"Superman" #21 was a fun comic. Introducing the new H.I.V.E. into the DC Universe, watching the organization attempt to steal Hector Hammond out from under the nose of S.T.A.R. Labs was exciting and atmospheric in a way that couldn't help but get one excited. That's why "Superman" #22 feels like a bit of a letdown; Scott Lobdell, Eddy Barrows, Daniel HDR and Geraldo Borges's follow-up comes across as a decidedly average comic.
It would be easy to blame a lot of the shift on the sudden departure of Kenneth Rocafort, whose work last month went a long way towards the strong nature of "Superman" #21. It's nothing against Barrows, HDR and Borges (who all contribute pencils this month), merely that all three draw in a much more standard, familiar manner. Aside from a pair of two-page spreads early on, these are pages that are laid out in a typical, average way. (I appreciated the hexagon panels on the first, and the balloon panels on the second, although they lack Rocafort's flare for the different.) The art is very average too; the H.I.V.E. Queen looks much more like any long-haired blonde woman now, and Hector Hammond has shifted from a grotesque monster into a guy with a ridiculously large head. Visually, the series has changed from superhero horror to superhero theatrics.
That said, Barrows draws a nice Superman watching over Metropolis when he first appears; he makes the new outfit work, and the portrait of his face at the bottom of that first page is drawn with a gentle touch. If Barrows is the new regular artist for "Superman" (the latest batch of solicitations has him listed in the credits, so his stay might not be temporary), it won't be his first time on the book. He's not a bad choice, just not someone who's right for a story that feels like it was tailor-made for Rocafort's style.
Lobdell's story also lost momentum this month. There's a lot of recap going on, and while I appreciate Lobdell addressing that readers haven't actually seen anything with Clark writing for his and Cat's new website, it's also a bit of a bump in the road for a story that feels like it's slowed down immensely. There are some good little touches, though: Superman using his powers to realize that Cat Grant's various downgrades speaks to her finances is an inspired moment, and the revelation of what the H.I.V.E. is a good idea for a follow-up to an earlier story.
"Superman" #22 was a book that I'd been looking forward to since last month's issue, so this is definitely a bit of a stumble. There are enough little bits here and there that I'm not giving up hope yet, and I would like to see what happens when Lobdell and Barrows can collaborate on a story together right from the start rather than mid-stream. Still, this issue could have been a lot better.