Written and drawn by John Byrne
Cover by Mike Mignola
Colored by Glenn Whitmore
Published by DC Comics
Okay, once again, having reviewed what I think is a bad comic-book by John Byrne, I feel compelled to follow it up with a review of a good comic-book by John Byrne, just to prove that I’m fair and balanced, even when it comes to a major league jack@$$ like John Byrne. I figure this is a perfect issue to review this weekend, since we just celebrated Independence Day, and this does deal with the American Revolution (sort of).
This is an “annual”, which is a special over-sized issue that is published once a year. That’s something both DC and Marvel used to do for each of their ongoing series but, for whatever reason, don’t do anymore. This one was published in 1994, long after John Byrne had left DC Comics and the Superman titles, but he came back for this one-shot, to tell this “Elseworlds” story (similar to his GENERATIONS miniseries). What I like most about this issue is that several times Byrne does the unexpected here. From the cover you may expect that this is a straightforward “What if Superman was a British citizen in 1776?” story. But that’s not it at all. I will try my best to keeps spoilers to a minimum here, but there will be some.
We open with a familiar scene, Krypton is exploding and we see a small rocket shooting away from the debris. Narration tells us that the occupant is Gar-El, we’re not given much info on him, like how he knew Krypton was going to explode and why only he was able to escape it. Krypton is described as a cold and sterile place, so this if following the depiction of Kryptonian society that Byrne established in his MAN OF STEEL miniseries. But apparently Gar-El has been studying Earth (he even already knows how to speak English) and is headed there specifically because he knows he will become super powerful in its environment. His rocket lands in the English countryside in 1768, where he happens upon the attempted robbery of a stagecoach which he immediately uses his new found powers to thwart. And then he makes himself known to the English public and declares his intention to use his great powers in the service of King George III, becoming known as The Warlock Royal. Flash forward to 1776, where Ben Franklin, John Adams, and other founding fathers are meeting in Philadelphia to discuss American independence. The Warlock Royal shows up and accuses them all of treason and takes them all back to Britain where they are hanged.
Flash forward to the then-present (1994). The entire world is run by the British empire and a long-lived Gar-El, now know simply as The Sovereign (and his royal crest is the traditional Superman S shield), is the ruler of the empire. We meet Kal-El, the Sovereign’s Great great great great great great great great great great grandson. He is the only heir, as we learn that Gar-El got married and had a son, who was only half-Kryptonian and therefor not as powerful, and with each successive generation as the Kryptonian bloodline grew smaller their powers became lesser and lesser, all the way until Kal’s father Jor-El, who was completely powerless just like any average human, as is Kal.
Jor-El was hanged for treason sometime before this, for speaking out against the Sovereign’s rule of the planet. Modern-day England still looks mostly like the world of the 1770’s. Because of the Sovereign’s iron-fisted rule, there was been over 200 years of peace, but human technological development has also stagnated since then (soldiers still use muskets for weapons, for example). Kal appears to share some of his father’s views about the Sovereign, and when he witnesses some royal guards destroying the offices of a local newspaper, The Daily Planet, and killing its editor, Peregrine White (for writing articles against the Sovereign, which is treason, because there is no Freedom of The Press here) and attempting to assault Lois, the lady reporter, he decides to seek out a rumored rebellion that he’s heard about, and it’s mysterious leader, a man known simply as “L” who is said to know of a way to kill the Sovereign.
I don’t want to say too much more, other than Kal does meet “L” and discovers the secret of a glowing green rock which is supposed to be fatal to the Sovereign, and has a final one on one confrontation with The Sovereign. You may think that’s already giving away a lot, but trust me, there’s several twists that take the story in directions that you will not see coming. Byrne does not go for the easy plot here, which is why I find it so interesting, and very well done. The artwork is also top-notch, Byrne was still at his creative peak at this time. A particularly beautiful page is when Gar-El confronts the founding fathers. He spins around quickly to drill himself down into the ground beneath them so he can then pick up the entire building they’re in and fly it to England. Looks cool.
That main story is 40 pages. The issue also includes a 12 page story by Louis Simonson and Dennis Janke called DOOMSDAY FOR THE 5TH DIMENSION. This is a humorous story where after Krypton explodes Kal-El’s rocket gets sucked through a wormhole and emerges decades later in the 5th dimension where it lands on Mr. Mxyzptlk’s home planet. A fully-grown Superman, in costume, emerges and starts rampaging, all the little 5th dimensional imps have to find a way to stop him. It was an enjoyable enough story, played for laughs. Overall this issue is a good package. If you’re a fan of Superman, or of John Byrne, or both, then I definitely recommend this.
The comic is out of print and hasn’t been made available digitally yet, but you can find a cheap copy on Amazon.com:
Action Comics Annual #6