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Look! Up In The Sky! It’s… Wasted Potential!

Graeme McMillan

My secret shame: I have been buying all of the Superman books since Superman left Earth for Krypton. No, wait, that’s not actually shameful in and of itself. The shame part is this: I’m not sure I’ve actually been enjoying them for awhile.

I did, for sure. I thought the first six or so months of the new status quo was really interesting, and clearly building towards something in a 52-esque manner, with hints being dropped in one book and picked up in another, and there was a sense of foreboding and, more importantly, momentum that seeded through the series at least through the terribly-named “Codename: Patriot” crossover storyline. But then… something happened.

I’m tempted to say that it’s not the comics, but me, but… I don’t think it is. In various ways, and for different reasons, each of the series (with the exception, surprisingly, of Supergirl) stalled somehow. SUPERMAN: WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON felt it the most, seemingly sidetracked by, and getting bogged down in, a murder mystery that seemed to come from nowhere despite the attempts to tie it into the larger Kryptonian political storyline. Suddenly, the Zod/Kal-El relationship seemed to disappear from the series in favor of a procedural with Adam Strange, bizarrely, as co-star, and the series ended with a cliffhanger for the new SUPERMAN: LAST DAYS OF NEW KRYPTON series instead of, you know, any sense of closure or real dramatic weight by itself (Pete Woods’ diminishing presence – due to illness, I think? – didn’t help matters, although Ron Randall did a spectacular job filling in; he seems to have become a DC fill-in MVP, and really doesn’t get the credit he deserves) –  WONK fell from a promising start to an ending that was entirely Eh, and I can’t help but feel that Last Days should’ve been/may have started out as the original ending for the earlier series (At the very least, the “I give up trying to fit it, I’m Superman” moment from Last Days #1 could have happened at the end of WONK, giving the “Can Kal-El change Kryptonian society from within” theme a climax; happening as it does, it felt rushed and unearned).

ACTION COMICS, too, found itself losing its identity slightly, which is a shame; there’s an interesting backstory to the new Nightwing and Flamebird, but between artist changes and odd pacing choices, it started to drag. It’s frustrating, because there was a lot to like – Not least of all Greg Rucka’s take on Lois Lane, perhaps unsurprisingly – but ultimately, it’s also turned to only Okay for me.

The worst letdown may have been SUPERMAN, if only because I was really, really warming to the book. Both James Robinson’s take on Mon-El learning to enjoy life on his own terms and Renato Guedes’ wonderful artwork were becoming highpoints of the month, but again, odd writing choices (I’m still uncertain what the “Mon is captured, oh, no he’s not” plot actually contributed, beyond a new and not-as-interesting-as-the-original costume, and the Legion reveal felt surprisingly rushed; maybe things were moved up because of Levitz taking over Adventure and getting a new Legion book?) and losing Guedes (and without comment! He’s apparently still doing work for DC, going by the current solicits, which is surprising; I would’ve sworn he’d turn up on some low-selling X-Book over at Marvel any minute now) derailed things, and although Bernard Chang has brought some energy back, it’s still just a high Okay for me right now.

As I said before, SUPERGIRL is the one book that’s weathered the storm successfully. It’s also the book with a (relatively) stable creative team and the one that seems the least dependent on the New Krypton storyline, which may suggest a reason why… But to do so would be to ignore the fact that Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle have, more than a little surprisingly, turned the series around from bad joke to pretty Good YA superhero book, mostly by playing it straight and just telling good superhero stories without wondering how to make the character “cool” or whatever.

The worst part of the whole thing is the feeling that I already know how the whole thing is going to end; not just that the whole thing is leading to an Earth/New Krypton war (That much has been clear for a long time), but that, with new creative teams on both Superman and Action Comics immediately afterwards, how the war ends is going to pretty much be an immediate return to the status quo. It’s frustrating, I guess, that after such a long build-up, the aftermath will be pretty non-existent… but I can always hope I’m wrong about that, just in case JMS wants to write about a Man of Steel dealing with emotional fallout from losing two home planets in different ways. But am I alone in following the Superbooks, and if not, am I the only one who’s not too thrilled with the way it’s all turned out?

11 Responses to “ Look! Up In The Sky! It’s… Wasted Potential! ”

  1. Judging by the sales numbers, it’s safe to say you’re not the only one.

  2. I’d classify Supergirl as GOOD to VERY GOOD, depending on the issue. Like many others (I would imagine), I started picking up Supergirl because it carried the New Krypton banner. Now that the crossover is nearly concluded, I’ll say that it’s the only title in the line I’m glad to have read and the only one I’ll continue reading come June.

    “Superman,” on the other hand, is just unforgivable. You’re far too kind in giving it an “okay.” That book is a crime against humanity. If there really was a Superman in our world, then James Robinson would be exiled to the Phantom Zone for writing his title so poorly. I’d be sent also, for continuing to purchase that title against the better judgment of every sensible cell in my body.

  3. Graeme – totally agree here. I too was buying all the Supes I could get my hands on coming off the super high of ASS and the contributing “high ok” of the Johns issues (Brainiac / Legion).

    The problem started for me came when I found the characterization of the Kryptonians as war mongering / easily led and morally confused to be just too much to bear. Aunt Allura (sp?) as super shrill shrew (say that 3 times fast) became tedious for me and then real life kinda wandered into the picture etc etc.

    I think Robinson is a fine writer and most of his stuff gives me (personal opinion) plenty to enjoy. He’s had misfires under the spotlight but I still enjoy the Mon-el stuff and certainly his new take on Justice League.

    the fact that I continued to pull these titles speaks to previous conversations re: the editorial desire to create buying momentum as Brian discussed. I will take a look at some Supergirl back issues as a result of this review, though. Thanks!

  4. I was on board with Robinson’s Superman until just after “Codename: Patriot”.
    The “Cry for Justice” abomination aside, I continue to rate Robinson up there with some of the great modern comic book writers.
    I’m a fan of Siver Age Supes/Legion and enjoyed some of the Kelly/Loeb era in the 1990s/early 2000s, but I’m not the audience for any monthly Superman title. What drew me to the book was a.) Robinson and b.) The decision to let him play around with other supporting characters while Supes was moved off stage. Plus the dropping of hints about the Legion storyline.
    The problem I had is that, over time, although it wasn’t difficult to JUST read Robinson’s Superman, I felt I was missing out on a larger story by not keeping up with the other Superman books, and I just didn’t want to invest that time and money.
    And then I also discovered that I really wasn’t all that interested in the larger stories.
    I didn’t find the Return of Krypton all that exciting, and I wasn’t looking forward to what we all knew was coming before it was announced – war between Krypton and Earth.
    I dug Atlas, I dug Codename: Assassin, I dug Mon-El and Dr. Light and Guardian and the Legion and the Science Police. But all of those great parts were not enough to make me care about the whole.
    From a marketing perspective I get why DC – or Marvel for that matter – wants to have numerous titles starring flagship characters that tie-in to one another, requiring fans to invest in multiple books each month starring Superman or Batman or Spiderman.
    But it’s too bad DC just didn’t get Robinson to write his version of Superman for a year, much the way they’re allowing Morrison to do his thing on Batman & Robin without forcing you to pick up all the other Batman books out in a month. I would have read just a Robinson Superman story.

  5. With ya Graeme! High off the brilliance of the Legion and Brainiac stories – I was buying every “shield number” for about 5 months. I loved the premise and the ballsy approach to mixing up the characters. I too thought we were embarking on a massive intertwined epic much like 52. And then…. nothing happened. It felt like a great idea that the writers just didn’t know how to make exciting. It should’ve been epic but the plot beats just came off as mundane (instead of Super!).

    What finally killed it for me was the re-launch of the Bat Universe. Batman’s always been my favorite and I couldn’t purchase my regular Batman & Detective books AND pick up Streets, B&R, and Sirens while still buying all of these Superman books. DC just released waaaay too many titles and I had to pick my favorite.

    Not that I’ve regretted it. I’ve followed the story beats and it seems like the whole thing just continued to slide downhill. Too bad – it was amazing and daring premise. Seriously though, on a newly created Krypton – how does your plot center around a murder mystery!?!?! Ah well, I’ll try the Man of Steel again at issue #700 for (hopefully) some JMS goodness.

  6. Supergirl had the most to gain given what followed.

    Johns’ Action Comics title was hitting the primary beats of probably what was a “summit” style planning sesh pre-OYL: him and Donner on Last Son and a quirky Bizarro story that crystallized the iconic Zod portayal and brought back Bizarro World into the main DCU. Then Johns got Gary Frank and they patched up the rest: Superman reconnected to The Legion and an inclusive Braniac idea. There was a Toyman fix in there too. This title has fallen the farthest with the Nightwing and Flamebird tangent going from mildly interesting and having some potential to off-the-rails with this faux Rao stuff and the third Kryptonian avatar (the Engineer or somesuch). With chinsy art to accompany, it has fallen the farthest to me.

    Before James Robinson was carrying the water for Johns’ architectural plans for the Superman franchise, there was Kurt Busiek working on the Superman title. Busiek got to add his own mark with such memorable stories as The Third Kryptonian and all of the Countdown tie-ins. What’s that? You don’t remember that stuff? Just as well because outside of Busiek’s rejiggering of a JLA story he had in his inventory that ended up being called Camelot Falls, there really wasn’t anything memorable about his stint outside of a holding pattern for Last Son and Geoff Johns implementing his plans post-OYL. Robinson has equally been tasked with freighting other writer’s plans with New Krypton.

    New Krypton was foreshadowed in Action #850 in a scene that was never recreated with a wrongly colored Kara Wor-Ul, Lois, Superman, Supergirl, Zor-El and Alura all standing on New Krypton, its glory to behold. New Krypton was planned before Robinson got there. Was there plans to use a bunch of First Issue Special characters? That honor belongs to one James Robinson. So I’m not saying he didn’t get to make his mark either, but the plan was the plan. And it struck me as Robinson making the best of a situation. Mon-El being the biggest part of that.

    Which leads also the culmination of the Legion narrative begun with The Lightning Saga. So yes, War of the Supermen does appear to have a big task in front of it wrapping up the Legion loose ends and New Krypton stuff in order to clear the slate for Levitz, JMS, Guggenheim.

    Somewhere it all lost its way. I blame the art a lot. If this had the art collective employed on Amazing Spider-Man or Fall of the Hulks or even Realm of Kings I think things wouldn’t quite feel as dire. But yes, getting some closure by ending this and moving on best describes my feelings on the matter.

  7. Graeme, we missed you around here… Great to see you back, hopefully regularly!
    That’s all!

  8. I appreciate this review (series of reviews?), as the Superman books have gotten very little coverage lately. It seems like this massive ’90’s-style inter-title crossover has been the perfect jumping-off point for a lot of readers, so no one’s really been talking about what’s going on in these books.

    And from the sound of it, it seems really boring. Why are readers supposed to care? And more importantly, why are non-readers of Superman books supposed to be interested?

    Superman is the most iconic superhero in the world (in the real world), and yet no one can make his books sell – well, the only writer who was showing some promise stepped aside to pen yet another origin story in miniseries form.

  9. I find myself forgiving the Superman line’s faults in the same way that I forgave 52’s faults. But lately, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to do that. One of the most annoying things I’ve found so far is that they’re devoting 100 pages or so to Captain Exposition, sorry, Atom, feeling confused and meeting a bunch of guest stars.

    Also, is General Lane the most annoying major villain in the last 10 years, or am I not reading enough superhero comics? I hope Zod rips his head off. You know Robinson would do it, if editorial asked him to.

  10. Good to see you reviewing. WONK had a really interesting take on an alien society, with intriguing characters. Alas, we only saw the Thanagarians and their captain in a few pages. The rest was a good start that petered out into a dull nothing. The whole idea of the guilds of Krypton seemed lifted from the boney-headed aliens in Babylon 5, and added nothing. The less said, the more mystique surrounding doomed Krypton, the better. The magic Robinson worked on Opal wasn’t there for Kandor.

    Robinson also had a good start on SUPERMAN – I wanted to see what he intended for Jimmy, and Harper, and Mark Merlin, etc. The slow-build Undercover LSH plot there and in ADVENTURE was clever–until it just was plopped out because it was time to wrap things up (I had Control pegged as Lournu, myself…). Mon-El – this was the character that was working for Robinson. Then we had a Gorilla Mengele vivisecting his junk. Ghastly.

    Nightbird and Flamebird — Rucka’s too enthralled with his own dialogue, which seemingly exists only to entertain Rucka. Pointless.

    Vestigial affection for DC runs deep, but isn’t endless. I still don’t understand how they wrecked the re-intro of Supergirl(she’s brainwashed by her Pappy to Kill Kal, and she’s a Darkseid girl who divides in two—and now not), and they’ve done again with the Kandor/New Krypton contrivance. It seems unlikley that it’s sheer inattention or incompetence–but maybe it’s just that.

    At least Robinson seems better on “Justice League”, but I enjoyed his text pieces in “Cry For Justice” orders of magnitude over his recent work. The love and passion for DC comics that shines thru there just isn’t manifest in too much of his recent work. I’d wager it’s the work of DC management – I’ve loved most of what Robinson has done, from “Firearm” thru “Starman” to “Leave It To Chance”. But if this recent work was the first I’d seen of him, I’d be underwhelmed.

    Just as underwhelmed as I am at the news of JMS on “Superman” and “Wonder Woman”, but less depressed than I am at hearing “Power Girl” and “Winnick”.

    Maybe there’s room for a Robinson-written “Thanagarians In Space” book – best pages DC’s published in donkey’s years.

    Come back soon. We miss us some Fanboy Rampage.

  11. You’re not alone, I too have been picking up all the books. My take:

    Gates’ Supergirl – My favorite by far, like you said they took an unreadable book and made it decent. I’ve really warmed up to Kara and love Igle’s art.

    Robinson’s Superman – Halfway decent, Mon-El has kind of grown on me but I like the book better when it focuses on Guardian.

    WONK – I overall liked this, I’ve come to like Zod more and liked the bits of Superman in this new culture. Do agree with the tacked on mystery plot and weird ending. But still ok.

    Action has been my biggest letdown.

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