Last week, Superman:The Last Family of Krypton #1 came out, the first official 'Elseworlds' title in quite some time.
Certainly the Superman origin story has been nice fodder for Elseworlds. Whether it be Red Son, or Speeding Bullets, or even JLA:The Nail, all it takes is a nudge of a rocket for Superman to end up being someone very different.
Last Family adds a new wrinkle. What if Jor-El and Lara also survived Krypton's destruction?
Perhaps most exciting for a gray beard like me is seeing Cary Bates' name on the cover. Bates wrote many of the Superman stories of my youth, so I have some nostalgic fondness for his work. But nostalgia only goes so far. Is it a good story?
The book drops you right into the story. Jor-El and Lara land outside the UN Building and ask for acceptance from the citizens of Earth.
Their ship has an artificial intelligence called B ('A is for apple, B is for Brainiac') and looks like a warship. Heck, it even has a slightly skull-like appearance consistent with Brainiac too. I am a firm believer in the old rubric 'if you see a gun in act one, it will be fired in act three'. I doubt we have seen the end of this armament nor do I think 'B' will always be a benevolent operating system. But I am already getting ahead of myself.
When the ship lands, it also emits an EMP spike shutting down all of the American military's weapons. Well, shuts them down or shorts them out. Some mortars accidentally get shot resulting in some friendly fire. Luckily, Jor-El and Lara show their good nature, making Brainiac holster the space-guns and flying to save the endangered infantry.
The couple are suddenly heroes ... and a hot story.
They not only become darlings of the media but become super-heroes. We see the 'space family' stopping disaster after a disaster. As the acts of good will pile up, Earth welcomes the Els with open arms. The decision gets made to set up a permanent home in Metropolis.
With a little bit of help from B's nanotechnology, their ship literally puts down roots into the ground and forms a grandiose skyscraper, looming over even the Daily Planet.
One thing that always always amazes me is just how much the Donner films has insinuated their way into the comic's mythos. There is no denying the 'crystal' appearance of the El tower. But even more, Jor-El repeats the very speech he tells Kal-El in the movie here. It is so interesting that the film is considered such dogma by many creators.
But, somewhat ominously, Jor-El ends that famous speech by saying that the light that will show humanity the way will be him. Sounds like he might be thinking about of setting himself up as a leader/god. That doesn't sit well with me.
And all is not rosy within the family even if they are celebrities.
Jor-El is completely obsessed with the destruction of Krypton and trying to make sure that Earth doesn't suffer the same fate. While the respect for life is noble, obsession is always scary.
And Lara seems unable to help assuage his fears, especially since he is keeping things from her. Things like the creation of a think-tank called Jorcorp (nice little word play there). While upset over this secret, she is hopeful that other problems handled by the Corp will make him less likely to ruminate over Krypton's destruction.
And Kal-El is having as many problems.
He is the ultimate childhood star, hounded by paparazzi and unable to live a 'normal' life. We have seen what indulgence and fame has done to our own young celebrities so imagine if they had powers! Lara realizes that it will be unhealthy for Kal to grow up under the microscope. And with Jor-El distracted with Jorcorp, she decides on a bold plan ... she will let Kal be raised by an Earth couple as a 'normal boy'.
Hmmm ... I suppose it makes some sense. Although if you survived planetary destruction as a parent, would you really want your child out of your sight? This seemed like a bit of an stretch. It does follow the well traveled road of 'What if?' and other Elseworlds ... the road where no matter the circumstances, fate will happen.
Lara goes about an exhaustive search to find the perfect surrogate parents for Kal.
I love the names considered and crossed off the list. Thomas and Martha Wayne ... fantastic. But Julius Schwartz? The classic Silver Age Superman editor. Heck, 'Julie' was a real foster father for Superman guiding his life's story. I also like that a Dan Didio-like man is rejected.Okay, I admit ... I giggled.
And fate does show up, as the Kents are chosen by Lara to become Kal's Earth parents. I suppose Kal would go along with this masking of his powers if it means a moment's peace. But I am somewhat surprised that Jor-El caved on this.
With 'Clark' now safe, Lara can go about living her life. As much as Jor-El is preaching the power of science, Lara begins promoting 'Raology', preaching the Kryptonian religious beliefs and tenets on Earth.
Again, we are just meeting these parents so I suppose Lara can be a very faithful person willing to proselytize. But we didn't see this degree of religiousness earlier in the book. So this felt like it came a bit out of left field.
As for Clark, he is finding it a bit hard to reign in his powers. Why should he simply let himself be tripped and teased?
Jor-El continues to be a stern rigid figure in the book, telling Kal that if he stops being Clark Kent because of taunting then he will be bringing shame on the house of El! Whoa! How about a smidge of compassion Dad? I suppose that this is part of the book, setting Jor-El up to be something of an extremist, thinking mostly in black and white rather than gray.
All that said, I do hope that this slice of the plot, Clark's difficulties living life as a 'normal boy' is explored more. This isn't a Clark brought up since early on by the Kents, instilled with their virtues. This is a Clark who just a few months earlier was a superstar, a powerhouse. I just think it would be harder for him to soak in the Smallville experience.
But the Kents show why they are so perfect for this role. Pa tells Clark that he is here for a reason ... and it isn't to settle scores with bullies. If only he said it wasn't to 'score touchdowns' ... it would have been a Donner-palooza!
Even worse for Clark, Lex Luthor is embraced by Jor-El, invited to join the Jorcorp.
Lex is pure Lex here, already smarter than everyone in Smallville and definitely filled with pride. He talks to Jor-El as an equal and Jor-El seems to admire it a little.
Does anyone else smell a Luthor/Brainiac team-up?
Finally, the conflicting life paths of Jor-El and Lara reaches a head. They argue ... they disparage each others' careers ... the yell and scream ... they fly off.
Is there any better way to stop a fight and get back into the groove then a little nooky in the sun? That's right, we see some of the passion they have had for science and Rao redirected to each other. I can only imagine the emotional turmoil roiling within them having survived Krypton's destruction. And what better way to deal with that trauma then by immersing yourself in 'cures' for that ... whether it be religion or science. I think they just needed to be reminded why they love each other ... and sometimes it takes a little passion to reignite the fire. I thought this played out well ... and I usually question whether or not the sex scenes are too long or even necessary for the story. Here it was handled well.
And that little stellar tryst does seem to refocus Jor-El and Lara. Suddenly they aren't buried into their careers and are spending more time with each other. And that tryst also leads to the birth of twins! Jor-El even seems to be softening. Although maybe that is a bad thing given that Luthor and Brainiac are on his payroll. He needs to be keeping a close eye there.
I thought this was a solid opening chapter in this mini-series. It certainly got my attention and had a number of interesting ideas. I am looking forward to seeing where this is all going . That said, this didn't knock my socks off.
Renato Arlem's art has a sketchy/scratchy feel to it that I thought might not work for a book looking at the sterile science of Krypton. But there is enough chaos here that it worked well, adding to the atmosphere of the book.