Review: Superman: Reign of Doomsday hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

After the long, well-regarded, and highly intellectual storyline The Black Ring, writer Paul Cornell could be forgiven for a more action-packed follow-up with Superman: Reign of Doomsday.

As the final post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman story, however, Doomsday left me wishing for a little more. In comparison to recent new classics like Superman: Brainiac or Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Doomsday lacks pizazz. There's nothing terribly wrong with Doomsday, and Cornell handles all the characters involved in a right and respectful manner, but at the same time this Superman's last story is not as strong as I might have hoped it would be.

[Contains spoilers]

Reign of the Doomsday reprints Action Comics #900 -- which also appeared in Superman: The Black Ring Vol. 2, but now with the "Reign" parts that were removed from Ring added back in -- as well as Action #901-904 and the short stories from #900. There's stark difference between Cornell's Action #900, an adroit exploration of why Lex Luthor can never win for losing, and the rest of Cornell's issues here, in which Superman and his extended family chase errant Doomsdays for four chapters.

Superman makes a great save at the end of chapter two, one of the few breathtaking moments of the book, and otherwise it's just a lot of racing around until the Eradicator saves Superman's life in the end. Artist Kenneth Rocafort offers dynamic work in the first chapters, but a spate of fill-in artists just add to the finale's hum-drum tone.

Cornell demonstrates through the story how Superman's heroism and humility has inspired loyalty in his "family" and the greater DC Universe, and that's a fine point to make. Superman is willing to save the original Doomsday and sacrifice himself early on, and the Eradicator responds in kind. At least one difficulty with Doomsday is that the moment in the second chapter is indeed the most exciting, and there's never much suspense after that; also it's the fact that despite the "Superman family" of Steel, Superboy, Supergirl, and the Eradicator appearing here, Cornell does not distinguish them nor really make any character's history with Superman part of the story.

Steel is portrayed as a brainy scientist and the Eradicator is demonstrated to be made of energy, but in what is supposed to be a sequel to the popular "Reign of the Supermen," Steel never talks about how Superman inspired him, for instance (nor do we ever understand how this Eradicator came to be). Superboy is neither too sarcastic nor Supergirl too bombastic, and in that way Cornell succeeds where other writers using these characters as guest-stars have failed, but the Superman family could just as easily have been the Justice League for how Cornell distinguished them emotionally.

At the end of the book, Cornell has Lois explain to Clark that it's his humility and discomfort with the inspiration that he provides that precisely makes him so inspirational. This is, again, a fine point that perfectly sums up the post-Crisis Superman -- though I tend to wonder if the DC New 52 Superman will have so much self-doubt. Even Cornell can't help dig at Superman: Grounded in the last panel; I think so many people had a problem with Grounded because we're ready for a Superman who inspires, not inspires despite himself. Where Cornell succeeds, perhaps accidentally, is to bring laser-focus to the recent era's "reluctant leader" Superman; this take on the Man of Steel worked for a while, but it's not difficult for me to let it go.

Also notable, though not completely explored, is that in this book, President Obama calls Superman to action and humanity cheers the Man of Steel's rescue -- in essence, the events of New Krypton are all but forgotten. That's a small point, but it does give this stalwart fan some comfort that a few weeks later, when the old DC Universe blinks out of existence and the new one replaces it, humanity did not go into limbo mad at Superman, but rather he was the world's hero once again.

I give DC credit for reprinting the Action Comics #900 short stories at the end of this book, both for completeness and because they include David Goyer's controversial piece where Superman seems to renounce his US citizenship. I note Goyer does not actually have Superman renounce his citizenship, just suggest he might, something Cornell even has some fun with at the end of Reign; it'll be obvious to most comics fans that Goyer is thinking out loud in the confines of a Superman story rather than making sweeping continuity changes.

Most impressive, I thought, was the moving short from Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook that gives us another look at Krypton's last days. The Geoff Johns and Gary Frank Legion of Super-Heroes short is fun; Paul Dini's piece I found too irreverent and Richard Donnor's, forgive me, a little slow. Brian Stelfreeze's art spread finishes this book well, showing how Superman's appearance changed from Golden Age to Silver Age, and then the John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Ed McGuinness, and Gary Frank years.

It's not easy, I guess, being the Man of Steel -- in neither Superman: Grounded Vol. 2 nor Superman: Reign of Doomsday did we really get the Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? send-off that would have ended Superman's post-Crisis years in style. No doubt Paul Cornell tried, but Superman's had it rough lately -- the early Geoff Johns stories were the high point, and then the Superman titles floundered again. Sometimes there's no making it better but starting over -- hail and farewell, the post-Crisis Superman, and see you again in the New 52.

[Includes full and variant covers, including by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, John Bogdanove, and Denys Cowan; artist Joe Prado's Doomsday designs]

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4 comments:

  1. As the closer to an entire era of Superman stories, this book is quite disappointing. I never got the feeling that Cornell was invested in this story like he was in Black Ring, and the four different artists (five if you count issue #900) didn't help. The fact that DC let Kenneth Rocafort leave the book early to get a jump start on Red Hood and the Outlaws shows that giving the pre-Flashpoint Superman a proper send-off was far from a priority for them.

    However, I commend DC for collecting all of Action Comics #900 in this book. Not all of those short stories are winners, but there are some real gems in there, especially the Jor-El tale by Lindelof and Sook. If only they had done the same for Wonder Woman #600.

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  2. I think Superman's been pretty great of late, ever since Johns Superman and the Legion. I was nearly indifferent at the start of the massive New Krypton saga, but wow! what an ending. Taken as a whole it's very impressive. I've also very much enjoyed the Black Ring, Grounded and the second book of Reign of Doomsday. The Superman stories of the last few years have been remarkably terrific. Easily the most fun since Loeb and McGinnis' run in the 90s.

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  3. I too was so disappointed. No one's heart was in this. Even the characters seemed embarrassed to be involved.

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  4. I kinda liked this one as a big final melee amongst all these character that will either get erased or reimagined post-New 52.
    Everyone remembers fondly the original Doomsday saga which marked the post-Crisis DCU early on, who launched the comics through the 90s.

    So this was, for me, like this "classic" modern Superman villain, Doomsday, going through the pre-New 52 Superboy, the pre-New 52 JL, the pre-New 52 Steel, etc... One last time, "just for kicks".

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