Review: Superman: Kal-El Returns trade paperback (DC Comics)

The final issue collected in Superman: Kal-El Returns, Action Comics #1050, gives me much optimism for the Man of Steel’s immediate future. It’s a fun issue, reigniting one of my favorite comics rivalries, and teasing interesting things for the future. That said, while I’m glad everything here was collected, “Kal-El Returns” seems to have been one of those hodgepodge events that results in a hodgepodge collection.

My hot take is that neither Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics nor Tom Taylor’s Superman: Son of Kal-El quite had enough material to bridge the three-month gap between the real end of their runs and the conclusion of Dark Crisis, Action Comics #1050, and the start of “Dawn of DC,” and so “Kal-El Returns” is the fluff we got in the middle. Not to mention the Superman: Kal-El Returns special, a repetitious anthology that delivers little and only serves to slow the proceedings.

You’ll read this because there’s a couple story beats in it ahead of Joshua Williamson’s new Superman and Kennedy’s further Action run. But, if page counts didn’t matter, I can very much see how the contents could’ve been split into other books such to make them better and have spared us this.

[Review contains spoilers]

In Kal-El Returns, we get the next three issues of Johnson’s Action, closing out the Warworld Saga, plus backups from the same; Taylor’s final three issues of Son of Kal-El; the Kal-El Returns special, and Action #1050. A wonderfully exuberant note in the front calls this “the complete saga, presented for the first time in scene-specific order,” which near as I can tell is a fancy way of saying the first three Action issues are presented together and the first three Son issues are presented together, since even though they were numbered interspersed as parts 1–6, the odd parts (Action) and the even parts (Son) don’t really intersect with one another.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And yet, editorial didn’t take “Part 1,” “Part 3,” etc. off the title pages, so the uninitiated might very well think they were reading the issues out of order even though they’re more or less not. I say “more or less” because there’s a little bit of throughway between the stories, mainly the dispensation of the imprisoned Metallo, such that reading these linearly as one title and then the next isn’t 100% flawless either. Short of someone actually taking the time to intermix the scenes of these various comics for the collection, I’d have done the Action “Red Moon” backups first, then Son of Kal-El, Action proper, the special, and then the anniversary issue.

As perhaps an all-too-brief epilogue to the Warworld Saga, Johnson’s initial Action issues are interesting when they deal with Earth governments being understandably unhappy with Superman bringing the liberated Warworld into Earth’s orbit. It doesn’t seem Johnson can fill quite enough pages with this, though, so most of two issues involve Superman in routine fisticuffs with New Gods Orion, Desaad, and Kaliback.

With everything going on in the DCU at the moment, I admit it took me a second to figure out the whys and wherefores — Orion in the lead of Apokolips as of Justice League Incarnate and the New Gods interested in Superman because of Fourth World-y stuff that happened in Warworld Revolution. Much of this would have hit better as part of that self-same Warworld book.

Underneath it all are rumbling of Project Blackout, Lex Luthor’s scheme that ultimately wipes Superman’s secret identity from almost everyone’s minds on Earth. This seems Johnson and/or Williamson’s plotline, and one difficulty with the Son of Kal-El issues is that much as Taylor tries to keep up, it’s clear his is the tertiary title (see Lex torturing a random person for reasons related to Blackout, never returned to). Indeed, as Lex returns to prominence in the Super-titles, the book seems overeager to remind us of Jon Kent and Lex’s status as frenemies, in both Son and then all over again in a short in the Returns special that comes off repetitive (pity, because that’s not really the fault of anthology contributor Marv Wolfman).

Additional in that special is a Superman/Batman team-up by Mark Waid, where Waid teases an old-style Batman annoyed by Superman, until instead Batman grabs up the returned Superman in a hug — but I wouldn’t say there’s much more to it. Sina Grace’s Jimmy Olsen story comes off too treacly, though I loved Dean Haspiel’s absurdist art. Alex Segura’s “Superman reunites with the Justice League” story reads a little long and is inked by Fico Ossio a bit dark. It dovetails with Dark Crisis, the big selling point for me, though that’s as much as a panel, and could as easily have taken place in Johnson’s Action instead.

But again, when the book finally finishes biding its time and gets down to Action Comics #1050, it shows. The return of Superman’s secret identity is unfortunate but also inevitable, and I like at least the new complications that Lex still knows the secret and also that knowledge of Superman’s secret could literally kill people.

There’s opportunity here — the implication that people will mentally reject the idea that Clark Kent is Superman gives Clark the license to live less under the radar in his professional life (more the Animated Series Clark than the Christopher Reeve Clark), something that might be interesting to explore. Though, my guess is the writers just want a classic Superman paradigm back and the details of getting there were only just that.

So again, Action Comics #1050 holds a lot for me — Superman and Lex Luthor at odds again, Metallo waiting in the wings, Clark Kent having to navigate a new reality — and it’s just unfortunate that it takes all of Superman: Kal-El Returns to get there. Along with re-hiding Superman’s identity, there’s a couple other continuity shifts; I rather wish we could pick a Metallo origin and stick with it, but I was glad to see Clark and Lex’s Smallville childhood back in play. This is a lot of comic without a lot of payoff by volume, but hopefully it portends good things to come.

[Includes original and variant covers, plus 13 pages of variant cover thumbnails]

Rating 2.25


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post