Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 goes a long way toward, if not justifying the distinct lack of Superman himself in this story, explaining the lack in a satisfying manner. "Last Stand of New Krypton," Gates notes, was originally to be called "Brainiac and the Legion of Super-Heroes." Indeed, if we can forget that this story marks the near-end of almost two years worth of Superman stories, and instead just accept it as a Legion of Super-Heroes story set in the present, there's actually a bit to like here.
It's about at the point where Legionnaire Brainiac 5, arrived from the future, looks at our young Supergirl Kara Zor-El and remembers when, in her future, Supergirl will die, that this volume of Last Stand of New Krypton becomes something different. At that moment, I'm not sure what playbook Gates (who shares writing duties with James Robinson) is working from, but we now have tacit acknowledgement that this back-in-continuity Legion remembers the aspect of Crisis on Infinite Earths where the Golden/Silver Age Supergirl perished; even as today's heroes know Barry Allen died during Crisis, the original Supergirl was supposedly out of continuity entirely, a figment of the old Earth-1 that no longer exists.
I get why these kinds of continuity puzzles are annoying to some readers; Gates ultimately provides no explanation in this book as to who remembers what, and ultimately the whole puzzle may cause more confusion than it does add to the story. I hold out hope, perhaps, that indeed Gates is writing from a playbook -- that we as the reader will at some point learn more about what Brainiac 5 knows versus what Superman and Supergirl do -- though I may ultimately be disappointed. From this moment, however, Last Stand of New Krypton becomes Brainiac 5's story, and his mourning over the still-alive Supergirl, his drive to save Superman, and his fear in confronting his ancestor Brainiac all make for compelling reading.
The thing is, I like the Legion of Super-Heroes, and have grown more to like them lately between Mark Waid's re-imagining of the team, the cartoon, and the return of the post-Crisis classic team. Where I've often felt that the Legion goes wrong is in not having any connection to the goings-on of the modern DC Universe; the Legion exists in a bubble and is therefore not "essential" to DC Universe reading otherwise. Last Stand of New Krypton is a great example of how the Legion can be integrated into the ongoing DC Universe -- it's an entire book where Brainiac 5, Chameleon, Sensor Girl, Tellus, and others fight "our" Brainiac over the skies of New Krypton. This is exactly the kind of Legion book I want to read, Superman's name on the masthead notwithstanding.
I considered in my review of Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 1 that one (of a few) plotlines I'd like to see wrapped up by the end of the New Krypton books is that of the Kryptonian guild system, which segregates the Kryptonians and which Superman has tried to combat. Also in Gates's afterword, the writer explains that the Kryptonians are now united despite guild -- all against Earth under the rulership of General Zod. This is a fair turn, an alternative to the neat bow under which the plotline could have been tied up, and I like that; at the same time, the moment in the story is so very subtle that it took Gates's afterword to explain it, which might mean it's too subtle.
It is, however, an indication at least that Last Stand's writer and its audience are on something of the same page in terms of what they want from this story, even if not quite everything that I'm personally looking for gets delivered.
Last Stand of New Krypton not only ends with Gates's afterword, but also with a couple of pages excerpted from the next and final New Krypton book, War of the Supermen. As in the first Doom Patrol trade, which ended with the trailer for the next book in the series, I love that DC includes this extra material acknowledging that a trade reader might want the next trade in a series, and encouraging them to pick it up. Between Gates's afterword and this extra material, Last Stand re-establishes the early sense of excitement the New Krypton storyline had about itself, and it made me feel good at the close this book, even if that excitement comes late, just one volume before the end of the storyline.
None of this excuses, of course, the fact that Superman doesn't play much of a role here. The hero is far from absent; indeed there's a fantastic multi-page widescreen sequence in which Superman tried to hold back Brainiac's crashing ship that's truly cinematic. But much of the book's plot surrounds the Legion trying to save Superman and preserve his legacy; this is a book about Superman more than one starring him. In that way, if the reader can't find enjoyment in the Legion story, they may feel that Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 simply seems to be biding its time between the first volume and the concluding War of the Supermen.
It seems the New Krypton storyline will come down to this final book, War of the Supermen, to make or break how the story ultimately fares.
[Contains full and variant covers, afterword by Sterling Gates, preview pages of War of the Supermen. Printed on glossy paper.]
Later this week ... the Collected Editions review of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. Don't miss it!