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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Superman: Last Son

Title: Superman: Last Son







ISBN: 9781401213435

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2008

Artist: Adam Kubert

Writer: Geoff Johns, Richard Donner

Collects: Action Comics #844-846 & 851, Action Comics Annual #11



Rating: 3.5/5



Though Up, Up, and Away is technically the first appearance of the "New Earth" Superman, I think we can all agree that Superman: Last Son, the first solo Superman outing of current series writer Geoff Johns, bears some note. DC Comics apparently thinks so, too -- though the book didn't warrant the blind front stamping that Grant Morrison's Batman and Son got, it does have an uncharacteristic matte jacket finish and printed endsheets. With 3-D glasses included, Last Son is a pretty sharp package -- but after the long delay (see Funnybook Babylon's Last Son chronology) was it worth the wait?



About halfway through Last Son, I got to thinking that the story was somewhat uncharacteristic for a first Geoff Johns storyline. As compared to his initial arcs on Flash or Green Lantern, where was the strong sense of setting, or the interweaving of character and plot?



It wasn't until the end that I got it, that in Superman's desperate fight to save Chris Kent, son of Zod, that Superman actually saw what his own life might have been like had he not been raised by the Kents. It's this personal tie that makes Last Son more than just an action story, and I look forward to how Johns continues to explore the Man of Steel.



Further, I realized after finishing Last Son that this is a Superman story I really feel confident I could give to the most basic Superman fan and they'd understand it, while it still works within mainstream Superman continuity. Whereas Johns has sometimes revamped a character's supporting cast to bring them more in line with his new take, he instead pares down the Superman cast to their basic elements: Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Ma and Pa, and all of them are immediately recognizable by any Superman movie or TV fan. This volume includes a brief introduction by Marc McClure (Superman: The Movie's Jimmy Olsen), though Adam Kubert's Clark Kent far more resembles Brandon Routh than Christopher Reeve.



Where Geoff Johns really applies the "Johnsian effect" is to Superman's villains. General Zod has been both revamped and resurrected (the John Byrne take on the character officially retconned from existence), as now a semi-tragic figure who tried to help Jor-El save Krypton, but whom Jor-El repudiated because of Zod's violent ways. I'm not sure I necessarily needed to sympathize with Zod (nor Booster Gold, nor Black Hand), but it does offer an interesting new spin on the destruction of Krypton.



As with the new heroes that Johns briefly and effectively introduced in Justice Society: Thy Kingdom Come, Johns makes quick work of the updates to other members of Superman's rogues gallery. Metallo, without much undue explanation, now harnesses the power of a couple different shades of Kryptonite; similarly the Parasite has returned to life, and Bizarro has taken on a more feral nature. Johns also name-checks both Brainiac and Doomsday, suggesting new, yet-unrevealed Kryptonian ties for each.



So, to return to the question posed at the beginning, was Last Son worth the almost three-year wait? Well, maybe. It's certainly a good Superman story, nothing to be embarrassed about, and the accessibility of the story is a big plus.



At the same time ... former Super-titles editor Eddie Berganza once said that he could tell a Superman story was good when he could hear the John Williams Superman theme in his head while he was reading it. For a story that's supposedly co-written by Superman director Richard Donner (though Donner's immediate absence from subsequent projects makes one wonder if his role here was for marketing only), there's something of a dearth of iconic Superman moments. Indeed, even as I applaud the writers' restraint, I think this story could have handled at least one "kneel before Zod" reference -- there's nary a "nudge, nudge" or a "wink, wink" to be found here. My guess is that Last Son may hold up better in another reading; until then, I'm certainly enthused enough about Geoff Johns's Superman tenure to keep reading.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Superman: Camelot Falls Vol. 2

Title:  Superman: Camelot Falls Vol. 2







ISBN: 9781401215668

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2008

Artist: Carlos Pacheco

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Collects: Superman #662-664 & 667, Superman Annual #13



Rating: 2.5/5



Though, again, DC Comics intended Up, Up, and Away to be the debut of the "New Earth" Superman, fans pretty quickly caught on that the real meat of the Superman relaunches was Last Son by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert, and Camelot Falls by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco. Mostly due to delays on the Last Son side, both stories had an erratic schedule in comic form, with Superman (carrying "Camelot Falls") having to step in where Action Comics ("Last Son") fell behind.



It's obvious reading Camelot Falls that this is the more "monthly" of the two Superman titles. Whereas Last Son keeps a single focus with nary a subplot that doesn't relate to the main story, Camelot Falls is obviously a collection of issues, loosely tied under the auspices of Superman's battle with Arion. In one, Superman wrangles the Fourth World "Young Gods" run amok; in another, he fights the military Squadron K, set up to stop him if he's ever mind-controlled. I don't mind the randomness of this book, necessarily; the one thing I don't want to lose in this trade-era is the monthly, rather than even-driven, feel of comics.



The difficulty with Camelot Falls is that, in acting as a monthly storyline, the book repeats its premise over and over ad nauseum. This is, again, mostly the fault of other titles, as to accommodate everything from Last Son to Countdown, "Camelot Falls" had at least a couple (likely unexpected) breaks between its chapters, with the final chapter relegated to a Superman Annual. Still, a good volume of pages at the beginning of each chapter of Camelot Falls are taken up with Superman thinking and re-thinking over his moral dilemma, until it seems that most of the book involves Superman thinking only.



And the moral dilemma that Superman faces in this book ... just isn't that interesting. Essentially, the Atlantean sorcerer Arion (who, though supposedly a younger version of the DC hero, shares few ties with the other) claims that by protecting humanity, Superman staves off a coming crisis that will only be worse when it finally arrives. Of course, Superman immediately takes this very seriously and begins to fret about his place in the world -- except the reader knows Superman's not about to pack it in, so his resolution is obvious from the beginning. What follows are pages (and pages) of Superman alone, worrying, a throwback to the "crying" Superman pre-Infinite Crisis; in contract, Geoff Johns's Superman in Last Son is equally as intelligent, but more proactive and assured.



One area where Kurt Busiek does complicate Arion's challenge is when Superman faces off against the alien Subjekt-17. The alien, whose origin closely resembles Superman's own, claims he knows where to find the missing Arion, but will only reveal the information if Superman attacks him; Subjekt-17 had previously been tortured by humans, and would only agree to help humanity by force. In a story that constantly reminds Superman that he's not human, Subjekt-17 forces Superman to side with humanity through one of their worst traits -- violence. The ending here is still fairly telegraphed -- does anyone expect Superman not to defend humanity? -- but Busiek and Pacheco do a nice job showing Superman's horror as he must beat Subjekt-17 senseless.



The first volume of Camelot Falls moved fairly swiftly, as it went from Superman's encounter with Subjekt-17 to Arion's appearance and a glimpse into a potential future. The second volume, however, dispenses with the build-up in favor of tackling the more cerebral aspects of the problem, and I'm just not sure it translates as well. Last Son, on the other hand, is a far more accessible Superman story that uses a familiar cast of Superman's friends and villains; Busiek and Pacheco do an admirable, artful job with Camelot Falls in a story that represents Superman well, but never quite achieves an epic feel.

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