Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Adventures of Superman #8

Adventures of Superman #8 came out last week in print form and was another look at a sort of Krypton Returns tale. We have seen a lot of this over the last years as more creators try to mine some emotional response from Superman (and Supergirl) on the return of their world.

So I will admit it was hard to read this without thinking immediately of the just finished Krypton Returns, a story - like this one - where Jor-El was wrong and then incarcerated for his mistake. This felt a bit like a rerun. And with New Krypton just around 5 years in our rear view mirror, the return of Krypton feels like well worn material. I also felt just a hint of 'For the man who has Everything' here, a sort of 'be careful what you wish for' layer.

And the ultimate villain's motivations and schemes seem a tiny bit off as you will see.

All that said writer Marc Guggenheim wraps things up nicely, bringing in a satisfying ending. He does this by making this version of Superman relatively ignorant of Kryptonian culture and eager to learn a little bit more. I don't know if I would call this one of the better Adventures stories but it is fine.

Artist Joe Bennett does solid work here. I know Bennett mostly from his time on Birds of Prey. His linework here reminded me strongly of Ryan Sook's work. That is a high compliment.

The book opens with a nice sequence where Superman is dealing with Titano in downtown Metropolis. The action panels are well constructed and I can never get enough Titano.

While he is fighting, Superman is eavesdropping on the Planet where Emil Hamilton drops the bomb. While gazing into the stars, Hamilton has discovered that Krypton still exists. It never blew up.

There are some nice moments here where Guggenheim injects some classic Superman stuff - not just Titano, but Lois misspelling words, Jimmy wearing a green plaid jacket and in the middle of danger, and Perry complaining.

But the Krypton reveal is the hook for the main story.

As I said above, this Superman doesn't seem to know much about Krypton at all. He can barely work his way through the Kryptonian plaque on the rocket. His main knowledge is from the Jor-El video log which luckily is in English.

That sense that he is relatively clueless about Krypton is a new wrinkle to this sort of story. I doubt this Superman has a Fortress with crystals and Kelex and a big Jor-El and Lara statue.

And this is a fairly heavy message by Jor-El, telling Kal that Krypton will only live through him. I can imagine that that is quite a burden.

Superman decides to fly to Krypton to investigate what has happened. At some point I will need to get over the fact that Superman has retained powers under a red sun on Krypton (Lobdell does it too). It just seems a little too convenient and not exactly forward thinking by Superman. What if his powers failed en route and he died in space? How did he plan on leaving ... or did he plan on leaving? I get that he has stored yellow sun energy ... but flying in space unprotected?

Anyways, I did like this sequence where Superman without the benefit of speaking Kryptonese needs to use hand signals and his parents' names to get to where he needs to get. Had to break out my Kryptonian Alphabet.

Much like Lobdell's Krypton Returns, Jor-El is jailed for being 'wrong', basically accused of being a rabble-rouser. This also reminded me of Moore's 'For the Man who has Everything' where Jor-El is so vilified for his error that he becomes angry and forms a fascist political party.

This Jor-El is much more sympathetic. He is sad. He sent his son away. His wife died alone.

Still ... 30 years of jail?

And in almost every story, Jor-El never tells a ton of people about his concerns. When the Council rejects his findings, he goes home and works on his own solutions.

Luckily Superman is there to plead his case. Jor-El has suffered enough, has paid his due, and is released.

But again, it is that 'stranger in a strange land' feel to this book is what I found most interesting. Even though this is his 'homeland', Kal knows nothing about it.

And I like that Guggenheim makes this Krypton a 'vibrant and passionate' place. It would be harder for Superman to feel accepted here in a cold scientific world like Byrne's Krypton. But street musicians and kids flying kites? That sounds like Smallville.

Could Superman be tempted to stay?

Of course not.

After maybe too long, he realizes that this couldn't be Krypton.

How could a curious race like Krypton be so isolated and not explore space? But more importantly, how could Jor-El have gone so long without trying to see Kal, contact him, be with him?

It is such a break from what Jor-El would do that this place has to be a fake.

What do you think? Would that be enough to break the spell?

Well, he is right.

And here is where things take a bit of a left hand turn.

It turns out this whole thing has been a Brainiac plot to kill Superman. Brainiac went back in time, studied Kryptonian culture, recreated an entire planet with automatons programmed to simulate Kryptonian life so that Superman would stay, eventually lose his powers under the red sun, and be vulnerable. Then Brainiac would kill him.

Doesn't this seem a bit elaborate?

How much energy did he devote to making this? Building it? Programming a planet of citizens?

Isn't that just a tad too much work?

Brainiac even says that when he went back in time he contemplated killing Kal in the crib (which makes sense) but decided he would be happier doing it this way (which makes no sense).

It turns out Brainiac did his job too good. He even rebuilt the prototype adult sized rocket Jor-El built prior to the destruction of the real Krypton. That's right, he got it right down to that level of detail.

Kal uses the rocket to blast himself into space to soak up some more yellow sun rays. But it seems like a brief trip to recharge completely.

But think about it. If Jor-El had an adult prototype that was capable of flinging someone into space (as it did here) why didn't he convince Lara to give it a try? I don't know.

But then the irony continues. As a failsafe in case he couldn't kill a de-powered Kal, Brainiac rigged this Krypton to explode too.

Now Superman has to live through the loss of his homeworld and all its people (automatons) in front of his eyes. Great 'death throes' art by Bennett here.

So really this was more about psychological warfare than anything.

That seems a bit weird coming from Brainiac.

And I can't get past the sheer amount of work that would have to be done to create this thing. It sounds like a Dr. Evil plot. I can hear Brainiac saying it. "I have an even better idea. I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death."

Still, I don't often go for a maudlin Superman mourning Krypton but at least this time it made sense. He saw met his 'father', he saw Krypton's 'people', and he watched 'them' die. He should be tearful.

This last panel is what I would have hoped to see post Krypton Returns, a natural response. But we didn't see it there.

I get the pulse behind this story is having Superman learn about his native land and realize what he has lost. It just feels like Guggenheim went a long way to get there. Maybe too far.

Overall grade: C+

1 comment:

mhr said...

. cover comes from a Superman Family comic where Supergirl is sent to the Phantom Zone.