Superman #25 came out this week and it was appropriate that it came out during Thanksgiving week. Because I am loudly giving thanks that this storyline is over and that (hopefully) we will never see the character H'El again.
This is the finale of Krypton Returns and, like prior issues, there is plenty here that makes little sense. Between multiple timelines, unclear actions, rapid scene endings, and an incomprehensible climax, there is a lot here not to like. Many of these concerns require the 'roll with it' panacea that Scott Lobdell has asked of readers in the past. If you don't understand it, just move on. And frankly, I deserve a little more than that.
The sad thing is there are actually several nice character moments in this issue but they are lost amidst the story problems. Like in H'El on Earth, Superboy has the best moments of the story with solid characterization that I only wish we saw in Kon's own book. Superman has one classic moment in the story but otherwise is stuck in some rough scenes. Supergirl's moments in this book are something of a mixed bag of good and bad. Some of them are actually very interesting and I might have thought we would finally have some character growth from her. But these better moments seem strange now knowing that in a couple of months she'll be donning a Red Lantern ring.
Kenneth Rocafort is on art and continues to produce beautiful work. From the more horrific moments to the more straightforward action sequences, he really shines.
The issue starts with an almost introduction page, showing the three super-heroes and where they are in Krypton's history. But it is the way that Lobdell introduces the heroes that makes me cringe. You can almost see Lobdell's pecking order of the Supers on this page.
At the top is Superboy, "his mind and body will be without limit". Pretty impressive.
Then Superman, "his actions can change the course of history". Wow.
And then Supergirl, wielding a spear before a rabid army. "A rage grows in her that could CONSUME worlds." Okay ... not so heroic.
I suppose it fits with the Red Lantern future ... but really. Supergirl has that much rage in her? I don't want to beat a dead horse but this is the problem with DC's current treatment of Kara. She isn't a hero. She's an angry young woman.
Now there is a lot in this story that you just have to take with a grain of salt. There are things that happen, there are lines of dialogue said, that make little sense. Here Superboy intuits that H'El must be weakening because he is fighting Supergirl in another time. Lucky guess?
Then H'El says this ... which makes no sense. He wants to save Krypton so that he can destroy Krypton? Why go through all this bother when the planet is doomed all on its own?
Suddenly I have no clear idea of what the hell H'El is doing in this storyline. Initially he wanted to save Krypton because he admired Jor-El. Now he hates Krypton. Why not just go out into the universe? Or take your revenge out on the few survivors?
In fact there are a lot of things about H'El that make little sense. The scars, the self-carved backwards 'S', his motives.
Of course, he simply disappears here. Given the timeline concerns, I suppose this happened because at some other point in time he is defeated (as we shall see).
And then the next part of the story that makes little sense. We know from Action Comics Annual #2 that in some alternate timeline, H'El ... working with Jor-El ... saves Krypton. Jor-El was part of that solution!
Now Superman meets an older Jor-El, the version that has survived in that timeline. Except now, Jor-El still rockets Kal to Earth (I suppose that needs to have happened for Superman to exist right now - time travel woes). Instead of being a friend of H'El and a hero for saving Krypton, he is imprisoned and called 'The Doomsday Man'.
H'El ends up taking over Krypton as its leader. (But I thought in the last scene he wanted to destroy Krypton?) Anyways, Jor-El in that new timeline escapes, finds a scrap of H'El's skin and learns its secrets, and then ... best of all ... somehow creates a time machine to get back to this moment.
All right, let's say that I can 'roll with' Jor-El being imprisoned to begin with. Let's say that I can even deal with him building a time machine. Why would he choose to go back to this moment in time?? Why not go back to when H'El puts his cell on the rocket? Why not go back to the point when H'El first appears with the Kryptonite in his chest? Is this the 'best' time to thwart H'El? He could stop H'El from ever happening. Why come to the time when he is most powerful? More time travel woes which leads to story woes.
Meanwhile, hundreds of years in the past, Supergirl stands with a spear poised to kill H'El. She actually questions herself if she can go through with the execution.
Should I be happy that she has to question herself? Or sad? Why does Lobdell write her as such an angry, irrational woman?
Ready for more story moments that make no sense? H'El grabs the spear and stabs himself in the neck. He then disappears. Why does he do that? If he can move through time, why slice his own throat? It doesn't even make for a good story moment. There is no reason he should do that.
I did say above that there are some good Supergirl moments mixed in with the bad. Here is one of them.
Kara feels bad because H'El was solely motivated by hate. She says she needs to be better than that.
I am sad that we are 2+ years into the New 52 and Supergirl is still wondering if she should be fueled by hate. But at least here she seems poised to finally move beyond it!
That said, in 3 months she is putting on a Red Lantern ring.
Also, I still don't exactly know why this moment in time was so key for the Oracle. Maybe Lobdell was hoping to have Supergirl deal with her feelings about clones. But without a clear need, this felt a little forced.
In the Superman timeline, Superman and Jor-El travel to the 'diseased heart of Krypton'.
Now part of me might want to question why Supergirl lost her powers within minutes of being on Krypton while Superman can fly to the molten core of the planet without a problem. He uses superstrength, heat vision, all his powers, as though he was on Earth bathing in yellow sun rays, not a red sunned heavy gravity world. And didn't he have radiation poisoning 2 issues ago? But I guess I have to roll with all that too.
Anyways, Jor-El knows that in all the timelines, H'El always manifests here. Wearing a special suit, Jor-El captures in H'El in a force bubble that he floods with a disintegrating gas.
Amazingly, Superman stops this execution of H'El saying that there is 'always another way' besides murder. If I praised this line in Smallville, I suppose I have to applaud it here.
Still, the short time of the gas has done some damage. H'El looks ravaged, like a decaying corpse.
And now the best moment in the book.
Superboy realizes that Zor-El's gravitational devices won't be enough to get Argo City safely out of the Krypton's blast radius and gravitational pull. On the last day, he tells Alura to find Kara and say goodbye (fulfilling the scene we saw in Supergirl #0). And then he uses the last of his powers to push Argo and Kara's rocket out of harm's way.
He gives a nice speech, summing up his troubled and varied history up to that point. But in the end he knows he isn't a living weapon (his tag line) but instead he is 'a kid who tried'.
Why couldn't this sentiment, this characterization, have been present in Superboy's own book? I won't go over Superboy's varied manifestations in the New 52 again. But this kid trying to make a difference while dealing with his past would have been a book I would want to read.
This is a very nice moment portrayed with big art.
So who does it all end?
The old Jor-El has a shard of debris in his chest, I assume a killing blow given enough time.
I wish I could tell you. Superman realizes that he has to stop H'El from leaving and making another timeline, so he uses his super-breath, freezing the 'essence of H'El into a perpetual loop of freezing and thawing', trapping him.
If anyone can explain that to me, I'd love to hear it. I guess I have to roll with it. But this is the problem when you create a villain with ill-defined near omnipotent powers. You have to come up with something insane to defeat them.
The death of Krypton is months away. An older, wiser, but dying Jor-El is in the planet core. A younger Jor-El is on the surface building a rocket. Hmmm ...
Anyways, with H'El trapped, it is time for Superman to go. Kara suddenly appears with the boom tube. The two step in and hit the road.
We don't even see a goodbye from Superman to his dying old father in the core of the planet. Nothing. Just a walk through the boom tube. It is over far too fast, far too neatly, and with little explanation.
And no goodbye to Jor-El? Seems like a wasted opportunity.
At least the story ends on this nice moment. Realizing Superboy has died, Superman says they should honor his loss by being better heroes.
I might think between the moments of self-reflection and this capstone that Supergirl might actually turn around.
Except we know that in 3 months she puts on a Red Lantern ring.
What can I say, there are some nice moments in this issue but with a lot of fluff and craziness around it. I might be damning with faint praise but at least this was better than H'El on Earth. Still, I will be thrilled if we never see H'El again.
Alas, Lobdell puts in an odd last page leaving the door open for another story.
And so, mercifully, Krypton Returns ends. I don't know if I could explain what happened but it happened.