Indeed, retreat now all ye seeking a moral in this story. Return of Doomsday offers no real beginning or ending, nor much of a narrative structure. It's simply 144 pages of Doomsday doing what he does best, beating up superheroes, and anyone expecting more than that will be sorely disappointed.
To break this trade down further, the first issue begins with Doomsday attacking Steel out of nowhere and ends with Doomsday carrying the beaten Steel away; the next issue begins with Doomsday attacking the Outsiders out of nowhere and similarly carrying the Eradicator away. The next chapters are exactly the same: mostly unrelated, and mostly filled with the characters wondering where Doomsday came from while Doomsday beats them soundly.
A trade full of knock-down action wouldn't always be my cup of tea. I'm aware, however, that these are some of the last pre-Flashpoint appearances of Doomsday, leading up to the end of the Action Comics title, and also that Doomsday's opponents here are the main actors of the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline: Superboy, Supergirl, Steel, the Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman. Only the hardest-hearted among us couldn't enjoy this book for what it is -- a tribute to Death of Superman, in which Doomsday, also out of nowhere, plowed through the Justice League and then Superman in quite spectacular fashion. One almost roots for Doomsday in these pages; this is Doomsday's show.
The narrative structure serves to smooth out what would otherwise be a rather awkward collection. The Steel issue is a one-shot, but the Outsiders, Justice League, and Superboy issues all begin in medias res -- Justice League, specifically, while the team is otherwise fighting Eclipso, and Outsiders in the midst of an argument. But every outside plot thread, for the most part, gives way when Doomsday crashes through the ceiling and starts playing paddy-cake with our heroes.
If you don't follow these other titles, I don't think you'll be confused by what's going on -- a point in favor of this book, though the "Doomsday pause" might have been annoying to readers of the interrupted series themselves. Neither does this book spoil much if you were to read this before Superboy: Smallville Attacks, which starts before and ends after this trade; Justice League is spoiled only slightly more, and Outsiders most of all (perhaps to whet readers to try that seemingly often-struggling series).
Of the issues, Steve Lyons's Steel issue that starts the trade is by far the strongest. Though Lyons and his editor stumble right out of the gate (Steel was not "Dr. Irons" when Doomsday first attacked during Death of Superman), overall Lyons achieves a tone very similar to Death, with a lone hero facing off against Doomsday. Lyons is quite right that Steel emerged with the intention to stop Doomsday, and it's entirely fitting that his final pre-Flashpoint starring role is the culmination of that. Lyons doesn't break new ground, but this is an entirely respectable Steel outing.
Second best is James Robinson's two issues in Justice League of America #55 and the Superman/Batman Annual #5, if only for the sheer scope that the two-parts and extra-sized issue permits. Here again, Doomsday mainly just knocks characters around for a while, but this time it's the "new World's Finest" team of Supergirl and Batman Dick Grayson, plus the Cyborg Superman.
I don't much care for Robinson's Supergirl, who seems brattier than Sterling Gates's definitive portrayal, and there's an elongated scene where Supergirl deals with some emotional issues that didn't grab me because of Robinson's flighty portrayal. On the other hand, however, we have the Cyborg Superman and a Cyborg Doomsday transforming the Justice League satellite into a variety of floating head-shapes with Batman ducking and rolling out of the way, explosions aplenty, so that's engaging. Unfortunately, Miguel Sepulveda's art in the annual is either mis-inked by Sepulveda or colored poorly, because it doesn't quite "pop" in the way the issue ought warrant.
I felt DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio's Outsiders issue was the poorest of the bunch. For an action-focused issue, it wasn't so off, but the characters seem to speak just for the sake of filling panels (in one panel, standing right in front of Doomsday, Halo emotes, "We're a team and we stand together"; still in the same panel, the Olympian replies, "This will be one battle too glorious to miss," and Geo-Force adds "Then let's take this monstrosity down." Meanwhile one imagines Doomsday having already torn through them all). DiDio's characters also have a tendency to narrate their actions: "Giving him all I got," Halo says, while giving Doomsday all she's got. I'll be watching in my upcoming Outsiders review whether DiDio does the same throughout.
I regretted as well that DiDio gave such little time to the Kryptonian Eradicator in this issue, the target of Doomsday's rage. This issue does nothing to further explain the presence of the Eradicator when he was not at all mentioned in the New Krypton crossover, nor does it make any clearer Doomsday's muddled post-Infinite Crisis origins. I had hoped the Doomsday crossover might have been the point where all of this came together, but that doesn't seem to be the case. As DiDio seemingly kills off the Eradicator in this issue, I'm left to wonder what this character's purpose was, or if he was meant only to have an Eradicator present and a reason for Doomsday to cross over into Outsiders, which seems gratuitous in the extreme.
Jeff Lemire and Marco Rudy's Superboy issue is satisfying in its brutality and closes the book well, giving the only hints of the greater plan behind Doomsday's rampage.
Superman: Return of Doomsday is a big action popcorn flick, short on plot but high on punching with a big cast of DC characters. You might as well dig out your old Death of Superman trade and make it a double feature; who knows the next time Doomsday will be berserking across the DC Universe.
[Includes original covers and variant Justice League cover. Printed on glossy paper]