Review: Superman: Savage Dawn hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The recent Batman: Night of the Monster Men is a crossover done right, compact and focused, and based on that limited sample suggests good things for crossovers in the Rebirth era. That's auspicious because crossovers struggled in the New 52 era, especially among the Superman titles toward the end, with a tendency to bloat and meander. This was true of the Doomed crossover, and while the "Truth" event started auspiciously with connected-but-separate titles, with Superman: Savage Dawn we're back to a crossover so large it loses sight of itself.

Savage Dawn has moments here and there -- moments of impressive art, moments of inspiring story, moments of fine inter-character drama. But they're punctuated by a ten-chapter story that includes almost two-issues-worth of alternate-realty sequences, almost two-issues-worth of action sequences (with plenty of one- and two-page splash pages), and a bevy of mistakes. Moreover, though it begins to seem like Savage Dawn has interesting things to say in the beginning, whatever themes are set up in the beginning are lost or unremarked upon by the end, and the conclusion skips blithely over some of Savage Dawn and "Truth"'s biggest issues.

I've high hopes for "Final Days of Superman" that follows this, where perhaps one writer can make more tenable what four writers here could not.

[Review contains spoilers]

The Superman annual that starts Savage Dawn offers an expanded origin for Vandal Savage with a mild connection to Krypton, repositioning this Justice League et al villain into the Superman wheelhouse. We learn early on that Savage murdered his own father in the course of gaining his immortal power, and "Truth" and Savage Dawn have largely turned on the machinations of Savage's children on his behalf. The story explores little of that by the end, however, with the most prominent of Savage's children from "Truth," Wrath and Hordr_Root, taking a backseat for the majority of the book before they're killed off unceremoniously.

This represents well Savage Dawn's difficulties overall. In employing multiple writers, there are individual good moments, but the cohesive whole is mostly ignored. As a minor point, Savage brainwashes the hero Frankenstein, Superman tells Frankenstein to "clear his head" in the penultimate chapter, and then we never see or hear from Frankenstein again. More importantly, Wonder Woman plays a major role in Savage Dawn, fresh from Superman breaking up with her in "Truth," but the conclusion, written by Gene Luen Yang, focuses mainly on Clark's relationship with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. This makes sense, because Yang's Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth dealt with Lois, Clark, and Jimmy and not with Wonder Woman, but it demonstrates how having multiple writers, each with their own niche, creates a narrative push and pull in the book that doesn't resolve itself successfully.

Even as, in Savage Dawn's conclusion, we do understand Clark's new recognition that his friends believe in him so much that they knew he'd weather the revelation of his identity, Yang's exchange where Clark says, "Lois, about that choice you made ... I --" and Lois replies "Me, too" hardly seems enough for the end of a 10-issue-plus crossover. Also, while the image of Clark standing affectionately with Lois and Jimmy is sweet, here again it doesn't really scan with the general establishment in the other titles that Clark's been hanging out with Diana a lot, Lois really isn't still in his peer group, and so on.

Wonder Woman, for her part, takes the spotlight in Superman/Wonder Woman #30-31, two cancelled/unpublished issues collected in this trade. Brian Buccellato brings back Savage's child-warrior Salvaxe (who also otherwise just disappears at the end of Savage Dawn) and there's some nice flashbacks to Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship -- especially here at the end of the New 52 -- but the stories neither reflect well on mopey Wonder Woman nor obstinate Superman, neither of whom can speak with the other because that's saved for the published titles proper. Given that, it still feels lopsided for Wonder Woman to be shunted to "director's cut" material (welcome as its inclusion is) rather than the main story.

The structure of Savage Dawn proper, involving a couple of individual issues of Superman trying various methods to regain his lost powers, reminded me of now-classic stories past like Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite and "Power Struggle." At least one difference, however, is that both of those are four-issue stories -- where a little meandering resolves itself quickly -- and this one is ten. Though it remains hard to argue with an issue written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by Doug Mahnke, this book's third chapter is a particularly egregious example of the mythic gods showing Superman various imaginary scenarios, which could be lifted out of the book almost entirely with the overall story being no different. Savage Dawn is ten issues and doesn't need to be, and the shoehorning of books into the crossover (also in Doomed) particularly rankles. Batman/Superman managed not to be involved, telling its own story in the interim, and that might've been a better choice for some of the issues here, too.

When the individual titles use their regular artists, Savage Dawn is certainly nice to look at, both Mahnke and Aaron Kuder and also Howard Porter (plus cameos by Jon Bogdanove and Bill Sienkiewicz). The idea of Superman in armor hasn't ever sat quite right, but Greg Pak and Kuder use it perhaps best so far when the newly repowered Superman falls through the Fortress and the armor wraps itself around him, and their two-page spreads are majestic and inspiring for the New 52 Action Comics's fiftieth issue. Yang, for his part, writes a number of pages of wonderfully awkward dialogue when Superman visits Steve Trevor, ex-boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend, at ARGUS.

But at the same time Savage Dawn is riddled with errors, and the book's other structural difficulties aside, it's hard to feel invested in the story -- or feel the creators are invested -- when the little details are wrong. Superman recognizes Stormwatch's Carrier here, something he shouldn't know about, not to mention that he also doesn't know the New 52 Captain Atom and that Mr. Terrific has inexplicably returned to our dimension from Earth 2 (a lot of this is in Yang's issues, where it basically seems he's writing in pre-Flashpoint continuity). It's admittedly hard to keep track in the DC You, but characters shift issue-to-issue between old and new costumes; also a latter issue ends with a random suburb being threatened and the next opens with that town having become Metropolis.

Again, I look to Batman: Night of the Monster Men and the relatively-compact Justice League vs. Suicide Squad as indications that maybe the lessons of crossovers like Superman: Savage Dawn have already been learned. At the same time, Batman crossovers have historically been more on the ball than Superman crossovers -- witness the contemporaneous "Superman: Millenium Giants" versus Batman: Cataclysm, for instance. I do feel some pangs about the forthcoming "final days" of the New 52 Superman, but at least the hope is that there's better mega-events ahead.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Savage Dawn
Author Rating
2.5 (out of 5)
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7 comments:

  1. One of the reasons I had never read Superman titles from the New 52 was because it seemed to be constantly in events.

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    1. You could say the same thing about the Batman titles, no? But the Batman titles, for a while now, have run circles around the Superman titles where events are concerned, much as it pains me to say.

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  2. Is there anything in this book that isn't collected in the original TPB of each series? Because at first sight it looks that if you buy this and The Final Days of Superman, you'll be missing out on Superman and Batman/Superman issues.

    I'm so happy they got rid of this crossover mess post-Rebirth. I've spent more time cataloging TPB and how they should be read for the full story, than actually reading them.

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    1. If you buy this book and Final Days of Superman, you'll only miss out on Superman #45-47 (the Haemosu 3-parter, which I actually enjoyed) and Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2 (a bunch of vignettes by different creative teams, none of which are essential).

      Batman/Superman didn't take part in the "Savage Dawn" crossover, and most of the issues collected in the final volume are exclusive to it. The only exceptions are the two "Final Days of Superman" chapters in it.

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    2. But this book and The Final Days of Superman don't have any issues that aren't collected in the separate series TPB like Superman: Doomed had?

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    3. No. Even the unpublished Superman/Wonder Woman #30-31 can also be found in that series' last volume. If you're a completist, you're better off buying the final individual volumes of the four series. If you prefer a more comfortable reading experience without switching between books with every chapter, though, the two crossover collections are a better option.

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    4. Glad you mentioned the Superman/Haemosu "Mythbrawl" three-parter; I liked that too. It was fun to see Superman go out for a beer with a carefree friend who wasn't as encumbered as Batman or Jimmy Olsen, for instance.

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