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.
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.