War of the Supermen has the unenviable task of wrapping up over a year's worth of plots in ths super-titles in just 4 issues. 4 issues!! It can't be an easy job for writers Sterling Gates and James Robinson.
War of the Supermen #1 was released this week and it certainly moved the story along at the necessary pace to wrap up in time. It also answered a couple of lingering questions I have had stick un my mind during this long arc. It also had 2 major plot elements ... major plot elements.
Surprisingly, War of the Supermen #1 was a Supergirl issue, with her pieces of the main plot dominating the book. With Sterling Gates co-writing with James Robinson and Jamal Igle on art, it even felt like a Supergirl issue. I am glad Jamal was chosen to pencil this issue as it really has long-standing implications for Kara. He has such a handle on her character; I can't imagine anyone doing this issue better.
With the Kryptonian army set to flood Earth, General Zod holds Superman at bay, making Kal be a witness to the destruction that is about to unfold. Zod estimates that it will take 2 hours for the Kryptonian troops to overrun the planet. That might be being a bit generous for Eath's defenses. The one thing I have to point out is that Earth won't be facing 100,000 Kryptonians. It appears that only the Military Guild has been pressed into duty.
Superman, being Superman, tells Zod that there is 'always hope', hope to stop the war. He breaks free of Non's clutches. This scene takes place on page 2. That is the last line Superman will utter in this book. While present throughout the book, it is always a silent presence ... either battling or consoling.
So in many ways, Superman isn't the star here, sort of echoing the feeling of the prior year. That said, this isn't just a Superman story, it's a Superman Family story, a Krypton story. There are a lot of pieces to the plot that need to be covered.
One of those lingering pieces is Alura and Reactron.
We are once again shown Reactron getting tortured, this time by Alura herself. All along, Alura has been one of the toughest character for me to get a handle on. She has been confident and insecure, stoic and overly emotional, loving and harsh ... she has been a roiling tempest of emotions. Early on she was the one who called the murdered Science Police officers 'collateral damage'. And yet she sobs nightly at Zor-El's tomb, bemoaning what she has become. With all the trauma in her life, I can see why she is psychologically uneven.
Kara walks in on Alura and is shocked at what she sees. She brings up the 'watch out for your mother' line Zor-El told her way back in Supergirl #36. Supergirl realizes it was a warning about Alura and what she is capable of. Hey ... I said that way back when Zor-El first said it! Here is what I said way back on December 18, 2008 in my review of the issue - But not before he tells her that she should watch out for her mother. “Watch out” as in “take care of her”? Or “watch out” like a warning?
I am so rarely right with my guesses, I have to take it where I can get it.
With only 4 issues to tell the story, some things I would like to see just can't be shown. I would have liked to see some surprise by Supergirl seeing Reactron alive, someone she thinks has been dead since the end of Supergirl #47. But there isn't enough page space to merit that.
I can remember when Supergirl would kowtow to Alura. Those days are over. Shocked and disgusted by her mother's torture, she chastises her mother.
More importantly, Kara recognizes this incident directly impacts her. Supergirl brought Reactron to New Krypton. She is responsible for him. Alura's actions make her a war criminal. This is probably bluster on Supergirl's part. No one would say she has any responsibility in this. But I can understand her anger at being deceived by her mother yet again.
Alura is steadfast in her stance. Information that can help New Krypton is worth obtaining regardless of how it is obtained; the ends justify the means.
Reactron is another one of those charismatic nutjobs I love to read.
In this scene he answers one of the bothersome questions I had during this Year Without Superman. I can recall being befuddled when Project 7734 captured Supergirl, Nightwing, and Flamebird only to then release them. At the time, I wondered why Lane wouldn't keep them captive or simply kill them. It made no sense. Reactron answers the question. Project 7734 wanted Reactron to be brought to New Kandor ... and the easiest way to do that was release Supergirl and have her capture him and bring him to justice.
Don't ask me why Reactron would agree. He must have been told it would be 3 hot meals and a cot ... not Kvorn torture. I still am happy to have some answer. It really bugged me that Lane set the 'Metropolis Three' free.
Reactron chuckles at Alura's ethical conversation with Kara. He is thrilled at having the opportunity to kill the two women, completing the 'set of the house of El' murders. Luthor's trip to New Krypton included a slight modification to Reactron ... a parting gift. Reactron suddenly seems to be approaching critical mass. Did he know all along he was going to be a suicide bomb?
With Reactron glowing brightly, Alura shoves Kara into a radiation deck room and seals it, protecting Supergirl and sacrificing herself. Reactron explodes.
And then, New Krypton explodes! Unbelievable!!
Could ... or should ... Reactron house that much power? Enough to destroy a planet? Seems a bit much.
That said, everyone who voted in the recent poll 'New Krypton explodes', consider yourself high-fived.
New Krypton is gone and so are the majority of her citizens, almost everyone on the surface. That means every guild other than the military guild has been eradicated.
While these events are unfolding on the other side of the sun, Lois and Jimmy are working on exposing General Lane and what he has been doing. They need help and contact the rest of the super-family: the Guardian, Steel, Nightwing, Flamebird, and Superboy.
But they aren't the only super-family member listening in. Superwoman is back and eavesdropping. I love how her face is shrouded by the cowl. It makes her look inhuman.
With New Krypton gone, Superman breaks off his skirmish with Zod and starts to scan the planetary debris. He comes upon Supergirl, saved by the containment cell she was thrown into. The carnage is everywhere. And Supergirl grieves. This one of those 'big moments, big art' pages. The cousins thought they were alone ... then suddenly have a family, a world again ... only to have it taken away again.
Supergirl is clutching a piece of Alura's S-shield. Alura is among the dead.
What a blow to Supergirl! To lose both Zor-El and Alura so soon after finding them again is horrible. Suddenly Supergirl finds herself pretty much alone in the universe, no family but Kal. This should have major ramifications in the title for some time to come.
It also has immediate ramifications too.
Enraged by her mother's death at the hands of Reactron ... of Luthor ... of Earth ... Supergirl grabs the flag of Krypton, carrying the standard into battle, racing to Earth to join the war effort.
These all are such powerful images by Jamal Igle. There is no dialogue on these pages, the silence of space and all. And yet so much is conveyed by the art ... the body language, the expressions. Great stuff.
I can understand this snap decision by Supergirl to join Krypton in war. To be honest, neither Earth or Krypton is fighting a justifiable war here.
Despite their overwhelming grief, Zod is able to rally his army. This war suddenly has more meaning, a stronger cause.
As a Supergirl fan, I loved this issue. She was really the hub that the issue revolved around. But I wonder if Superman fans have the same feeling. Are they happy with his limited presence and dialogue here?
And while I was happy to hear Reactron answer my question about General Lane freeing Supergirl, there are some answers I don't think I will get answered. The destruction of New Krypton erases all plot threads hanging from World of New Krypton. Questions like what were those silver pelts in the military base?
But those are the small things. The big events here are the destruction of New Krypton and the death of Alura. The death of Alura took me completely by surprise. I hope it doesn't further isolate Supergirl from everyone else and she grieves and deals with this tragedy. But very emotional and dramatic moments here.
As a fan, I am sad because the friction between Alura and Kara always made for good reading. And Alura was complicated and as a result a very compelling character to read.
This issue kicked of the mini-series in an explosive way. Can the rest of the story keep the adrenaline this high and wrap it all up? I hope so.