Review: War of the Supermen #1-4

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Sure, everyone’s talking about the big debuts of J. Michael Straczynski and Paul Cornell on Superman and Action Comics, respectively, as well they should. I haven’t gotten those issues yet, so I thought instead I’d talk about War of the Supermen, the big event that preceded both writers. Besides, I started writing this review just a little after War of the Superman came out, so it’s still kind of current, right? Right??

Ahem. Anyway, onto the review!  (I’ll post a cover image for one of the issues soon, don’t worry!)

War of the Supermen is the result of about two years’ worth of buildup in the Superman titles. The premise is simple: after the events of Superman: Brainiac and Superman: New Krypton, there are 100,000 Kryptonians living on the Earth’s moon. Among them are General Zod, who leads Krypton’s military (with Non and Ursa at his side); Superman, who has taken a leave of absence from Earth to help the Kryptonians adapt to their new home; Supergirl, who is happily reunited with her friends and family; and Alura, Supergirl’s mother and the leader of New Krypton. However, when a group of anti-Kryptonian humans and Superman villains, lead by General Sam Lane (Lois Lane’s dad), cause a horrible tragedy on New Krypton, the enraged Kryptonians declare war on Earth. Will Superman and Supergirl stop them, or will they side with their fellow Kryptonians?

So, with that plot description out of the way, I bet you’re wondering: is War of the Supermen good? The answer is yes. Yet it’s also a little unsatisfying. I won’t go into spoilers, but the story ultimately ends with a return to the pre-New Krypton status quo. Oh sure, there’s an epic war and many, many lives are lost, but at the end of it all, it’s back to “business as usual” for the Superman titles. SPOILER SPACE- Highlight to see them: New Krypton is gone, Zod and Superman are strictly foes again, Chris Kent’s a kid again, Mon-El’s back in the Phantom Zone (along with a bevy of New Kryptonians, mostly bad guys) and General Sam Lane’s dead again. SPOILER END. None of it seemed forced, thankfully, but with all that build-up, you have to wonder why the creative team decided not to leave anything a little more lasting.

Overall, the series reads pretty smoothly. James Robinson and Sterling Gates make a pretty good writing team; Gates has a better command of dialogue than Robinson does nowadays, and the pacing is as fast as you’d expect from a 100-minute war ( you read that right: 100 minutes. Kryptonians work fast!) Gates has the voices of the characters down pat, although I was annoyed by one or two lines of Superboy’s dialogue (that said, I also enjoyed most of Superboy’s scenes). The writing duo also really nail some of the more emotional moments of the story, like Superman’s last scene with Nightwing/Chris and Supergirl’s reaction to the event that sets off the 100-Minute War… although I think Jamal Igle’s art was what really made the latter scene work so well. But we’ll get to that in a little bit!

If you’re a long-time Superman fan and/or have kept up with the series since New Krypton, you’ll love how many characters are in here. Nearly all the major players from the last two years of the Superman titles appear, from Nightwing and Flamebird to stalwart allies like Steel and the Guardian (even if the Guardian is a little different from the Guardians we’ve seen before). This counts for villains as well, like Superwoman, Reactron, Sam Lane and– gasp– LEX LUTHOR, and classic supporting cast members Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Despite the big cast, no one feels shoehorned in, as the Legion of Super-Heroes did in the Brainiac story that immediately preceded War of the Supermen (also written by Gates and Robinson).

Another point in War of the Supermen‘s favor is its accessibility. Even though the Superman comics have been building towards this story since 2008, you don’t really need to have followed them too closely to understand what’s going on in War of the Supermen. Similarly, the series is fairly self-contained; you don’t need to read the various tie-in issues of Supergirl, Superman and so forth. However, Robinson and Gates don’t succeed quite as well in this regard as say, Johns did with the Blackest Night mini-series. Certain characters die or disappear between issues, and while some explanation is given, it can be a little jarring.

Some things did seem a little off to me, as well. For example, if you don’t mind me getting mildly spoilery here, how is Zod able to hold a kryptonite dagger without feeling its debilitating effects? I don’t care of the hilt has some kind of lead coating over it; if a kryptonite ring at arm’s length can make Superman fall to his knees, a kryptonite dagger should, at the very least, make Zod a little queasy. If Zod has somehow trained his body to endure kryptonite’s radioactive effect more than the average Kryptonian, it isn’t mentioned here. Also, another reviewer brought up a very good point about the Superman/Chris Kent resolution that I won’t go into because it would spoil way too much, but it’s one of those head-slapping “D’OH!” details you’d expect someone to consider. Then again, it didn’t occur to me either, so what do I know? 😉

Anyway, let’s move on the art. While Gates and Robinson stay as writing team throughout all four issues, each issue is drawn by different artists. Thankfully, none of their art styles are too far off from one another, allowing for a fairly smooth read if you decide to go through the issues back-to-back. Jamal Igle’s work is especially impressive, as he conveys the aftermath of a catastrophic event in issue one beautifully. In fact, that scene is probably the best piece of art in the series. For the most part, though, the art didn’t blow me away, but was fairly well done. Pete Woods’ art looks like it did when he drew Superman: World of New Krypton, which didn’t blow me away as much as is art on Superman: Up, Up and Away! and Amazons Attack!, but I find myself consoled by the fact that his current art on Action Comics is a return to form.

All in all, War of the Supermen is a pretty entertaining read. Yet I think the people who’ll get the most out of it are the fans who had been reading the Superman titles beforehand. As I said earlier, everything kind of reverts to the way things were before. The story does have certain emotional repercussions for characters like Superman, Lois Lane and Supergirl, but it looks like we won’t be seeing much of them outside of the Supergirl ongoing series (although I could be wrong; I’ll let you know when I finish Action Comics #890 and Superman #701!). While not every story needs to shake up the status quo to be great, I wouldn’t quite call War of the Superman “great.” It is good, though, and if you’re in the mood for an entertaining Superman story with plenty of action, you could certainly do a lot worse than War of the Supermen.

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3 Responses to “Review: War of the Supermen #1-4”

  1. davidry214 Says:

    Great review, Goki. Your depth of detail is much appreciated for those of us (me) who were vaguely interested in the event but didn’t actually read any of it.

    It sounds to me like this was the equivalent of a fun but slightly forgettable summer blockbuster film. Entertaining and fun, but perhaps not the most meaningful story ever. The idea that after a couple years of build-up, everything just went back to the old status quo seems like it would be disappointing to your typical Superman fan.

    Yet even if that is the case, I can appreciate the original thoughts that went into crafting this story. OK, so maybe having Superman fight other Kryptonians isn’t perfectly original, but the whole “100-minute war” was a creative upping of the ante. I mean, in 8ish years of comics reading, I’ve only ever gone through one four/five-month stretch of reading Superman titles, and this was an interesting enough story idea that I very nearly bought in. In fact, I probably would have tried the first issue if not for timing.

    I also totally get your small gripe about the Zod/kryptonite thing. It’s the kind of comment that gets us nerds made fun of (“You can accept that he’s from an alien planet and our sun gives him crazy super powers, but not that he can hold a knife?”), but I nevertheless find it a completely legitimate point to bring up. Part of what makes comics great is losing yourself in the story, and a necessary prerequisite for that to happen is that the story itself maintains some sort of consistency. As comics readers, we might be willing to accept that a character or even an entire race plays by different rules, so to speak, but it’s not too much to then ask them to adhere to those rules.

    Don’t think I’ve ever heard of Jamal Igle, but based on your opinion of him, hopefully I’ll see him on something I buy. Pete Woods is OK. Not a guy whose work I seek out, but he has some nice moments.

  2. Gokitalo Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Dave!, Yeah, I think “a fun but slightly forgettable summer blockbuster film” sums up War of the Supermen perfectly. Sure, James Robinson and Sterling Gates may have wanted to “reset the board” for the next writer, but it kind of leaves you wondering what the point of it all was. I can’t help but wonder if Geoff Johns, who was writing Action Comics when “New Krypton” began, would’ve left more lasting ramifications if he had stuck around.

    Part of what makes comics great is losing yourself in the story, and a necessary prerequisite for that to happen is that the story itself maintains some sort of consistency. As comics readers, we might be willing to accept that a character or even an entire race plays by different rules, so to speak, but it’s not too much to then ask them to adhere to those rules.

    Absolutely. You can argue that kryptonite hasn’t always weakened Kryptonians in consistent ways, but having a piece of it that close to their bodies usually causes them at least some level of discomfort.

  3. davidry214 Says:

    For that matter, I wonder what Johns thinks now about them essentially pressing the reset button on all the New Krypton stuff. I’m not sure how far his new job really goes into direct editorial control, and by the time he got that promotion, the War of the Supermen scripts may have already been turned in anyway, so it could have been moot. But regardless, I imagine the next writers probably will indeed appreciate less baggage.

    Yet to play devil’s advocate, it could have been good for the Supes titles to have something like New Krypton be passed down through a few writers, developed more, changed some, and kept a part of the status quo for at least a couple more years. The Bat books tend to go through a lot more lasting changes, in tones and general directions, with certain thematic elements (the dissipation of Bruce Wayne into the wholly Batman persona) lasting up to a decade or more with several writers getting a chance to put some kind of stamp on the idea. The Superman books, by contrast, seem to hit reset almost every time a new creative group comes in, or at least fairly soon after. Maybe that makes them more accessible, but I think it also risks making them less dynamic.

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