A couple of months ago, I was almost ready to throw in the towel on "Superman." With issue #20, Scott Lobdell and Aaron Kuder make me glad I didn't. Not only does it serve up some beautiful art, but it takes a pretty standard fight-then-cooperate story structure and gives it a streak of fun.
There's no denying that a lot of the charm comes from Kuder; he drew a few pages in "Superman" #18, but here he gets an entire issue and the wait was well worth it. His art is like a strange mixture of Rafael Grampa, Walter Simonson and even Geof Darrow; big strong bodies and dynamic layouts mixed with some exquisitely fine detail and beautifully rendered grotesqueness. Hector Hammond's head, with its wrinkles, dead eyes and pencil-thin mustache and eyebrows, is the sort of thing you can't turn away from even as it is slightly repulsive.
When Kuder draws Superman hitting Orion, it's a long vertical panel with dozens of after-images of all of the different punches Superman's thrown in attacking the New God. It's a great way to use a short amount of space to show just how much damage is being done, and it's a fun panel to boot. And when it comes to drawing the big moments, well, Kuder handles those quite nicely. Hurling an aircraft carrier shouldn't be a moment that's taken lightly, and Kuder gives it all the grandeur that it deserves.
Lobdell's story shouldn't get short shrift, though. I like how the strange events of "Superman" #19 now make sense, and the shifting from fantasy to reality is handled quite deftly here. I also appreciated that the strange flashes into an imaginary realm look to be not quite as throwaway as one might expect; it makes this story feel like it's got much more heft than it would at a glance. The appearance of Wonder Woman works much better than I'd expected; considering her relationship with both Superman and Orion, it would've been easy play up a triangle, but instead the uneasy moment between Wonder Woman and Orion feels much more interesting and integrated well with Brian Azzarello's take on the two of them in "Wonder Woman." It's not a perfect story -- the shift from "you must be destroyed" to "or not" feels a little arbitrary -- but on the whole, it's solid and feels much more dependable than it has in a while.
All in all, "Superman" #20 is a sign that the book is back on track. That's a very good thing indeed. Lobdell's story is definitely going somewhere, and the more Kuder draws on the title (or elsewhere, if that's not going to be the case), the happier I'll be. A nice turnaround.