Don't get me wrong -- Superman: New Krypton is good comics. Whether this second volume is good Superman is debatable, as is the question of whether this seemingly quite decompressed storyline couldn't have been collected in two hardcovers instead of three. That aside, I recently listed the "New Krypton" series at Speed Force as among my top three comics I couldn't do without; here's why.
What I continue to love about New Krypton is its scope. It's easy to have a hero fighting a villain and a couple of subplots -- New Krypton has a gigantic cast of characters, each with their own motivation and reasons for action in the series. Thinking about this, I was struck specifically by the modern incarnation of Reactron -- alongside Metallo, he's one of many classic Superman villains pitted by General Sam Lane against the Kryptonians, but at the same time Reactron's working toward his own ends to gain a new body, and exacting his specific vendetta against Supergirl. There's nary a character taking part here, from the Daily Planet staff to the Kryptonians to the US government, who doesn't have some double loyalty (as, of course, does Superman) and it gives every scene special resonance.
This volume's trio of writers -- Geoff Johns, James Robinson, and Sterling Gates -- also work hard to keep the surprises coming. There's no less than two startling deaths in this volume, one surprising betrayal, and the volume's widescreen conclusion; surely this volume is as much a page-turner as the comics must have been weekly "first reads." At least three of the characters have mysterious secret identities (about which the writers liberally tease us), and that's not to mention a number of hanging, unexplored threads like Robinson's Atlas character or what an errant Legion flight ring might have to do with all of this. New Krypton is packed, just packed, with so much stuff that the reader can't help but thrill to the ride.
Superman's villains get the spotlight in this second volume; short of Mr. Mxyzptlk, just about every classic Superman villain appears here. Most of them don't have a role yet -- having been rounded up by the Kryptonians and shunted to the Phantom Zone -- but it's obvious from how the writers rejuvenate Metallo and Reactron that good things portend for Superman's bad guys. There's a great nod especially to the Lex Luthor/Brainiac team-ups of yore, though I didn't much like Luthor getting his comeuppance from Sam Lane; master villain Luthor ought be the one pulling the strings, and hopefully we'll see that before too long.
Volume two technically wraps up the "New Krypton" saga -- even though volume three is also labeled "New Krypton," it actually contains the subsequent New Krypton miniseries whereas these issues close the initial ten-part "New Krypton" crossover. Maybe, one could argue, that's why this hardcover contains just six issues, but still it feels awfully short. I'd have preferred perhaps another issue or two tucked into the first volume and a couple more into the third; while certainly "events transpire" in volume two, it sometimes feels like a collection of cliffhangers sandwiched between repetitive conversations (mostly Superman and Supergirl's mother Alura), when perhaps some of it could possibly have been truncated to save the reader buying three hardcovers.
As well, I remain disappointed by Superman's own role in New Krypton. This time around, as I mentioned, he spends nearly all his time making moralistic demands on Alura. Superman's right, of course, but he comes across stodgy and unbending as he demands over and over the names of Kryptonians wanted for murdering Metropolis policemen -- instead of, say, putting those reporting skills to good use and trying to souse out the killers himself.
I still struggle, however, to see New Krypton as a real Superman story. Something like Last Son, where Superman fights Zod over Metropolis and gets pulled to some exotic locations in the process, is to me a Superman story, but Superman considering living on New Krypton -- away from the Daily Planet, away from his role inspiring humanity and his fellow heroes -- I'm not sure I see how that helps define Superman himself (though I still have faith in the writers to get us there). I can think of exceptions, of course -- two of my favorite Superman stories, Panic in the Sky and Exile, both have Superman off-planet, though in a different way than this. My hope remains that when the New Krypton dust clears, these same writers have some more traditional Superman stories up their sleeves, too.
Irrespective, New Krypton is so well structured and well characterized that it continually keeps me coming back for more. I'm hooked, and if you're not already reading this, do yourself a favor and get hooked, too.
[Contains full and variant covers]