So, I finally sat down last night and read all four issues of the concluding chapter to the epic New Krypton storyline in the Superman titles, "War of the Supermen". In many ways, these four issues were the conclusion to roughly four years of Superman comics, beginning with the "Up, Up and Away" storyline which was released in the summer of 2006 (coinciding with the release of Superman Returns).
I give editor Matt Idleson credit for trying to manage such a monumental task. Tying together four years worth of comics into one massive plotline (and having to already ret-con much of the Kurt Busiek material as the books found their way post-Infinite Crisis), can't have been easy. Furthermore, having to manage one of those years without Clark Kent/ Superman in his two flagship titles must have been near-misery. But the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, you could practically hear the grinding of DC's editorial gears over every other line of dialog, character moment, story beat, and even the action sequences.
I am not disappointed with the past four years worth of Superman comics, so let's make that clear. But "War of the Supermen", a capstone I'd been looking forward to for five or six months, wound up a rushed mess that didn't service what I had enjoyed in the build up. My concern is that because sales slid (considerably), the interesting bits that were established will be completely forgotten in a few years, aside from reintroducing General Zod to the DCU (without flailing about as the Superman books did with the character post-Crisis on Infinite Earths).
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Frankly, I cannot believe that DC is reverting to the shock and body count factor that was creeping in to the DCU comics in the years prior to 9/11. And I can't believe that DC introduced new characters and a form of Kandor fans found fascinating, and then proceeded to kill everyone involved. At least in the way that the story spun out.
In the mid-90's, I identified as a James Robinson fan. I read Starman and thought his comic The Golden Age was peachy-keen. But whatever spark marked those series (which, honestly, don't hold up terribly well even now), has gone out of his writing. I'm less likely to blame co-writer and Geoff Johns mentee, Sterling Gates, as I'm inclined to believe Robinson is Didio's golden boy at the moment and the senior writer in the room.
But if I must list some of my complaints:
(a) DC apparently has no idea what a big moment of heroism looks like anymore, and that Superman basically ran around for four issues randomly punching things with absolutely no effect whatsoever, and was somewhat pointless in his own series for what is now over a full calendar year. Robinson and Gates had such an opportunity for such a great showdown between Superman and Zod in public, with so many options for how the war was to end, and instead the characters sort of slapped at each other until they left the stage and resolved nothing. Things occurring is not the same as things happening.
(b) Almost nothing that happened in Action Comics or Superman for the past 12 issues (or possibly 24 issues) is going to matter come July.
(c) Actively working against re-establishing the world of Metropolis that Johns and Busiek had gone to pains to reinstate after years of neglect.
(d) Any message that could have been distilled from the story aside from "look, we're using all kinds of DC properties" was extremely distorted by the pointless, characterless General Lane.
(e) How many pardons, exactly, is Lex Luthor supposed to get after abusing the presidency by framing Superman (etc...), killing thousands with the Everyman Project and then trying to nuke Metropolis with a stolen Krytonian ship? Jesus, give the readers some credit.
I have only an inkling of what sort of top-down mandates the creative teams were forced to deal with. Certainly losing Geoff Johns on Action Comics just as the storyline was gelling couldn't have helped, but at some point, it has to be Idleson's job as an editor to stand back and ask if the story they're telling is working or is, in fact, a good idea. Certainly by winter this year, it didn't seem as if anything that was happening in the Superman line was a good idea.
Realistically, DC (and Idleson) knew that this wasn't working as planned, and so they decided to clear the boards in time for Superman #700, which arrives on June 23rd. DC obviously knew it had a major problem on its hands with the series or I suspect the usual comics online outlets would have been filled with a lot more coverage of an "event".
Oddly, while a few plot points were certainly dropped, they did at least try to tie up most of the storylines, hedging with basic lip service (even, sort of, the Atlas/ Steel conflict). So I give credit where its due. DC also firmly retrenched the Legion of Super-Heroes into the DCU, with the unique solution of telling stories of the teen Legion in Adventure Comics (where they belong) and giving the adult Legion their own title (as well as creating some new and interesting history for the DCU).
Most frustrating is that the prior chapter to "War of the Supermen", "Last Stand of New Krypton", was surprisingly more fulfilling, even it was also mostly characters racing from battle to battle (which is, by the way DC, getting really old). For the scale of the story, I have to think that even with a four issue finale, better writer/s (I'm still looking at Robinson here) would have delivered an ending that didn't just tie up plot points, but that respected the readers a bit more. And if they couldn't do it, then they should have found a way to end it with "Last Stand of New Krypton".
We'll see what June brings for the Superman titles. Certainly the last four years were full of highs and lows, and I certainly enjoyed many aspects of the storytelling, from the re-establishment of continuity to a point where it makes an inkling of sense, to the establishment of a roster of villains worthy of Superman with Luthor at the center.
In June the Superman titles are changing direction somewhat as new creative teams are taking over Action Comics and Superman. Established sci-fi writer Paul Cornell and artist Pete Woods are coming to Action (who is actually focusing on Lex Luthor for his first arc), and at Superman, we'll see J. Michael Staczynski with artist Eddy Barrows (I've no idea what they plan to do, I've been avoiding spoilers).