When you’re working in a franchise as long running as Superman, it has to be tempting to revisit great characters. I mean, that’s the model superhero books are built on, right? If Arkham Asylum had any kind of security AT ALL, Batman would have cleaned up Gotham City years ago. Knowing that iterative nature, even loving it, I still think there are times when you need to leave well enough alone. This is one of those times.
I want to be clear: I enjoyed reading this one. As a standalone graphic novel, it holds up well. The art is solid and consistent throughout; the dialogue is good; there is a great cast of characters. The story progresses along smoothly from start to finish, with only a few minor lapses in backstory (i.e., when did Supergirl become a Red Lantern???). This book is a good representation of what DC was trying to accomplish with “The New 52”, but what’s working against it is the excellence of the past. When Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, and company created Doomsday for the Death of Superman arc, they broke the mold. At the time, the story idea was unprecedented, and it is still so good that the current incarnation pales in comparison.
Having not read much of the rebooted DC universe, I don’t know all the details of the new Doomsday. Regardless, it appears that he comes and goes from the Phantom Zone much like Batman’s bad guys do with Arkham. That’s where we begin this story: Doomsday has escaped again and goes on a rampage. Interestingly, the writers have given him a new bit of evil. His very presence kills living things. He doesn’t even need to touch them; just being in proximity long enough fries any normal plant or animal (humans included). It was as though his malice is made manifest, and his hatred for seemingly everything (which was present in the original) has become a sort of poison. [MINOR SPOILER INCOMING] In fact, not long into the story, Doomsday becomes a cloud of spores that Superman inhales to protect the rest of the planet. It is this which “dooms” Superman, which begins the process of his transformation into the monster he defeated.
From there on out, the story essentially alternates between Clark’s external and internal struggle to control the monster he has absorbed. It’s not unlike Peter Parker’s early struggles with the alien symbiote, prior to Venom’s inception. Whereas that battle was concise yet palpable, this one is more drawn out. Indeed, if the book lags anywhere it is in some of the internal dialogue between Clark and Doomsday. It certainly needs to happen, and the book is richer for it, but there was just a little too much. As the book continues on, the writers devote panels to what really could have been communicated in single thought bubbles.
There is a lot to love here. The colors, for one, are just fantastic. It’s something I’ve always appreciated in Superman books. Where other titles try to push things dark, both literally and figuratively, Big Blue’s stories are always vibrant and buzzing with hues. The relationship which develops between Steel and Lana Lang feels fresh and genuine, and the larger plot they discover lurking behind Doomsday adds a meaningful dimension to the story. In fact, without this secondary thread, the whole book could have easily turned into a smash and grab job. All in all, this weighty collection is a broadly satisfying experience which will likely appeal to readers all along the spectrum of Superman devotion.
“There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.”
— George Sheehan