THIS WEEK: The Man of Steel’s return tour of Earth continues with the Superman: Kal-El Returns Special.

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.

Superman: Kal-El Returns Special #1

Writers: Mark Waid, Sina Grace, Marv Wolfman, and Alex Segura
Artists: Clayton Henry, Dean Haspiel, Jack Herbert, and Fico Ossio
Colorists: Marcelo Maiolo, Trish Mulvihill, Alex Guimarâes, and Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artist: Dan Mora

It’s easy to forget that Superman went anywhere. Yes, the Warworld Saga storyline in Action Comics saw Kal-El leave Earth with a team of handpicked heroes in order to liberate the titular Warworld from the tyranny of Mongul. That storyline lasted a year and a half and impacted all of the Superman titles, with Jon Kent stepping into the role in his own Earth-bound solo series. But outside of those books, the original recipe Superman never really went anywhere. He still appeared in the pages of Justice League, up to and including the “Death of the Justice League” leading into Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths. He’s also been appearing regularly in Batman/Superman: World’s Finest, though that series is set in the past. This isn’t like when Superman died 30 years ago, where the character actually disappeared from all of Superman’s books for a number of months. He’s been around. Still, granting the premise that he hasn’t been, this week’s Superman: Kal-El Returns Special features a quartet of stories showcasing the Man of Steel’s relationships with family, friends, and the world in the wake of his return to Earth.

The issue kicks off with a story from World’s Finest scribe Mark Waid and artists Clayton Henry and Marcelo Maiolo featuring, appropriately enough, Superman’s reunion with Batman. Of all the stories in the special this one is the most fun, as Waid brings in elements of DC canon both well-known and obscure to tell a tale in which the duo faces a foe they’ve never met before (at least, as far as we know, though an editor’s note indicates they might have). Henry and Maiolo are tasked with illustrating some off-the-wall imagery, and they do so with aplomb, while still grounding the story firmly in the heroes at its center.

Next up is a Jimmy Olsen-centric tale from Sina Grace, Dean Haspiel, and Trish Mulvihill. Grace’s script captures the unique relationship between Jimmy and Superman beautifully, with just a touch of the oddball absurdity Jimmy is known for thrown in for good measure. It’s a sweet story about Jimmy trying to take just the right photo to capture the moment of Superman’s return. Unfortunately where this story fails is in Haspiel’s art. The crux of the story is the power of imagery, and Haspiel’s illustration of Jimmy’s powerful image just feels lackluster. The framing of it is dull, and it’s just super-static. It’s a disappointing end to what is otherwise a really enjoyable story.

The remaining two stories in the special are straightforward and overall very enjoyable. Marv Wolfman returns to Superman and to a character he helped revamp in the late ‘80s, Lex Luthor, with a story illustrated by Jack Herbert and Alex Guimarâes. Lex has been out of the spotlight for a while, and this story was a strong reminder of just what a great foil the character is for Superman and for the rest of his family. The anchor story is a Justice League tale from Alex Segura, Fico Ossio, and Lee Loughridge. It’s a nice reunion story that spotlights a lot of the themes that have been at play in the DCU over the past year or so, namely that of legacy and the role the Justice League plays in the superhero community. It’s also tasked with bridging the gap between the Warworld Saga and the Death of the Justice League, which it does as neatly as possible.

I’m not sure that the Superman: Kal-El Returns Special is necessarily an essential read, but it’s a lot of fun. The lead Batman team-up story is worth the price of admission alone, and the rest of the issue’s stories do an endearing job of showcasing Superman’s place in the world and among his family, friends, and enemies. As tie-in specials go, you can’t really ask for anything more.

Final Verdict: BROWSE.


  • This week’s Round-Up’s just a quick look at a couple of other noteworthy releases. First, Justice Society of America #1 is classic Geoff Johns, but not the way that Stargirl: The Lost Children #1 was classic Johns. This picks up where the New Golden Age one-shot left off, and is Johns back on his bullshit, casually melding Earth-2 continuity into the main DCU timeline, jettisoning stories from other creators that he’s not interested in, introducing a bunch of new characters, then killing them off horrifically. The interesting part of the story is the last page, so hopefully future issues will be better. They would almost have to be. At least Mikel Janín and Jordie Bellaire‘s art is great as usual.
  • Blue Beetle: Graduation Day #1, on the other hand, is a great kickoff to Jaime Reyes’s latest adventure. Josh TrujilloAdrián Gutiérrez, and Will Quintana do a fantastic job introducing Blue Beetle and his world, and the action of the story grabs readers immediately and doesn’t let go. It’s a story that steeped in Jaime’s history but incorporates it smoothly and interestingly. Excited to see where this series goes.

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  1. I can’t begrudge Johns for trying to be more ambitious as a writer/creator. The guy’s really got a loooooooong game epic going on here, starting over a decade ago in Flashpoint, then continuing through Doomsday Clock and the recent Flashpoint sequel. I just wish it didn’t involve his return to the Justice Society. Given I disliked Flashpoint, and didn’t read Doomsday Clock or the Flashpoint follow up mini, the vact the Justice Society continues plots/themes from them is a huge turnoff. After reading and enjoying The New Golden Age special, it seems like this same story could have been told WITHOUT the Watchmen/Flashpoint links. I guess there is some precedent for this given Johns teamed up with Alex Ross back in the 2000s to bring Kingdom Come into the JSA. But for now I’m just gonna keep an eye on this from the sidelines. Also, anyone else happen to notice the solicitations say this is a 12 issue series? So not an ongoing, which, again, seems to fit with where Johns is these days as a writer/creator. Whether he’s just not interesting in committing to a monthly or whether this is a sign of DC’s commitment/lack thereof to an ongoing JSA remains to be seen, I guess. I hope next time Johns does PR for this series someone asks him about that.

  2. I much preferred Justice Society #1 to the Superman special, and I’m a Superman fan. JSA has really great art, and sets up a good mystery and proposes to fix the JSA’s history from 1940 to 2040. I don’t know why the reviewer criticizes Geoff for resetting DC continuity — the JSA has barely existed in DC since 2011, so how could he not? Is Joe saying existing DC continuity makes sense?

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