Action Comics Annual #2 came out this week, the first part of Krypton Returns, Scott Lobdell's sequel to H'El on Earth.
Now my issues with H'El on Earth are well documented on this site. It was muddled, with plot holes and was near incomprehensible in some places. And, of course, Supergirl was treated horribly in that arc. The middle chapter, Superman 23.3 H'El #1, wasn't strong either. It was a jumbled mess of an origin as we are told that cell samples that made their way through the universe gained omnipotence and intelligence. Lobdell has often said that the reader simply needs to go with the flow, ignoring things that make no internal sense or aren't explained and I'm not surprised that he asks for that. Because a lot isn't explained and there is much which makes little sense.
I tried my best to go into this issue with an open mind. But I bought it with some trepidation wondering if this story would be any different. Would it make sense? Would there be holes or leaps in the plot that are hard to comprehend? Would Supergirl be treated better?
Sadly, the truth is there was no difference. The issue seems to stumble along, the plot clunkily pushing forward rather than smoothly rolling out. It is loud and brash. There is a lot that I have to simply accept as a reader as it doesn't make much sense. And outside of one nice moment between Kara and Kal, Supergirl is treated poorly, cold and bratty and ultimately immature.
On the other hand, the art in places is quite lovely. I know I like Rocafort more than others but his art shines here, the crazy panels and page compositions working with the chaos of the story. And Dan Jurgens fill in pages are fine.
The story starts with Superman witnessing a Temporal Tsunami destroying an uninhabited galaxy. Planets are destroyed and suns extinguished. A portal appears and he steps through it. He suddenly finds himself standing in front of the Oracle with Supergirl and Superboy.
Immediately we see how Lobdell is going to proceed. Supergirl icily lets it be known she isn't happy Superboy is there. Funny how Superman and Superboy are looking up and she is looking down. I get the feeling that Lobdell doesn't like Supergirl. She seems more interested in shunning Superboy rather than what brought them together.
Remember, Mike Johnson had her beg H'El to spare Superboy's life, realizing life is sacred, in the Supergirl chapter of H'El on Earth.
The Oracle points to a nearby planet and the trio realize that they are suddenly in orbit above ... wait for it ... Krypton. Apparently, the accumulated yellow sun energy allows Superman and Supergirl to survive in space under the red sun.
Of course, Supergirl acts impulsively. She is thrilled that H'El (the guy she loved then hated then tried to kill) was successful in saving the planet. She tries to fly 'home' but is stopped by Superman. She then is angry with him for not letting her be happy about the return of the planet.
It is clear this is a 'new' Krypton with 25-odd years of time having passed. When the three are attacked by a Kryptonian warship, even Supergirl has to agree they can't just fly down. Of course, she does so icily once again.
We are 9 pages in and she already has 2 icy word balloons and has acted bratty and impulsive.
The Oracle teleports the three to a Kryptonian moon where we get several pages of exposition. First, the Oracle 'possesses' Superboy and fills in some of the details of what has happened.
H'El learned that he was nothing but cells on a ship. He decides he will rule Krypton. But Krypton is doomed. So he keeps going back in time, trying to change details. Remember he had killed Jor-El in Superman #23.3. He undoes that until finally one of the many timelines of Jor-El he actually figures out how to stop the planet from exploding.
I already have said that I think H'El's origins are rubbish. So nothing new there.
But there is something mythic about Krypton being doomed to die. The fact that Lobdell has one Jor-El figure out how to save the planet sort of cheapens the life of the 'real' Jor-El. It means that the DCU Jor-El was a failure for not figuring out how to stop the planet blowing up. What is a hero's story for saving Kal-El now becomes an 'honorable mention'. Why wasn't he more like that Jor-El?
During each of these dry runs, H'El murdered anyone who stands in his way. He has corrupted the timestream so much that it is lashing out with the destruction we saw earlier.
You know who doesn't care about all that destruction and death? Supergirl apparently. She doesn't see what the big deal is. After all, she got her world back. She actually says they should be throwing H'El a parade. Remember, the H'El she loved then hated then tried to kill.
Isn't that supremely immature? Selfish? Un-heroic?
The Oracle's possession almost burns out Superboy. Supergirl has to slap Superboy's body to shock Kon into regaining control.
Then Lobdell has Faora come out of the shadows to finish the story. In this new timeline, the Oracle educated and trained Faora to be his mouthpiece.
So why possess Superboy at all if you teleported the family to the moon to be near your acolyte? It is one of those meaningless plot wrinkles that was probably put in just so Supergirl can smack Superboy. Because Faora picks up right where the Oracle left off.
It turns out that H'El took over Krypton and made it a horrible war-like world. He has made half the population slaves and the other half military troops. The place looks more like Apokolips than Krypton.
Of course, Kara remembers the 'other' Faora and is rude to this one, vowing to make Faora pay for her crimes and questioning the veracity of what she is saying now.
Are you sensing a pattern here? Supergirl isn't very nice in this book.
The Super-family gets to witness this new hostile Krypton first hand. eeking over the bend they see soldiers forcing the weak into manual labor under the threat of violence.
Superboy falls back to the tried-and-true 'I am a living weapon' mode, attacking the soldiers and apparently perforating them with telekinetic bolts. Superboy the killer.
And then the inexplicable and needlessly complex plot twist.
To stop H'El from saving Krypton and ruining the universe by weakening the time stream, the heroes need to split up to three key moments in the past. Supergirl heads to the clone wars. Superboy needs to make sure Supergirl gets to Earth so she can be around for this moment (because that makes perfect sense in a time stream where Krypton doesn't blow up). And Superman needs to stop H'El.
Seems like a sort of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers plot right ... overly complicated and easily thwarted. Why not go back in time and stop H'El from irradiating his cells preventing him from doing anything?
Remember, on this world, the events of Krypton's destruction didn't happen. Why would Zor-El be making a rocket to begin with??
Taking Faora at her word, they prepare to dive into the portals.
Okay, it isn't all bad.
This is a scene I think most Supergirl fans have been waiting for and seems apt after the 'find happiness' pledge at the end of the Cyborg Superman story.
She apologizes for being difficult and thanks him for trying to help her.
Okay, great sentiment.
But how do you corroborate this attitude with the 'hooray H'El, hate Superboy, I don't care how many people died as long as Krypton is back' attitude from earlier in this issue?!
I am happy this scene happened. I am shocked that Scott Lobdell wrote it. Why does he write her so awfully everywhere else?
Once we go back in time, Dan Jurgens take over on art. We get to see a couple of pages of each of the members on their side adventures, I did like this scene the most as Kara tries to figure out who Superboy is (he is wearing the family crest) as she sneaks out of the house with a antigrav harness. Looks like she has always had a thing for the kneeless boots.
But there are other things to see in the other side scenes.
Supergirl is basically powerless in the past having been exposed to yellow sunlight for less time that Superman.
And Superman meets Lara Van-El. Not Lara Jor-El. Lara Van-El. In this new timeline, it seems Lara did not marry Jor-El. So maybe Kal doesn't exist here. Yet another time travel story conundrum.
The issue ends with H'El vowing revenge and death on the Superfamily. He looks back in time and sees the family interacting with the Oracle. He still seems to be pining for Kara, loving her but feeling betrayed. Remember, the girl he lied to and hit.
Anyways, if H'El is so obsessed with Kara, why hasn't he used his time bending powers or his planetary clout to woo her or marry her in the new timeline? It, again, is a sort of nonsensical plot thread since H'El has control over reality right now.
Anyways, I tried my best ... I tried ... to see the bright spots in this issue. The Rocafort art is slick. The scene where Supergirl and Superman reconcile is very nice. Lara Van-El is an interesting wrinkle.
But so much of this issue seems strained and worrisome. Supergirl being a selfish brat. Superboy killing. An unnecessary complicated plot. A lot of exposition. It doesn't exactly flow.
And so Krypton Returns begins. I knew I should have been worried after all.