Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path of Doom (Rebirth) trade paperback

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Caleb Mozzocco over at Everyday is Like Wednesday recently described some of DC Comics's Rebirth material as "a cover band play[ing] the hits of their favorite bands." I know what he means; this was what I was afraid of when the New 52 came around, that we would (and did) see things like Robin Tim Drake's dramatic multi-part origin "covered" in a quickie one-off issue that achieved the same result with none of the punch. I've been less bothered by that in some of the examples Caleb mentions -- including James Tynion's Detective Comics, which I adore -- but Caleb's idea came back to me the other day as I was reading Dan Jurgens's Rebirth Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path of Doom.

If anyone's got a right to "cover" "Death of Superman," surely it's Dan Jurgens (and at that point I'm not even sure it qualifies as a "cover" so much as one of your favorite singers belting out their signature hit almost a quarter-century later). There is a moment within Path of Doom where Superman explains the rather complicated origin of Doomsday completely but concisely in a way I'm not sure anyone could pull off but Dan Jurgens. But even with all the right to tell this story, it remains that what Jurgens has here is just another Superman/Doomsday battle of the kind we've seen re-done plenty of times since -- and one in which we know full well that no one is going to die. Path of Doom is mostly action sequences, it is drawn out longer than it needs to be, and it's repetitive in the sense that Jurgens is writing for the issue and not for the trade. This is a satisfactory start for Action Comics but I'm eager for Jurgens to tackle some new material.

[Review contains spoilers]

Both Dan Jurgens's Action Comics and Phil Jimenez's Superwoman that follows it feature the new "Superman" Lex Luthor ("SuperLex," as Jon Kent calls him). I've struggled with this character for a while, not quite being able to understand or enjoy Geoff Johns's kind of heroic version of Lex Luthor who now fashions himself as Metropolis's savior. I thought Jurgens brought an interesting perspective, however, in that Lex here seems somewhat sincere in his efforts, and the post-Crisis Superman -- judging the New 52 Lex by post-Crisis Lex standards -- immediately distrusts him. It made me realize that I myself was looking for "old Lex" in the similar but not-quite-the-same "new Lex" and that indeed they're not the same characters. Some of what seems foreign to me in "new Lex," like his affection for his Bizarro creation, might in that way be judging new Lex by old Lex's deeds.

Unfortunately, something that immediately put me off Jurgens's Superman was this introductory sequence in which the post-Crisis Superman-in-hiding sees Lex wearing the Superman crest -- not threatening anyone, not doing evil, just wearing it -- and immediately reveals himself to the world mainly for the purpose of giving Lex a talking to. Jurgens's Superman blows off Lois's very rational cautions that they've worked so hard to hide themselves such not to want to toss it away recklessly, and indeed once Superman confronts Lex, it's essentially Superman who throws the first punch. All of this is behavior very unbecoming of a Superman (not to mention of a husband) and Dan Jurgens of all people should know better; it's no more satisfying when Lois shrugs it off later as "Clark knows best."

The story ends up with a now older, wiser Superman battling a rampaging Doomsday again and trying to use what he learned in their first fight to benefit him here. That's interesting when it comes to the fore, with Superman using his powers in different ways or talking about throwing Doomsday into the sun. But it ebbs and flows, and sometimes it seems Superman's trading punches with Doomsday rather cluelessly, and when in the end it was Superman's plan all along to get Doomsday to the Fortress of Solitude and send him to the Phantom Zone, the trajectory of the story doesn't quite back this up. It's a fine diversion to involve Wonder Woman in the plot for a while, but ultimately it takes six issues for Superman to do one thing, and that's in addition to Jurgens writing the same argument between Lex and a seemingly-human Clark Kent repetitively about once per chapter.

Still, Path of Doom offers plenty of charm. The somewhat official first teaming of old/new Superman and new/old Wonder Woman is definitely fun, and Jurgens wisely sidesteps any silly romantic drama to quickly revive the Superman-Lois-Wonder Woman friendship. Jurgens does show great restraint in not specifically calling out to the iconic "Death of Superman" moments, like "No matter what happens ..."; instead, Jurgens has new great bits here like Superman putting on a brave face for son Jon and then flying off with tears in his eyes, well-depicted by Stephen Segovia.

Mr. Oz plays a large role here, and it's nice that this character didn't simply fade into the woodwork after DC Universe: Rebirth. I was surprised to see Oz try to kidnap Doomsday and actually fail the first time, losing soldiers in the process; in Detective Comics, Oz is a shadowy figure that always seems to get what he wants, so I wasn't expecting to see him have trouble. That rounds the character for me quite a bit and I thought it a nice touch on Jurgens's part.

For a Triangle Titles fan, we've got Dan Jurgens at the helm, Maggie Sawyer on the first pages, and Superman recounting Doomsday's origins as a genetically-modified Kryptonian death monster -- Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path of Doom ought not offer that much to complain about. If anything, Jurgens is perhaps a victim of his own success; the number of times Superman has fought Doomsday since Jurgens's iconic battle (including the recent Superman: Doomed, which ought be referenced here but isn't) makes what would otherwise be Jurgens's notable return to the fight seem also-ran. But clearly this is just the opening salvo, and with Superman Reborn and "The Oz Effect" on the horizon, I've no plans to look away now.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path of Doom
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
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