Review: Superman: New Krypton Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

It's clear from the first volume of Superman: New Krypton that this story has all the makings of an epic. Though New Krypton still seems very much an effort on the writers' part to work out how to tell a Superman story, rather than a Superman story itself, there's such a fine mix of old and new elements here that I'll go happily along for the ride.

What I liked best about New Krypton -- summed up in a rainy late-night meeting between Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane at the Daily Planet, where they discuss Jimmy's leads on a shadowy government organization -- is the intrigue. Everyone in this story has an angle or a moral ambiguity, from the Guardian with blood on his hands to Lois's connection to the story's mystery villain, to Superman overly trusting a few thousand newly resurrected Kryptonians mainly due to his sorrow over the death of his father. It's one thing to tell a superhero story where superhero X battle villain Y; it's another to tell a story where this character used to fight alongside that character and this one is related to that one ... all this interconnectedness, frankly, is one of the clear signs writer Geoff Johns is involved.

With this intrigue, we're presented with the kind of fully-realized supporting cast for Superman that we haven't seen since the 1990s. Writers Johns, James Robinson, and Sterling Gates surely love the "triangle title" era, as they bring back both the Guardian and Agent Liberty; this, combined with important roles for Lois Lane, her sister Lucy, Jimmy Olsen, Ma Kent, Krypto, Lex Luthor, and a bevy of Kryptonians, combine to make the story feel real and textured. Even better, Superman remains at the forefront despite the large cast, with all their plotlines feeding into his larger struggle.

Admittedly, these elements help the New Krypton story that, on its own, remains a bit predictable. Ten thousand Kryptonians, now resurrected on Earth, immediately begin acting badly, as does a secret government cabal, with Superman stuck in the middle. Superman will undoubtedly emerge as a symbol of the best of both worlds, just before the Kryptonians' eventual demise. And yet, even as everyone acts to their stereotype -- optimistically naive Superman, haughty Kryptonians, xenophobic Earth military -- I'm a sucker for this kind of "trust no one," two-front war storyline, and I love Superman at the center of it with enemies on all sides.

Another problem (as we already begin to see in this volume) is that Superman hanging out with a couple thousand Kryptonians doesn't leave a lot of room for Clark Kent. For my money, a good Superman story involves both sides of Superman's life, both cosmic villainy and the Daily Planet (see, as a random example, "Going to Blazes," or [don't flame me] Superman Returns), while New Krypton seems to employ the guy with the powers only. It's easy, I think, to put Superman in the role of "generic superhero," and pitting him against other Kryptonians -- rather than, say, against the Toyman over Metropolis -- is to examine Superman rather than to write him. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern title has become much the same, exploring Green Lantern rather than writing him, and in a way I'm more eager for what comes after the Superman-rejuvinating New Krypton than I am for New Krypton itself.

James Robinson contributes the most to this book, and I took special note of his work because I had initially disliked (but on second reading, enjoyed a bit more) his first Superman foray, The Coming of Atlas. Some of Robinson's dialogue still lacks the zing I remember from Starman (especially a scene where Clark Kent essentially tells Jimmy Olsen to shut up), but I give him credit for writing a spunky, motorcycling-riding Jimmy whose flight from a pursuing assassin had me cheering. The Guardian story that Robinson contributes doesn't add much to the volume, but overall I liked what Robinson did here enough to assuage some of my previous concerns.

What I've gleaned from interviews is that New Krypton feeds into a 2010 Superman anniversary celebration (or is that a DC Comics anniversary? I'm not clear on this), and my expectation is that we'll see New Krypton at the center of DC Comics' next crossover after Blackest Night. If you're like me, and Hal Jordan out in front of the Justice League (instead of Superman) just looks wrong to you, then you'll share my excitement at a DC crossover with Superman at the center. Here's hoping.

[Contains full covers and variants.]
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