Good question. I wish I had a good answer for that. I figure that I’m either an optimist or a masochist. But, well, it’s Superman. And there are some good ideas buried within those first two volumes, it’s just that the execution was lacking, in my opinion. Like this newer version of The Luthors, a brilliant married couple who are hired by the U.S. government to come up with a way to kill Superman. That’s intriguing. My main problem with their introduction in the previous issue was that I don’t know why J. Michael Straczynski saw the need to have them walking around naked for several pages while they discussed Superman. And unlike the first two volumes which I bought in print for full-price, this was on sale on Amazon for digital download for just $14.99. So I bought this. Now I’m going to read it and then finish this review.
Okay read it. I generally prefer to avoid spoilers, but I can’t help it here. I can’t say what I don’t like about something without revealing what happened. So…
The major plot of this story is the appearance of ZOD. This version of Zod is named Zod-El, he’s Jor-El’s brother and Superman’s uncle. He appears on Earth, via a spaceship, and seeks out Superman. He explains how he survived Krypton’s destruction and that he’s been searching for Superman all this time and wants to pledge his loyalty to him now and help him protect Earth. Superman is cautiously optimistic about finding a long-lost family member.
Meanwhile, as a result of Superman indirectly overthrowing that foreign dictator in the previous volume, a special meeting is held at the U.N. as all major world governments are worried about what he may do next. Major Lee introduces Lex and Alexa Luthor to the crowd, and they reveal that they may have figured out a way to neutralize him. When news that a 2nd Kryptonian has appeared on Earth gets out, the government representatives really freak out. And that’s when Zod waltzes into the meeting and tells them all that Superman is dangerous and that he will remove him from Earth. In return, he asks that no matter where the battle rages, he wants a guarantee that no government on Earth will allow their military’s to interfere. Once the agreement is made, Zod heads off to trap Superman.
First, Zod tricks Superman into exposing himself to Kryptonite, which Zod has brought with him. In a sequence that shows that Superman has as much brains as brawn, Superman gets away from that threat and flies to his Fortress to ask the A.I. from his spaceship the truth about Zod. We learn that Zod lead a 6-month Civil War on Krypton, trying to conquer it, and in defeat he is the one who went to that other planet and gave the rival species the technology capable of destroying Krypton, which we learned of in Volume 1. Zod figured that if he couldn’t rule Krypton, then he’d rather all Kryptonians were dead. He’s also the one who commanded Tyrell to track down and seek out the sole survivor of the blast, but since Tyrell failed, Zod was now here to finish the job. And so we get another big battle in the heart of Metropolis (sound familiar?), as the world watches.
Oh yeah, this version of Zod wears a suit that includes a cape with a hoodie, which always stays on his head, partially obscuring his face, no matter what he does.
Worried this battle between two super-powered aliens could kill millions of citizens in Metropolis (again, sound familiar?), Major Lee calls in her secret weapons, Lex and Alexandra Luthor, to help end this. Okay, now, I don’t want to spoil everything, but I’ll just say that in the end, Zod is defeated but at the cost of Lex’s life. This causes Alexandra to vow revenge on Superman, and to declare that from now on her name is Lex.
And another subplot is that Lisa Lasalle, the ex-prostitute who lives in Clark’s apartment building, discovers that Clark is Superman, and later risks her life to try to help him during the big fight with Zod, and in the end Clark takes her back to Smallville to introduce her to his mother, introducing Lisa as his girlfriend. There’s also a rather interesting scene in the end when Superman confronts the assembled members of the United Nations, pointing out the inherent problem with the way they were so quick to trust Zod and let him try to kill Superman, because if they were so scared of Superman potentially being dangerous then they’d still be left with Zod to deal with if Zod succeeded. Duh.
Once again, there are some good ideas in here, but I find fault in the execution. And that includes the fact that there are some significant changes to Superman’s status quo, that aren’t necessarily bad, but I’m really not sure if they add anything or if it’s just change for the sake of change? This Earth One series of original graphic novels was touted as being a major update of Superman for a new era, which is fine in theory, but most of the updates just seem superficial.
So Zod is responsible for Krypton’s destruction now, okay that’s fine, it makes him even more evil, but I don’t see why he needs to be related to Superman? It doesn’t add anything to the story, like if the purpose is to make Superman feel even more connected to Zod, as Zod is not only the last other member of Superman’s species, but also his only biological relative, that’s not explored at all in this book. So what was the point? Even if it’s not true, perhaps Zod just said it to help gain Superman’s trust (which isn’t hinted at in the book, I’m just speculating), it’s still something that’s barely acknowledged in-story.
And Clark gets a new love-interest who also knows his secret identity, but instead of Lois Lane or even Lana Lang (or Lori Lemaris), it’s a brand new woman who also coincidentally has the initials L.L. I mean, I guess it’s better than hooking him up with Wonder Woman, but I’m not sure at this point what purpose Lisa really serves that couldn’t have just utilized one of the other previously-established female characters, other than I guess JMS didn’t want to make Lana or Lois an ex-prostitute, so he created a new character. But then you have to wonder why JMS felt the need to have Clark dating a woman who used to be a prostitute? And there’s also the fact that it was clearly established in the previous volume that Clark can’t have sex with Lisa, or any other human woman, due to his invulnerability and strength.
Speaking of Lois, her role in this new continuity seems to be as somewhat akin to how Commissioner Gordon is with Batman, right down to that fact that she somehow had an “S”- signal built on top of the Daily Planet building which she uses to summon Superman. Seriously.
In the end Superman asks Lois to help give him advice from time to time about the best way to use his powers. Other than that, she gets somewhat short drift here, as does Jimmy Olsen and Perry White. And probably the biggest change to Superman’s canon is the new “Lex” Luthor.
So Superman’s arch-nemesis is a woman now. Not a bad idea (truthfully, years ago I worked on a “Ultimate Superman” proposal, just for fun, and I was also going to have a woman, Alexis Luthor, as Superman’s enemy), but it was intriguing enough to have a husband and wife team of Luthors who were Superman’s enemies. Alexandra could have just been introduced by herself in the beginning, instead of first making them a couple just so that the husband could be killed off in order to give Alexandra a motivation to hate Superman, in a gender-reversed Women In Refrigerators trope. It just seems off-putting that the new Lex Luthor’s motivation for hating Superman is basically “because of you, I lost my man, and I’ll never find another one!”
Altogether it feels like this volume was the final installment in a trilogy that tells a long origin story (much like the first three Daniel Craig “James Bond” movies), “Superman Begins”, if you will. This volume is a little better than the first two, I don’t dislike it, it’s just okay. I think the next volume (which I will most likely get. . .) will be the real test of where J. Michael Straczynski wants to take Superman in the 2010’s (is that what we’re calling this decade?) now that he’s arranged all of his pieces in place. But the real big improvement here is the artwork. Newcomer Ardian Syaf takes over for Shane Davis, and I think his work is much better, and compliments the story more.