Superman, Mon-El, and the Kryptonian Nighwing and Flamebird in the first half of the New Krypton storyline, I found the Nightwing/Flamebird volume good but comparatively weak. In the second half of New Krypton, however, (between Codename Patriot and Last Stand of New Krypton), Nightwing and Flamebird Vol. 2 emerges as one of the strongest. Writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann tell a story of god-cursed lovers that is not unique in the DC Universe, but some of the nuances are surprising enough to make for an effective tale.
What I think Rucka and Trautmann do effectively here is set up at the beginning a convincing conflict for Nightwing and Flamebird, and then twist it unexpectedly. All along the Kryptonian duo have hunted rogue Phantom Zone criminals, so their falling into a trap set by Jax-Ur and having to fight their way out is a reasonable enough plotline, set against Lois Lane's conflict with her father and his military war on Kryptonians.
With this established, however, the writers pause for an almost storybook chapter in which we learn about the conflict in Kryptonian mythology between Nightwing, the Flamebird, and the evil Vohc. Their roles are similar to Khufu and Chay-Ara (nee Hawkman and Hawkwoman) and their Egyptian enemy Hath-Set, in that Vohc betrays Flamebird and keeps her from loving Nightwing, and the two are infinitely reborn to fight Vohc, this time in the bodies of Chris Kent and Thaya Ak-Var.
As such, what follows is not just Chris and Thaya's fight to stop Jax-Ur's destructive giant in the guise of the Kryptonian god Rao, but also the mythical Nightwing and Flamebird entities battling Vohc in the body of Jax-Ur. The finale is wonderfully epic, with Chris having to fight his way back from the Phantom Zone for the second time, and also nicely self-aware -- when the gathered Justice Society helps Nightwing and Flamebird fight Rao, Mr. Terrific mumbles to himself that this is "just like" when the Justice Society fought Gog in Thy Kingdom Come. Rucka and Trautmann aren't reinventing the wheel here -- and even seem to recognize such -- but rather mix a familiar story with Kryptonian mythology in a way that made it feel fresh to me.
What I felt the second volume of Nightwing and Flamebird did better than the final volume of Superman: World of New Krypton was to end; rather than New Krypton's out-of-nowhere cliffhanger, Nightwing and Flamebird comes to a sufficient stopping point before Last Stand begins, and the plot is more forward-moving and less a collection of one-shots than World of New Krypton volume four. Mon-El: Man of Valor ends, too, but only by jumping well forward to after Last Stand; I didn't much appreciate those spoilers, but rather think Nightwing and Flamebird gets it just right.
As a drawback, I would venture (without having read Last Stand) that Nightwing and Flamebird's fight with Jax-Ur and Rao likely has little-to-nothing to do with the resolution of the "New Krypton" storyline, and probably could be skipped altogether. Much of World of New Krypton was the same way; Clark palling around with Adam Strange or making treaties with Jemm, Son of Saturn, didn't appear to equal much more than marking time until Last Stand. I imagine someone going from Codename Patriot to the second Mon-El volume and then to Last Stand wouldn't be too confused if you don't sweat the details; but again, I found Nightwing and Flamebird volume two to be the better story.
This book ends with a multi-part Adventure Comics back-up story by Trautmann, that follows Kryptonian spy Car-Vex having infiltrated General Lane's anti-Kryptonian army. This spotlight on reluctant criminal Car-Vex is dynamite, and echoes the best of Greg Rucka's self-doubting Question Renee Montoya in Five Books of Blood, or Trautmann's own profile of Mademoiselle Marie in Checkmate. There's a fantastic series of crosses and double-crosses in the story's pages, leading up to the bloody ending, and I only wish there'd been an opportunity for more of these "Tales of New Krypton" as the series went on. The story (if mildly over-narrated) is a credit to Trautmann, and hopefully DC has more for the writer now that the Red Circle experiment seems to be at its end.
[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]
I keep saying this, but as "New Krypton" reaches its end, I'm just very hopeful that the payoff is worth three to four years of comics that lead up to it. This is the most enthusiastic I've been about Superman comics in a while, and while I don't believe J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded is a great follow-up to "New Krypton," I'm hopeful that whatever comes next after Paul Cornell's Black Ring will capture some of the complex plotting and scope that came with the "New Krypton" series.
Thanks for reading!