Review: Superman: Mon-El: Man of Valor hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

As we move toward the conclusion of the "New Krypton" storyline, Superman: Mon-El -- Man of Valor didn't have quite the introspective pep of the first volume. It had introspection, to be sure, and writer James Robinson's storytelling methods are laudably more complex than what you find in your average funny book -- but, the goings on in a variety of other titles make this book very choppy. Man of Valor rushes in the end to fit Mon-El in with established DC Comics continuity, and it takes from that often-told story some of the majesty it deserves.

[Contains spoilers]

Here, as in the first Mon-El volume, the best part is James Robinson's title character. Robinson writes Mon-El as a quiet presence, neither speaking idly nor more than he has to, and it gives unique gravitas especially to one presented as such a young character. There's a notable scene in the end where Mon-El is asked to return to Phantom Zone imprisonment and in one panel refuses; then, over the course of three quick panels of dialogue, Mon-El has agreed to sacrifice his freedom to save the future. The character's change is remarkably subtle, written admirably by Robinson, and speaks to the deference to duty that helps the reader believe Mon-El is the future hero we're meant to believe he is.

Robinson moves forward and backward in time over the course of these issues, often referencing parts or all of past scenes in pop-up panels, and I appreciated this break from the norm even if I did have to re-read once in a while -- if anything, Robinson forces the reader to read slower and take their time with the material. (In essence, if you liked Grant Morrison doing some of the same in the issues following Batman RIP, you won't mind this, and the reverse is likely true, too.) This is most effective in referencing Mon-El's long torture at the hands of General Sam Lane's doctor; we see very little of this torture on camera, but it believably haunts Mon-El throughout the rest of the book through Robinson's eyeblink flashbacks.

Man of Valor moves swimmingly through Mon-El's capture by Sam Lane, escape, and return to Metropolis; then things begin to fall apart. There's a bit with Action Comics's Nightwing and Flamebird where Mon-El's called to Science Police headquarters and, one page later, there's been a massive explosion but the reader doesn't know how or why (likely because the main action has switched to the second Nightwing and Flamebird volume); this leads quickly to a chapter post-Last Stand of New Krypton, amazingly enough, where Mon-El must seed multiple worlds with the bottle cities from Brainiac's ship. There's a bit with General Lane having captured another Daxamite that also flies by pretty quick, and then Mon-El is shunted back to the Phantom Zone -- without even an appearance by Superman -- all in the span of one issue. Mon-El gets some good character moments, but it's all too hasty for what are supposed to be some of Mon-El most shining historical moments.

This is the second time we've seen Mon-El help populate worlds with alien races -- the legend being that these worlds ultimately become the homes of the Legion of Super-Heroes members. Here, as in the Valor series circa Zero Hour, Mon-El populates the worlds not out of heroism, but because he's directed to do so by members of the future Legion; Mon-El is his own self-fulfilling prophecy. This has always felt a bit hollow to me -- the Legion worships Mon-El as a legend, but in fact he's just their errand boy -- and in part it's because the story Mon-El's fulfilling is actually just a hastily drawn piece of retroactive continuity to explain why Mon-El, rather than the out-of-continuity Superboy, at one point, inspired the Legion's creation. I like Mon-El, but these little details and how quickly it all goes by robs this issue of what we're told by the Legion should be its majesty.

In a part-for-the-whole moment, Robinson has Mon-El convince Jemm, Son of Saturn, to let the Legion's Saturn Girl's forebears live on his planet, which coincides thematically with Jemm's otherwise random appearance in World of New Krypton, and I was glad for this tie. But the story ends with Mon-El emerging from the Phantom Zone in the thirty-first century to meet the Legion and Superboy, and the book makes no attempt to reconcile the ruling time paradox of all of this -- if Superboy freed Mon-El from the Phantom Zone in the future and knows Mon-El as Superman in the future, why is Superman concerned with Mon-El's well-being in the present or otherwise trying to free Mon-El from the present Phantom Zone? As a well-versed DC fans, I know the facts of this and I know it doesn't make sense, but I worry about the knots in which this would tie someone reading the book with less of that knowledge.

I will admit, however, that Robinson fooled me with all the Legionnaires scattered in the present. I thought it was Tellus only, but indeed it's much more, and each of those revelations caught me by surprise. Inasmuch as I think DC still has a bit of work to do explaining the Legion's history to their readers, the one thing that the appearance of all the Legion members in current-time DC stories has achieved is to make me eager to read the new Legion stories now being published. I like the Legion and especially the return of the classic line-up, and I'll be glad to see Mon-El over there -- one similar to Robinson's Mon-El, I do hope.

[Contains full and variant covers, explanations of Codename Patriot and Last Stand of New Krypton, sketchbook section. Printed on glossy paper.]

So, some disappointment with James Robinson's Superman: Mon-El -- Man of Valor, especially after such a good first outing, but I lay more of the blame on the constraints of the "New Krypton" crossover than Robinson's storytelling, which I think still shines here. As a conclusion, I hope Man of Valor isn't indicative of the end of "New Krypton," but rather there's more direct storytelling yet to come, less broken through the prism of multiple trades.

Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

9 comments:

  1. My patience is starting to pay off. This NK saga is almost over and the trades are almost out; I believe February will be the last one being WoS.

    I'm looking forward to this read though. I enjoyed the first volume quite a bit and like the character of Mon-el. I haven't read it in a little while so I'll have to go back and re-read it so I can be prepped for vol. 2.

    I just skimmed through your review though so I don't spoil anything for myself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The decision to split New Krypton into story threads worked well for the early parts, but post Codename: Patriot it is all a bit of a mess, not quite needing a Blackest Night style reading order, but coming very close.

    My absolutely favorite bit was the multiple legionnaire reveals, each one topping the previous one for sleight of hand, but you're spot on about Mon being an errand boy. I did detect some similararities between Mon's time with the Science Police and Clark's time on the crime beat in Rucka's Ruin-era stories.

    Certainly Robinson's Mon El work is my most preferred of his recent efforts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yep. This collection is a bit, though not much off key in comparision to Robinson's other work. In comparision to his earlier STARMAN & GOLDEN AGE, his current work seems a bit off key as in it doesn't always pay off but in the long run it will. I loved the 1st volume of NK just because (and some people I know hated it just because) it had all of those SPECIALS (JIMMY OLSEN, GUARDIAN) by Robinson. The only bone I have to pick with the series as a whole is the price point & collection point. They had a standard 128 pg collection for 24.99$ which IMHO is a bit expensive & if they wanted this run to be acceptable by readers they should have put SUPERGIRL in hardback too....looks a bit unruly if the rest are in hardback & this one is in softcover.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What I don't like about the SG tpb is that the last page of the book is a story page. I don't like when companies do that to trades. I prefer that there are some ad pages and/or alternate covers. But never the actual story.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm not sure about the inclusion of Adventure Comics #11 in this collection. While it ends Mon-El's present day story in a satisfying note, it doesn't pack the same emotional punch if you don't get to see what he and the other Legionnaires go through during Last Stand of New Krypton, which beautifully wraps up the Legion plot that Johns and Meltzer started back in the Lightning Saga.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I wonder about Adventures #11, too. Certainly if included at all, I'd have liked to see it at the end of Last Stand of New Krypton where it belonged chronologically, and not here. It's as if DC thinks some years from now someone might be reading these Mon-El volumes separate from New Krypton as a whole and want a clean ending for Mon-El; I think this is admirable, on one hand, but I don't really think it was necessary.

    abu george, what bothers you about the last page of a book being the story page? I agree if only because I like that covers are at the end and not between the chapters, but what specifically bothers you about it?

    ReplyDelete
  7. CE, I have the notion that if a trade is gonna start falling apart it's gonna be in the front or back. So with a story page being last it could become loose.

    I don't know if I'll explain this right but here goes: the last page of a tpb is glued between the preceding page and back cover. I feel that when this happens the second to last page becomes weaker cause it'll detach from the last page which is usually more glued to the back cover. And down the middle you can see the glue. It looks like the page is barely hanging on.

    That's why I like when there's junk pages in the end so if something does happen I don't lose a story page.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I liked the second vol. of Mon-el but I'm not sure about AC #11. It does end his story but it does spoil LSoNK. At least DC could of released in along with Mon-el.

    But the Legion stuff was great. I really like them and look forward to Levitz's trades when they're released.

    One thing that occurred to me when reading vol. 1 and 2 was why DC didn't do like a NK companion and included all the backup stories. It kind of bothered me that you would get a story and then there would be a break with a tale from the past or an origin & omen's story. I think it kind of made the story choppy because you start to building to something and then you go away for an issue or two and then come back to the main story,

    ReplyDelete
  9. A New Krypton Companion of all the side-stories and backups. Oh, from your mouth to DC's ears. It'll never happen, but what a wonderful idea, and indeed it would have helped or supplemented in a lot of places.

    ReplyDelete