Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Superman:Last Family Of Krypton #2

Superman:Last Family of Krypton #2 came out last week and was a very good middle chapter of this three part book, moving the plot forward, albeit somewhat quickly, and setting up the finale next month.

Some of these plot threads were strongly hinted at last month so this felt pretty smooth despite the quick pace. Years pass by in the span of a couple of pages here but when you have to go from superbaby to Superman in three issues there isn't time to dawdle.

But you had the sense last issue that the new El twins weren't going to be the upstanding citizens that Kal-El turned out to be. And you also got the sense that Jor-El was going to be slightly disconnected from his family, never being completely there for his family. And even though it hasn't happened yet, I could see the eventual Luthor/Brainiac team-up last month. We get more of it here.

Still, Cary Bates does a very good job here keeping this Elseworlds story fresh while throwing in a few nuggets for some old timers. It is very interesting to see how Jor-El and Lara are portrayed here. As the loving family rocketing their son to safety, they are pure martyrs. Now that you see them day in, day out, you can see that they are 'human' just like every body else.

The book starts with Clark flying into space to thwart an incoming meteor. Sure, Jor-El had already implemented a space net to block anything like that making the heroic act unnecessary. He still acts heroically.

Unfortunately the meteor turns out to be Kryptonite and nearly kills Clark. While Jor-El works to save his son, Kal has a vision of his family's elders telling him that he has a destiny fulfill on Earth. a higher purpose. It is very much a Donner Krypton here with everyone in their silver robes. But I did like that greatness is part of Kal's destiny regardless if he is the Last Son or not.

I also really liked how one of the elders is Seyg-El. That has to be a nod to Jerry Siegel.

The Kryptonite pieces are gathered by Jor-Corps and are studied by Lex Luthor. Uh oh!

In the mean time, Jor-El belittles the vision as a simple fever dream. Of course, he is a man of science. Lara, a woman of faith, believes it was a calling to Q'uon Ka, a Kryptonian vision quest.

The powers of the Kryptonite meteor do not go unnoticed. There is an underground anti-Kryptonian movement called Doomsday that realizes that they finally have a weapon to use.

As much as I thought the name Doomsday for the group was genius, I also appreciated the 'torn' S-shield symbol. That was the symbol of the Superman Revenge Squad back in the seventies and eighties. Nice touch.

But who is the leaders of this group? If it is the US military, I'll be bummed ... it has become trite to have the US Army be the bad guys. I am hoping it's Luthor.

Elseworlds does allow the writers some latitude with other major events of the DCU even if this is a Superman book. Here, Lara actually thwarts Joe Chill from killing Martha and Thomas Wayne. Turns out Wayne is interested in helping Lara's Raology foundation. Interesting.

Bruce looks to be about 8 here, making him around 10 yrs younger than Clark on this Earth.

It made me wonder about other DCU events that could be effected by Jor-El and Lara's presence. Maybe Abin Sur's spaceship can't crash on Earth because of Jor-El's force field.

As for Bru-El and Valora, they act the way you would expect Kryptonian children to act. They have tremendous capabilities and so misbehave without much concern for repercussions.

Their birth on Earth has made them less powerful than the rest of the Els. They are barely able to survive a nuclear explosion they went to investigate. Luckily, Jor-El is able to heal their physical wounds.

But the mental wounds of this discovery aren't so easy to heal. Bru-El sinks into doubt and despair. He feels unloved by his family, never being able to measure up to Kal. Valora decides to dedicate herself to higher learning, devouring books and seemingly ignoring her powers all together.

The question really is does this discovery turn the two against their family all together. I think Valora more than Bru-El might succumb to evil.

I think part of the twins' problem is the lack of presence of their parents. Yes, I am sure that Jor-El and Lara aren't complete absent. But it is clear that Jor-El is dedicated to his work. And Lara is dedicated to spreading the word of Raology. Large Raology Centers are being erected where people can come in and have the knowledge of Krypton downloaded into their minds.

There are many people leery of such a place including the Doomsday group who vocally protests the center ... a protest quickly disbanded by Bru-El who scatters the crowd with his heat vision. Not surprisingly, Valora chastises him ... not for dealing with the protest but doing it in such a clumsy and brutish way. Valora is going to end up being an evil mastermind before all this is over.

But while the twins grow older without a lot of parental guidance, Clark continues to work away in Smallville. In another twist on the Donner films, Pa Kent almost dies of a heart attack only to be rescued by Jor-El's healing machine. Clark even says the line from the movie 'All the things I can do, all these powers ... and I couldn't save him.'

Moreover, JorCorps continues to 'protect' mankind with innovative technology. Clark almost reveals he is Kal-El to Lana Lang when he thinks he needs to stop a tornado. But weather controlling satellites stop it before he needs to fly to the rescue.

The problem with a reliance on technology like this is that it can be easily turned around. Those satellites can start tornadoes as much as stop them. When ... not if ... when Luthor backstabs the Els, he will have a lot of ammunition at his disposal. In fact, even earlier in the book, we hear how Luthor was tracking and suppressing sunspot activity. So Luthor has Kryptonite, solar tech, and advanced tech at his disposal. Doesn't sound good.

Without having a clear idea of where his life is leading him, and still struck by vision he had earlier in life, Kal decides to head into space to visit new worlds and try to achieve the Q'uon Ka. He is even given his classic costume by his parents for his travels.

Just as he is about to leave the Earth, he stops a runaway subway, saving a young man's life. And just like that the vision quest is over. A purpose suddenly hits him. He needs to stay ... he needs to be Superman.

Again, this decision seems like an organic one. This Clark has also come to love Earth as his home despite the presence of his family. So why would he want to go planet-hopping? Kudos to Bates for having shown us enough of Clark's backstory for this to feel right.

And everyone on Earth seems to be happy with his decision. Well ... almost everyone.

Jor-El is not happy. He thinks this decision to be a 'super-hero' is foolish and an insult to the name El. Kal should want to accomplish more. Plus he worries his son will not be able to lead a full life with two identities. Will Kal end up alone?

It sounds like Jor-El's heart is sometimes in the right place but maybe his delivery is off. I think he does worry about Kal's happiness. But that was the second point he made after the 'insult to the Els' stuff. That makes me think he is more worried about the family name then Clark's life.

Seven years later now acting as a 'mild mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper', Clark attends a celebration of Jor-El's accomplishments with his co-workers Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen (held at Weisinger Hall ... a nod to Superman legend Mort Weisinger). Lois acts pretty harsh to Clark throughout the scene.

It is quite the scene to see just how dysfunctional the El family has become over those years. Kal is here as Clark and hasn't talked to Jor-El in years. Jor-El isn't at his own gala leaving Lara there alone. Bru-El is trying to drown his sorrows and seems to be an impetuous brat despite his age. Valora is said to be devoted to her father but also isn't there.

In fact, the person accepting the award for Jor-El is Lex Luthor, his ersatz son.

Despite being so powerful, the family is broken. It is sad that this last vestige of Krypton is so scarred, so splintered.

The gala is interrupted by the Doomsday group who say they have captured Valora and are killing her in a Kryptonite cage.

The Els scatter. Kal discovers the Doomsday headquarters and captures the group, getting Valora's location out of them. But before he can get to her, Lex, decked out in an exo-suit, is able to locate her with a Kryptonite radiation signature detection device. With Jor-El at his side, Lex saves Valora. Luckily when you are half-super like Valora, you are half-vulnerable to Kryptonite.

I still smell a rat. Where did the Doomsdayers get the Kryptonite? Why does Lex have a radiation detector like that? Luthor has to be masterminding this whole thing. Since Kal didn't help with the rescue, he is further ostracized from the family. And Luthor is worming ever deeper.

As I feared all along, Luthor upgrades 'B' to a thirteenth level intelligence. Now controlling or allied with Brainiac, it is only a matter of time before Lex turns the tables and tries to rid the world of the Els and take control of it for himself. That said, there really isn't anything like a Luthor/Brainiac team-up.

Somehow Jor-El is oblivious to all this. He calls Lex family and embraces him.

But lets run the tally again: Kryptonite, solar flare/sunspot technology, exo-suits, Brainiac. That is a nice shopping list for a super-villain preparing to fight a family of Kryptonians.

And it turns out the abrasive relationship between Clark and Lois is an act. They are very much in love.

I don't mind Elseworld stories if the premise will make me look at familiar story differently. Looking at the dysfunctional El family is a new wrinkle here. You can see that there is the usual family problems of jealousy and growing apart but it is all magnified by the powers and stature of the family. I think it really is wonderful that despite this, Superman remains Superman. It feels like the old Marvel 'What ifs', that certain universal truths will happen regardless of the changing of events around them. Clark will always be a force of good for the planet.

So how do I think this will end? Luthor comes out as an evil mastermind. Valora is also twisted, working with Lex. Bru-El will try to earn his parents love and will die trying to fight Luthor. Superman will save the day.

Renato Arlem's art is a nice fit here, rough enough around the edges to work with the storyline.

This series has been a nice diversion for me. And given the unsettled nature of the Superman line (with Grounded and Lex in Action), it seems like the right time to release this view of the Superman origin.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

I'm starting to think Jor El has some form of Asperger's syndrome, I mean he does not "read people" very well.
Clearly Lex is acculmulating the means to annihilate the House of El, save perhaps Valora whom he wants to corrupt and marry thus to sire a new race of Human-Kryptonian overlords for Earth.
The only hope Jor and the fams have is for Kousin Kara to come crashing down and take out the trash!

John Feer

valerie21601 said...

You must have New Krypton in the back of your mind still.

Shouldn't it read: The Last Family of Krypton?

Anj said...

Clearly Lex is acculmulating the means to annihilate the House of El, save perhaps Valora whom he wants to corrupt and marry thus to sire a new race of Human-Kryptonian overlords for Earth.

You have to admire Lex' patience.

But I am with you. He's going to betray Jor-El's trust.

Anj said...

You must have New Krypton in the back of your mind still.

Shouldn't it read: The Last Family of Krypton?

Eeep! It must still be haunting me.

Corrected. Thanks!

Mike-El said...

"Bruce looks to be about 8 here, making him around 10 yrs younger than Clark on this Earth."

I think you should re-read that part of the issue. Clark is certainly older than Bruce but not that much older. I'd say 4 or 5 years at the most. The way it read to me, there are a few years between the page the twins find out about their vulnerability and the next page (Jor-El mentions a "recovery period"). There is pobably some time lapsed between Jonathan's heart attack and Clark and Lana's prom too.