Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Superman #0

The third new era of the DCnU Superman comic began this week with the release of Superman #0 by new creative team writer Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort. After George Perez and Dan Jurgens led arcs, hopefully DC has found the right creators to bring this title to the where it needs to be.

Now we got a taste of Lobdell's vision of Superman in the Superman Annual #1 earlier this summer. And we get an even smaller taste of Superman here in this zero issue which is mostly a story about Jor-El and Lara back on Krypton. Like many of the zero issues, this one concentrates on the origin of Superman but here it is the historical aspects that lead to his rocketing to Earth.

Since we know that the major aspects of the origin are still set in stone - 'Doomed world. Desperate scientists. Last hope.' - Lobdell looks farther back, back to when Jor-El first learns Krypton is going to explode, when Lara first discovers she's pregnant, and when Krypton was politically unstable as the planet core. The issue gives a nice look at DC's true power couple - Jor and Lara - and it certainly plants the seeds for future stories.

I have always loved Kenneth Rocafort's stylized art and it works very well in this issue. In particular, the panel construction works very well. When the action is calm, the panels are orderly and composed of right angles. When the action becomes chaotic, we have a variety of polygons for the art. It echoes the story nicely.

But as I said, the best thing about this issue is the look back at Krypton culture and the hints at some hinted at plot elements impacting the current Superman mythos.

In a scene that nicely echoes the opening scene of Superman:The Animated Series (which you can watch here) the issue opens with Jor-El deep under the surface, confirming his worst fears that the planet is doomed.

When Lara calls him to say that it is time for him to return to the surface, Jor-El doesn't tell her his results. As we saw in Supergirl #0, keeping that secret can't end well. But Jor and Zor aren't exactly alike.

Interesting to see that the narrator of the story is Superman.

Nice panorama here by Rocafort, made all that more beautiful by the colors of Sunny Gho.

Going deeper, into the 'middle of the planet', Jor stumbles across some sort of den. He comments that this is such a harsh environment that even he can't imagine what could survive here.

So here is the first hint at a future plot line. Whatever could live there might have survived the eventual destruction of the planet. Is it H'El? Is it some sort of Doomsday?

Some of the greenish sludge seems sentient down here and contact with it begins to disintegrate Jor-El's safety suit making him need to beat a hasty retreat to the surface. That attack also mirrors S:TAS nicely.

It also shows just how far Jor-El will push himself for knowledge. He is something of an action scientist (if I can borrow a term from Atomic Robo).

Dejected that his superior won't let him discuss his findings with the Science Council, Jor-El heads home to see Lara.

She wasn't supposed to be home, having made earlier plans to hang out with Alura and Kara but she stayed home to give her husband some big news. She's pregnant.

I love that last panel. While thrilled that he will be a father, he is weighed down by the knowledge the planet is doomed. Rocafort's expression is perfect. You can see the sort of resignation and sadness on Jor's face. Still, he doesn't tell Lara.

From a Supergirl point of view, I found the throwaway comment about the 'girls' night out' for Lara, Alura, and Kara important. It shows once again that on Krypton, Kara was devoted to her family, would hang out with cousins and aunts and parents. Hopefully, that sense of family will be there on Earth in regards to Kal.

We saw in Superboy that after Kon's clone revolt, a 'doomsday cult' emerged hoping to hasten the destruction of Krypton. Here we see just how powerful that terrorist group was. They destroy the Core Research Center, the lab in which Jor was researching Krypton's instability. Suddenly his information and allies are lost.

What's worse is they bring their zealotry to his home. He needs to be silenced to. When he runs to warn Lara, he finds some cult members in his house.

Now initially, I wondered why this group would enter the house and monologue about their plans to kill him rather than just do it. Heck, if they exploded a whole science facility why not just blow up this one house. To get around that, Lobdell has this group's leader have a history with Jor-El. Here, Arana talks about their 'sweat soaked nights' together in omniversity. He really is an action scientist.

But Arana's obsession with Jor-El at least explains this early posturing. Maybe she is trying to covert him.

If there is one thing that I really liked about this origin issue it is that Lara isn't simply a doting wife. She is as accomplished and strong (if not more so) than Jor-El. She is a physician, a lab scientist, and a military trained combatant. She impressively batters the terrorists.

It is a nice moment. Lara is the fighter of the two. But they are true equal.

With her boys nursing their injuries, Arana calls in some back-up.

This was another of those moments where some information is revealed, more for the future than effecting the outcome this issue's story. The leader of this cult is called The Eradicator and he doesn't want knowledge of Krypton's destruction given to the populace.

The original Eradicator wanted to maintain a pure Kryptonian culture and part of that was making it impossible for Kryptonians to survive off-world. So a new Eradicator bent on not letting Kryptonians leave the dying planet is a nice wrinkle.

After defeating the new troops by sending them to the Phantom Zone, Jor-El tries to pry some information from Arana. Was the Doomsday Cult responsible for the planet's death. I am sure that Doomsday is in bold for some sort of reason. Is Doomsday going to exist in the DCnU.

But even more crazy is Arana's response. This cult doesn't just want planetary genocide. It wants 'cosmicide' to occur. Does this cult want to bring about universal destruction? And how will that accomplish that goal if they all die when the planet goes?

Before Arana can kill Jor-El, Lara arrives brandishing a spear. Lara stabs Arana incapacitating but not killing the cultist. But, like any good cultist, Arana has a suicide device on her and vaporizes herself but not before telling Lara that the planet is doomed.

I have to say, this was the one part of the issue that I didn't particularly like. We will never know if Jor-El would tell Lara on his own that Krypton is exploding. Instead he has to react to the reveal. Wouldn't it have been a better moment if Arana dies, Lara asks 'what was that about?', and Jor-El takes a big breath and tells her on his own. Wouldn't that differentiate him even more from Zor-El? Wouldn't it show how much he treated Lara as an equal, someone he felt could handle that information?

As for those narrator boxes? Well the reason Superman can talk about his parents like this is that he is observing them on Krypton!

So we have had Supergirl seen in Superboy's origins on Krypton. We have seen Superboy in Supergirl's origin issue. And now Superman on the planet. Could H'El have this power? To send people in time? Could he be trying to show why Krypton's culture needs to be preserved by showing the surviving Kryptonian what the planet was like? Nice splash page and nice reveal.

And it would have been a nice issue ending.

But we get a couple more pages showing a red craggy alien on Krypton pulling out the Daemonite 'Horn of Confluence' and sending a signal to the 'Oracle' that Krypton is dying. So I guess there is a new and not red-headed Oracle in the DCnU.

While I am sure that this subplot will be key in the future, I have to say it took a little away from the issue. The issue should have ended with the Superman reveal. We could have used those 2 Daemonite pages bulking up the Jor-El story. And this scene could be replayed in a 2 panel flashback in the future whenever it needs to have been told.

So overall I thought this was a very good but not great issue. The reveals about Krypton - how powerful and scary the Doomsday cult is, the presence of an Eradicator on the planet, the creature living in the planet core - were all nice additions to my understanding of the DCnU version. The fact that Jor-El and Lara have such easy chemistry, that she is totally his equal, was also appreciated. And nice hook with Superman.

And I can't wait to see Rocafort's art on a Superman story set on Earth. His stuff is so slick.

Overall grade: B/B+


valerie21601 said...

Is that a new Superman uniform design Kal is wearing? It is clearly a blackout/ camouflage uniform and it has several smaller S shields on it.

It's clearly a wait and see if there is a real payoff with the Superman Family #0 issues.

Dave Mullen said...

This was an truly impressive opener for Scott & Kenneth, I had my doubts but based on this I can see a new dawn for Superman - I hope DC don't stick their boot in this time...:(

A point of interest was made with the references to The Eradicator, I have no idea what the second half of the issue was about with those rogue operatives but given they were sent to eht Phantom Zone I can see that plotline being picked up on in the future, along with what this 'Eradicator' signifies.
The last page with the Oracle baffled me, Not a clue what that was all about, but the appearance from Superman was a well placed surprise - did you note the boots are his classic design?
And if that's X-ray vision he's using how is he staying powered?!