Review: War of the Supermen hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 21, 2011

As the conclusion to the sweeping, eighty-plus part, over two-years long Superman: New Krypton saga, War of the Supermen does a passable job -- not satisfactory, by any means, but better than other readers had lead me to expect. Over the course of at least four different series and a number of different writers, New Krypton transformed from the story as which it started out into a different one; writers Sterling Gates and James Robinson offer a good ending, but not the one I was looking for.

[Contains spoilers]

The New Krypton series as a whole had a number of good stories and well-established characters, and Gates and Robinson treat them all well here. They didn't forget Greg Rucka's Nightwing and Flamebird, thankfully, and the characters' exits, if brief, are at least built on threads of the New Krypton story, as when Flamebird defeats the Kryptonian god Rao one more time. Superman gets another moment with his adopted son Chris before the latter disappears into the Phantom Zone; Robinson's Mon-El, perhaps the best part of all of New Krypton, makes a cameo; and the writers tease future stories with those characters and with the new Guardian and Billi Harper. New Krypton was an ensemble story, and the real disappointment would have been if the ensemble hadn't been able to take their bows; in that, Gates and Robinson deliver hands down.

I also thought the writers presented the book's tragedy well. That New Krypton would be destroyed has been a given since the beginning, but I didn't expect the twist in that the bomb would be Reactron, and the trigger would be Supergirl's mother Alura's overzealous torture of her enemy. The destruction of the planet, as depicted by Jamal Igle (I think) is visually astounding (if lacking sufficient similarity to depictions of Krypton's original destruction). The pages of Superman and Supergirl's grief, especially the silent pages, were very affecting, their tears bubbling in the zero gravity. I hadn't expected Lex Luthor's role in the destruction of New Krypton, and that surprised me as did how this book leads in to Paul Cornell's forthcoming Lex Luthor story Superman: The Black Ring.

Unfortunately, I think War of the Supermen missed the mark in a number of different ways.

First of all, I think to posit as War of the Supermen does that the New Krypton story is about Superman trying to broker peace between Earth and the Kryptonians is to miss the point of Geoff Johns's fantastic set up for this story. New Krypton is about Clark Kent in mourning over the death of his human father, and how this makes him too-readily accept the New Kryptonians who are not the surrogate family he presumed they would be. New Krypton is full reflective instances of fathers and sons -- Lois and General Lane, Nightwing and how he sacrifices himself for Superman -- and at the end of the book we even learn Mon-El is going to be a father. The writers even go so far as to have Lois think to herself about something Pa Kent told her, but there's never that scene with Superman that ties the story back to where it started, with Pa Kent's death. I liked the modern age incarnation of Superman where he parents were alive, I think it worked well in a number of stories, and that Johns killed off Pa Kent as the launchpad for New Krypton, only to have that death mean nothing in the end, is a disappointment to me.

Second, I felt the central conflict of War of the Supermen -- Superman versus General Zod and a horde of Kryptonians attacking Earth -- much too closely mirrored that of Superman: Last Son, and it's hard to top a work by Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert. Robinson and Greg Rucka's work in the third volume of Superman: New Krypton went a long way toward establishing Zod not as a one-note villain, but as a war hero dedicated to helping his people at all costs; War of the Supermen would have us believe that all of Zod and Superman's growing relationship was a sham, and that Zod really is just revenge-obsessed and "evil." More's the shame. Not to mention that I must have missed in the eighty-plus issues where the Phantom Zone destroyed projector regenerated itself; Superboy's retrieving it was a terrible deus ex machina, and a rather dull conclusion to the story -- Zod always gets re-imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, and sure enough, here he was again.

Third, and maybe this dovetails with the lack of acknowledgment for Pa Kent in the book, I disagree with focusing War of the Supermen's epilogue on Lois and Clark's relationship. Yes, the two had to separate for Superman to live on New Krypton, but it was always with the understanding that Superman was keeping an eye on Zod, and any number of times we saw Clark come back to Earth to visit Lois. The writers even have Lois ask Clark never to leave her again, and then follow it, essentially, with "just kidding." As far as I'm concerned, Lois Lane -- the DC Universe's most capable civilian -- ought be the first person who understands the responsibilities of her spouse and the last person to ask him to shy away from what he has to do. The Death of Superman -- shortly after Lois and Clark's engagement, with Clark in mortal danger -- was a story about Lois and Clark's relationship, and that story's romance-laden end was especially fitting; here, ending New Krypton with "I can't stop kissing you" and "I love you Lois," rather than, say, "Let's get Swamp Thing to build a memorial to the innocent Kryptonians that Reactron killed." It seems again a conclusion to a different New Krypton saga than the one I started out reading.

What to say then about Superman: New Krypton? Like "Batman Reborn," it was an ambitious story with a telegraphed ending, and the suspense was in how the writers would get there -- "Batman Reborn" is about how the world reacts to Batman's death, knowing as we did that Batman would be back; similarly we knew the planet of New Krypton couldn't last, but the question was how it might be destroyed. The Batman story, interestingly, is a comedy (a story with a happy ending), and the Superman story the tragedy. New Krypton was most certainly written by talented writers who like the same Superman eras as I do -- it had Bibbo, Natasha Irons, the Guardian, Dubblex, and even Agent Liberty in it, for gosh sakes; it fell flat, in the end, but there were so many highs getting to this point that I certainly can't discount the story entirely.

I liked New Krypton's ambitiousness, I liked the ways in which it reminded me of the "Triangle Era" of Superman comics. Part of me wants to say, "Try again! For Rao's sake, try again!" Superman deserves storytelling of the kind this could have been -- maybe a second attempt could be the charm.

[Contains full and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

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6 comments:

  1. hmm... I need to read the whole thing again, but I felt very disappointed by the ending. The dialogue between Clark & Lois was at times very cheesy and at times just bad.

    In addition, the story has a devestating tragic ending. Now I am not opposed to tragic endings but it seems to me that superman (the greatest hero of them all) failed to achieve even a minor victory.

    In superman brainiac by geoff johns, superman lost his father but defeated Brainiac, saved earth and freed the city of Krypton.

    In the new krypton saga, superman and his allies seem to achieve nothing. Additionaly we end up with a sad and depressed superman. AGAIN!

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  2. Excellent point that New Krypton ends without a victory, even a bittersweet one. Superman defeats Zod, of course, but you're right that it's different than the bittersweet end of Superman: Brainiac.

    I like Gates and Robinson as writers a lot, but I think New Krypton ran out of steam, and the rush to move the Superman title on to the next thing did this storyline a disservice.

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  3. When NK started I liked it quite a bit. By the end though I was a little worn out by the whole thing. I agree with CE, WoS wasn't as disappointing as some people lead you to believe but it was great either.

    I think the Braniac and LoSH arc seemed out of place a little and probably could of been it's own mini not tying to NK. And WoS did feel like it was rushed. I read that it was suppose to be a summer event and then got bumped down because many people started to get tired of everything. I enjoyed the Mon-el story the most out of all the NK stuff.

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  4. What really made this story a disservice, in my opinion, was the "100-minute war" concept. They build towards this war for over a year, and then the whole thing ends up lasting just 4 regular-sized issues (I'm not counting issue #0, which is a prologue). It's like DC got tired of New Krypton and decided to clear the decks as quickly as possible to make way for Straczynski's arrival.

    I was also looking forward to see how the Kryptonian threat would be dealt with, since I figured they couldn't just throw all of them in the Phantom Zone again. Which is exactly what happened in the tremendously disappointing conclusion to the mini series. And like this review says, they didn't even bothered explaining how the projector got fixed.

    War of the Supermen wasn't bad enough to sour me on the New Krypton saga as a whole, but Last Stand was its true climax to me.

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  5. Far as I know, the saga wasn't even supposed to end with these last stories. Readers tired of it fast and demanded Superman back; things were getting so bad that DC decided to wrap it up, hence Last Stand and WotS. I recall Greg Rucka equating it to the Batman Reborn thing in a panel; saying both were risky experiments, but one worked for fans while the other didn't.

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  6. When the cover to WoNK #2 mistakenly said it was issue #2 of 15, DiDio explained it was because they accidentally counted the 3 issues of a follow-up series as part of the maxi series. I take it as a sign that Last Stand was planned from the beginning.

    As for War of the Supermen, given that Superman #700 would have come out in May 2010 if they didn't interrupt all Superman books for a month, I think maybe the original plan was to use that anniversary issue to launch the event, which could have run for at least a couple of months.

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