I have been pretty blunt in my assessment of the arc H'El on Earth which ran through the super-titles several months ago. It was at times inscrutable. The characters were often written in ways that did not jibe with their personalities. H'El had little or no back story, little or no description of his powers and there was little discussion about how he was accomplishing his plot. Despite the heroes' efforts, H'El accomplishes his goals. And, as I have said over and over, Supergirl really drew the short straw, being played as an overly emotional, ignorant patsy who tries to kill the villain in the end. Suffice it to say, I wish H'El was even farther in my rear view mirror.
Then I heard that Scott Lobdell was writing the sequel to H'El on Earth called Krypton Returns. And the first chapter would be a H'El origin story in Superman #23.3 H'El. The announcement didn't exactly thrill me. H'El on Earth was a disaster. Why would I want a sequel this quickly? And with Lobdell driving the ship, including co-writing the Supergirl issue, I have to worry that Supergirl will be mistreated again.
H'El #1 does give us some of H'El's origins, although it adds a bunch of questions as well. And it also piles on the latest DCU trope - that Superman's enemies are often completely obsessed with Jor-El. First we had Cyborg Superman/Zor-El. Then we had Brainiac. Then we had General Zod. And now we have H'El. It is pretty strange to see so many villains have this psychological flaw.
Perhaps what is worst of all is that Jor-El gets sullied a bit in this story as well. It was bad enough he built a mind control machine in Lobdell's World of Krypton arc. Here, he is cocky and condescending. He's the smartest man in the room and he is going to let you know it by putting you down if you disagree with him. This is a young Jor-El but a far cry from the noble and staid scientist I am used to.
Dan Jurgens and Ray McCarthy provide the art for the book and they bring a quiet crispness to the story, a sort of easy and comfortable art that lets the story unfold nicely.
The story starts where H'El on Earth ended, with a wounded H'El being discovered by and cared for by Jor-El. Physically incapacitated by psionically roaming, H'El nurses his physical wounds.
I have to laugh at H'El's pining over Kara's 'betrayal' when he lied to her and physically abused her. So the fact he still is questioning how she could reject his love is ludicrous.
I also think that it is amusing that Jor-El talks about Kryptonite so matter-of-factly since we know Kryptonite was created by the force of the planetary explosion. Did he just name the substance right there? How do people know what he is talking about?
It is small things like these inaccuracies and inconsistencies that add up and detract from my ability to enjoy the story.
At least we finally get some understanding of how H'El got his powers. He is definitely Kryptonian. And his cells are crackling with many different types of galactic energy. As a result, he has psionics and telekinesis and time travel powers as well as the usual complement of strength, etc. It opens up some possibilities for Superman and Supergirl, maybe even explaining her solar flash power.
Since those energies aren't on Krypton, H'El must have gone out into space. And since Kryptonite could only be created by a planetary explosion and H'El had some, he must also be from the future. But when?
It is one thing for Jor-El to be happy about his theories. It is another for him to tell his partner Orla he doesn't care to hear from people who disagree with him.
And then we get some Jor-El love.
When Jor-El runs off to the Science Council to discuss his findings, H'El follows along psionically.
His talk of Jor-El almost sounds like a bad love poem:
"The smartest among them
Are forever in the shade
That is his blinding sun."
I can imagine Jor-El standing in front of Brainiac, H'El, and Zor-El and saying 'you're all pretty!'
Jor-El then heads to the council and tells them everything - about the Kryptonite - meaning Krypton is doomed. Of course, this is the inherent problem with time travel ... for all Jor-El knows H'El is from a millenia in the future. So without concrete evidence, it seems a bit foolish to try to whip the council into action now.
One interesting piece is the council saying that Jor-El is only on there out of deference to his father. Have we ever heard much about Jor-El's father? And how interesting that it would be Jor-El on the council, not the elder Zor-El. Even more familial jealousy.
Now here is the most cringe-worthy panel in the book.
Remember, H'El is trying to stop Krypton from exploding. Jor-El just gave the council their first warning about Krypton's destruction only to be rebuffed.
H'El thinks about killing the council members ... but he has to be careful not to have his 'actions alter the future.;
Your whole purpose is to alter the future! That is all why you are in the past!!!
It is ridiculous to have him say that.
Despite not knowing when Krypton will explode (remember it could be any time in the future), Jor-El decides to push forward a secret project he is working on. He decides that he will create a sort of time capsule of Kryptonian artifacts ... as well as some Kryptonian cells ... and send them into a whirlwind tour of the galaxy to see what will happen when the cells absorb all the different energies. (One of the 'artifacts' looks suspiciously like the Codex skull from Man of Steel.)
Jor-El tells Zod of his plans and Zod doesn't actually try to stop him from going through with the plans.
H'El, there astrally, sees the 'time capsule ship' and realizes it is 'his' ship. The ship's name is House of El ... truncated it is H'El. The memories H'El being sent off by the masses, as a life of an astronaut, as a life as friend with Jor-El ... none of that actually happened.
That's right, everything was a lie. Suddenly he sees the truth.
Enraged and irrational, H'El jumps out of the medical bay, slaughters
the scientists and guards around him, heads to Jor-El's lab, and kills
Zod! He then alters the cells on the ship to be his cells. And so we finally see how H'El gained his powers. It is his cells which drink in all the other energies.
So he creates himself. Ahh ... time travel paradoxes.
But somehow cells in a petri dish grow and form a fully grown man? One that learns Kryptonese? Was he ever a toddler? Where did those pants come from? Why does he think he lived on Krypton? Why travel the universe to get to Earth? Why not use his temporal powers to go back in time right then?
And why carve the backwards S into your chest?
This origin makes less sense than the astronaut one.
And then he suddenly changes his tune. He doesn't want to save Krypton ... he wants to rule it.
He kills Jor-El! And then, I assume, heads back in time to start to take over in the past.
So lots of things need to be fixed in this new mangled timeline, explaining why the upcoming story is happening. Interestingly, the rewrite could also be a reboot. Maybe time gets changed so Zor-El isn't so awful. Maybe Jor-El will have less of an air of superiority.
I doubt any of that will happen. But this opening chapter doesn't make me think that Krypton Returns will be any better ... or easier to comprehend ... than H'El on Earth.
Maybe, if I am lucky, when the timeline is righted, H'El will never have existed!