is the portion of "Superman" #14 that Lobdell and Rocafort seem to be enjoying the most. Clark and Lois' verbal sparring isn't perfect, but it's certainly more lively than the first couple of "Superman" issues under the re-launch. Their back-and-forth has energy to it, and it's nice to hear the two go at it. This is one of the first times where I can not only believe they have a friendly relationship, but more importantly the potential for a romantic one down the line. This is the high point of the comic, easily. Rocafort seems to be enjoying himself too, drawing a ridiculously spacious home for Clark that is a combination of nostalgic (the toy tractor on a shelf), science-focused (the Archaeopteryx fossil hanging from the wall, or the admittedly-unnecessary telescope), and slovenly (everything that Clark's roommate Jimmy Olsen has left scattered around half of the living room).
Once H'el shows up, though, it's a little dull. H'el himself is one of the biggest problems; he's a bad combination of ridiculously powerful and remarkably low on personality. The end result is a dull villain that is unfortunately driving the storyline. His claims to try and rebuild Krypton don't feel like they have that much punch to them from a reader perspective; even with "Superman" #0 (and the other Super-titles) flashing back to the planet it's hard to get hyped about the idea of its return.
Rocafort seems to try to liven up the story with some inventive page layouts, although some work better than others. I like when he uses a lot of diagonal panels to form a semi-circle around a central image, and when a series of panels shoot across a double-page spread like shards there's Superman in the center pushing them all forward to give a sense of motion. At other times, though, everything just seems random. Why are Supergirl's boots invisible on one page (as they sink into the panel border) making her look like a double amputee with flying kneecaps? Why do a lot of the pages have lots of unused space because of the trapezoids scattered across their expanse? And what happened to the bottom edges of Supergirl's costume, so that the upside down triangle now looks like a loincloth shield hanging on for dear life?
I understand that there was no way to know that the media would latch on so strongly to "Superman" #13 and Clark quitting the Daily Planet. But it feels like a real shame that no sooner did it happen than the book zoomed off in a different direction for several months. It certainly feels like Lobdell and Rocafort would rather tell that story. I tend to agree. "H'el on Earth" is, for now, off to a less than interesting start.