Friday, September 20, 2013

Review Superman #23.3 H'El

I have been pretty blunt in my assessment of the arc H'El on Earth which ran through the super-titles several months ago. It was at times inscrutable. The characters were often written in ways that did not jibe with their personalities. H'El had little or no back story, little or no description of his powers and there was little discussion about how he was accomplishing his plot. Despite the heroes' efforts, H'El accomplishes his goals. And, as I have said over and over, Supergirl really drew the short straw, being played as an overly emotional, ignorant patsy who tries to kill the villain in the end. Suffice it to say, I wish H'El was even farther in my rear view mirror.

Then I heard that Scott Lobdell was writing the sequel to H'El on Earth called Krypton Returns. And the first chapter would be a H'El origin story in Superman #23.3 H'El. The announcement didn't exactly thrill me. H'El on Earth was a disaster. Why would I want a sequel this quickly? And with Lobdell driving the ship, including co-writing the Supergirl issue, I have to worry that Supergirl will be mistreated again.

H'El #1 does give us some of H'El's origins, although it adds a bunch of questions as well. And it also piles on the latest DCU trope - that Superman's enemies are often completely obsessed with Jor-El. First we had Cyborg Superman/Zor-El. Then we had Brainiac. Then we had General Zod. And now we have H'El. It is pretty strange to see so many villains have this psychological flaw.

Perhaps what is worst of all is that Jor-El gets sullied a bit in this story as well. It was bad enough he built a mind control machine in Lobdell's World of Krypton arc. Here, he is cocky and condescending. He's the smartest man in the room and he is going to let you know it by putting you down if you disagree with him. This is a young Jor-El but a far cry from the noble and staid scientist I am used to.

Dan Jurgens and Ray McCarthy provide the art for the book and they bring a quiet crispness to the story, a sort of easy and comfortable art that lets the story unfold nicely.

The story starts where H'El on Earth ended, with a wounded H'El being discovered by and cared for by Jor-El. Physically incapacitated by psionically roaming, H'El nurses his physical wounds.

I have to laugh at H'El's pining over Kara's 'betrayal' when he lied to her and physically abused her. So the fact he still is questioning how she could reject his love is ludicrous.

I also think that it is amusing that Jor-El talks about Kryptonite so matter-of-factly since we know Kryptonite was created by the force of the planetary explosion. Did he just name the substance right there? How do people know what he is talking about?

It is small things like these inaccuracies and inconsistencies that add up and detract from my ability to enjoy the story.

At least we finally get some understanding of how H'El got his powers. He is definitely Kryptonian. And his cells are crackling with many different types of galactic energy. As a result, he has psionics and telekinesis and time travel powers as well as the usual complement of strength, etc. It opens up some possibilities for Superman and Supergirl, maybe even explaining her solar flash power.

Since those energies aren't on Krypton, H'El must have gone out into space. And since Kryptonite could only be created by a planetary explosion and H'El had some, he must also be from the future. But when?

It is one thing for Jor-El to be happy about his theories. It is another for him to tell his partner Orla he doesn't care to hear from people who disagree with him.

And then we get some Jor-El love.

When Jor-El runs off to the Science Council to discuss his findings, H'El follows along psionically.

His talk of Jor-El almost sounds like a bad love poem:
"The smartest among them
Are forever in the shade
That is his blinding sun."

I can imagine Jor-El standing in front of Brainiac, H'El, and Zor-El and saying 'you're all pretty!'

Jor-El then heads to the council and tells them everything - about the Kryptonite - meaning Krypton is doomed. Of course, this is the inherent problem with time travel ... for all Jor-El knows H'El is from a millenia in the future. So without concrete evidence, it seems a bit foolish to try to whip the council into action now.

One interesting piece is the council saying that Jor-El is only on there out of deference to his father. Have we ever heard much about Jor-El's father? And how interesting that it would be Jor-El on the council, not the elder Zor-El. Even more familial jealousy.

Now here is the most cringe-worthy panel in the book.

Remember, H'El is trying to stop Krypton from exploding. Jor-El just gave the council their first warning about Krypton's destruction only to be rebuffed.

H'El thinks about killing the council members ... but he has to be careful not to have his 'actions alter the future.;


Your whole purpose is to alter the future! That is all why you are in the past!!! 

It is ridiculous to have him say that.

Despite not knowing when Krypton will explode (remember it could be any time in the future), Jor-El decides to push forward a secret project he is working on. He decides that he will create a sort of time capsule of Kryptonian artifacts ... as well as some Kryptonian cells ... and send them into a whirlwind tour of the galaxy to see what will happen when the cells absorb all the different energies. (One of the 'artifacts' looks suspiciously like the Codex skull from Man of Steel.)

Jor-El tells Zod of his plans and Zod doesn't actually try to stop him from going through with the plans.

H'El, there astrally, sees the 'time capsule ship' and realizes it is 'his' ship. The ship's name is House of El ... truncated it is H'El. The memories H'El being sent off by the masses, as a life of an astronaut, as a life as friend with Jor-El ... none of that actually happened.

That's right, everything was a lie. Suddenly he sees the truth.

Enraged and irrational, H'El jumps out of the medical bay, slaughters the scientists and guards around him, heads to Jor-El's lab, and kills Zod! He then alters the cells on the ship to be his cells. And so we finally see how H'El gained his powers. It is his cells which drink in all the other energies.

So he creates himself. Ahh ... time travel paradoxes.

But ......

But somehow cells in a petri dish grow and form a fully grown man? One that learns Kryptonese? Was he ever a toddler?  Where did those pants come from? Why does he think he lived on Krypton? Why travel the universe to get to Earth? Why not use his temporal powers to go back in time right then?

And why carve the backwards S into your chest?

This origin makes less sense than the astronaut one.

And then he suddenly changes his tune. He doesn't want to save Krypton ... he wants to rule it.

He kills Jor-El! And then, I assume, heads back in time to start to take over in the past.

So lots of things need to be fixed in this new mangled timeline, explaining why the upcoming story is happening. Interestingly, the rewrite could also be a reboot. Maybe time gets changed so Zor-El isn't so awful. Maybe Jor-El will have less of an air of superiority.

I doubt any of that will happen. But this opening chapter doesn't make me think that Krypton Returns will be any better ... or easier to comprehend ... than H'El on Earth.

Maybe, if I am lucky, when the timeline is righted, H'El will never have existed!

I couldn't be that lucky.

Overall grade: C-


Martin Gray said...

Thanks so much for explaining how H'el created himself, or thing. My brain was friend by that point ...

So, Jor is dead, I guess there's no Superman in this story then!

Anj said...

Well, that was their explanation ... it doesn't make much sense though.

Supertorresmo said...

Just one correction to add: "I also think that it is amusing that Jor-El talks about Kryptonite so matter-of-factly since we know Kryptonite was created by the force of the planetary explosion."
Actually in the new 52 version there was already Kryptonite on Krypton. If you remember Morrison's run the ship that brought Kal-El had a kryptonite powered engine. And it was established that kryptoinite was used as a power source on Krypton.

But this part: "This origin makes less sense than the astronaut one." is perfectly said!

AndNowInStereo said...

This is very confusing. But also very funny! You're right Anj, it is like a bad love poem! Where did all these villains get this Jor-El complex from anyway?

'But somehow cells in a petri dish grown and form a full grown man? "

Oh my God, Lobdell's taking inspiration from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace! I have to assume he was absolutely wasted when he thought this through.

Anj said...

Thanks for comment Supertorresmo.

I am trying to figure out what is and isn't in continuity from Morrison's run. In this book, Jor-El says Kryptonite could only come from a planetary explosion.

So does that negate the Jor-El engine? I will thank you for reminding me about the engine, a detail I had forgotten.

Anj said...

Thomas - thanks for the Superman IV reference. Too funny!

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I've already seen one Morrison detail that has already been changed (I think). My assumption was that Superman fighting the monster from Earth-23 was...well, everyone called the day Doomsday. I thought it clever to have something like the Death of Superman happen in a different way in the nu52, thus avoiding us seeing that wretched monster in the bicycle shorts.

I thought it great at the time to change the event yet still use the name.

There's a Doomsday#1 coming out, right?

Anonymous said...

This sound like "Krypton Returns" (or more like H'el on Krypton) could be worse than H'el on Earth!

Jay said...

I actually thought this was a good story. One of the better Villain's Month issues. I still think H'El just gets a bad rap because of a rather uninspiring name and because of the guy who happened to create him. But he's a good villain, and this Back to the Future Part II-like storyline has me intrigued.

Jay said...

And, sorry to double post, but Morrison never intended for his "Super-Doom" character to be a replacement for Doomsday. In fact the way he chose to explain the events of Superman's death by never revealing what the monster was that killed him, rather just revealing the day was called Doomsday, to me was clearly so future stories could then reinsert Doomsday the character in there as they saw fit. So its not retconning anything out of Morrison's saga to bring Doomsday back. He fits right in.

Anonymous said...

You're right. It seems a lot of Superman villains seem to hate Jor-El and therefore Superman, son of Jor-El.
Even Vyndktvx and Xa-Du back on Morrison's run on Action Comics.

H'El: You unintentionally created me and you're not really my friend. I hate you, Jor-El.
And I never really liked your son anyways.
Brainiac: You somehow repelled the Multitude, even though I, a 12th-level intellect, couldn't? I hate you, Jor-El.
Oh by the way, I met your son>. Yeah. I hate him too.
Zod: You think your son is safe? I! WILL! FIND! HIM!
Oh, and I hate you, Jor-El.
Cyber Zor-El: Jor-El, as a scientist, I was always under your shadow. And for that, little brother, I hate you.
And now I will take my passive aggressive frustrations out on your son! Who doesn't even treat my daughter well!
Xa-Du: You sent me to the Phantom Zone, even though you were just doing your council job, and uhm....
I still hate you, Jor-El! You, and your heirs!
Vyndktvx: Wait. You repelled my 5th Dimensional Multi-Pronged Spear? Oooh, I hate you, Jor-El!
So much so that I will make your son's life miserable!

Superman: ...All that my villains only care about is who my father is.
I just wish they could hate me...... because of who I am.

B-Zero: Don't worry Superman! We still love you!
Metal-0: Yeah! Love to kill you, that is!
Lex Luthor, Parasite, and K-Man Green give menacing nods.

Superman:...You guys...thank you.
Now I know that Earth is my home, and that I can always count on people hating me there.

Gerry said...

On the Kryptonite thing, they actually are being consistent. It's not only Morrison who had kryptonite available before Krypton's explosion. Remember, when Kara's pod was first captured they found kryptonite "fuel" leaking from it.

In this issue, Jor-el says more than once that this PARTICULAR kryptonite shard was "unrefined" and it's hyper-radioactive state (as opposed to regular kryptonite) meant it could only have come from Krypton's core. So although there are some whopping continuity problems in this arc and issue, the kryptonite thing isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

I think there was once a coherent script to this issue, but word got back to DC editorial so they had some strong arm boys seize it and run the pages thru a lawn mower...heartened by this loutish spectacle the resultant shreds were shipped off to the penciler with a humorless smirk.
Sterling Gates with an assist from Mark Waid and the late Curt Swan could not straighten this mess out...


Anonymous said...

Well: H'El was originally pitched as a new, modern and somewhat suave Bizarro for the masses.
This new origin attempts to reconcile the Bizarro element with the concept of H'El ad a new being. With botched result.

Now I'd like to sede how Supergirl would handle, after the whole "Superboy is an abomination and he must due, because clones are EVIL!", the sheer fact of having been the lovesick puppy of Bizarro-lite...