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 Trujillo, Adrián 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.
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!