Thursday, February 4, 2010

On analyzing the success of a bold experiment

World of New Krypton has spent a year doing something that had been met with suspicion at best - taking Superman out of the Super-titles. The story, if you haven't been reading the Super-titles, is that the Bottle City Of Kandor was finally freed from its diminutive status after being liberated from Brainiac's ship. Once it was made quite clear that the governments of the Earth didn't quite know how they felt about 100,000 people with the power Superman suddenly appearing, they took the entire city off-planet and built a new Krypton on the other side of the sun.

Superman decides he needs to travel to New Krypton to check things out, considering among other things, the Kryptonians saved General Zod from the Phantom Zone and put him in charge of the military. He stays on the new world, assigned the rank of Commander of the Military Guild by Zod himself. Over the course of his stay, he deals with a series of assassinations of the ruling class, an uprising of the labor class, while all the while keeping a wary eye on Zod and his equally dangerous compatriots, Ursa and Non.

Of all the things I liked about this book, the greatest is that it successfully confounded everyone's expectations. Zod has been played as a hero to the people of Kandor/New Krypton, because that's what he was when they last saw him. And he's been exactly that. No plots to take over the Earth, no moustache twirling, nothing. He works with Kal-El, contentiously at first, but coming around to respect his more peaceful way of doing things. At no point throughout the book is Zod revealed as having a secret plan at all. He really is the hero of New Krypton. The series ends with Zod and Kal-El having a positively polite conversation. Admittedly, the conversation is dramatically interrupted, but there's no rug-pull. I was SO pleased at that.

I've complained in the past about mini-series that serve no narrative purpose, books like Oracle: The Cure, which neither delivered what the readers thought it was supposed to deliver nor told a complete story, rather just telling us to pick up Batgirl #1 in a couple months. WoNK (I wish it'd had a better acronym, but whajagonnado) did none of that. It served an important part of the overall Superman storyline, and it told a solid and coherent story that was ended. The secret of the conspiracy on Krypton was explained, it was solved, and the chracters behind it were punished. The surprise ending of Brainiac's ship appearing in the sky was a cliffhanger to a NEW story, not a dangling carrot that made you feel duped for buying an incomplete one here.

We got to see New Krypton grow as a planet, using its advanced science to terraform (Krypto-form?) the world from a lone city to a quite pretty place, even able to re-create some of Krypton's geographic wonders. We got a look at galactic politics, as representatives from Rann and Thanagar, as well as closer neighbor Saturn come to invetsigate this powerful new player on the field. (Robinson loves bringing back obscure characters, so Saturn was represented not only by Jemm, Son of Saturn, but The Faceless Hunter, a character who also just got a cameo on the brilliant cartoon Batman: The Brave and The Bold.) And we got to see how a planet full of of people who have spent most of their lives imprisoned reacted to suddenly not only being free, but having godlike powers overnight. It all worked very well, and did a spectacular job of setting up New Krypton and its people as real three-dimensional characters, something the residents of Kandor never really were back in the Silver Age. Because if you started to really appreciate and care for them, you might start to feel for their glass-enclosed plight.

It's exactly because they've done such a good job of "humanizing" New Krypton that I'm really hoping that once War of the Supermen is over, they don't get wiped off the map. As I've said before, a planet of 100,000 Supermen is rather a big Mcguffin to leave lying around, but there's any number of happy endings I can think of for the planet that would allow them to stay a part of the universe, one that Superman could visit for happy personal reasons if he chose. Park it around a red sun and have a fleet of L.E.G.I.O.N. ships keep strict watch on any ships entering or leaving the system, for example.

The only real complaints I had about the story are vanishingly small:

One, pulling a moon from Jupiter seems like a rather unsettling move to make, from both a "physics-al" and from a PR point of view. Even if they did nod to the three-body issues, saying that the variance in gravity is vanishingly small over the long run, the people of Earth would have to have been rattled that these people just grabbed a moon from another planet, just cause they needed it. It seems to me there's more than enough raw material in the asteroid belt to fashion a moon-sized object without rattling any cages, and they could still have gotten the same "moon headed towards Krypton" story that they wanted.

Secondly, while I'm sure we'll get an explanation for the mysterious abbatoir and the use of the animals' silvery pelts, I think it was played up a bit more than it should have been for a plot point not to be used in this story. Chekhov's Gun still applies; if you show the audience a gun, make sure it goes off. If it gets used in the Brainiac story or in War of the Supermen, it'll require a clunky moment to remind everyone of it. Also, since it didn't actually have anything to to with the mystery the story was working with, it was functionally a red herring. Again, just a minor point.

I've also mentioned that I'd loved to have learned more about Krypton's leisure time activities. We learned a small bit about its art, and a good bit of its mythology, but I'd love to see more. What is Kryptonian theater like? Their comedy - is slapstick funny to a Kryptonian, or do they prefer wordplay? I understand there's little place for such points in an action and intrigue-based story, but if there's a Secret Files coming out in association with WotS (not a much better acronym, but again...) it seems like a good place to put one. Again, the more you make people understand the characters, the more you draw the reader into the story.

As the story on Krypton ends, it's made clear that Earth, or more specifically General Sam Lane and his cronies in Project 7734 are the bad guys there. The conspiracy on Krypton was fomented by Lane, in the person of Superwoman, AKA Lois Lane's sister Lucy. Zod has kept his promise of worrying only for New Krypton's defense, and not its expansion. With Brainiac attacking (thanks to the able assistance of Lex Luthor), Krypton will be on the defensive, and surely Zod and his military guild will step to the forefront of both the battle and the narrative. At this time, there's no way of knowing which way War of the Supermen is going to go. Some people are already waving it off as "another Amazons Attack" (perish the thought) but based on the complex plotting (a term that could be taken many ways there) of the Super-titles so far, it might be any number of possibilities. There's nothing that says it mightn't be Earth and Krypton teaming up against Brainiac, or some other threat. I'm simply not sure...and I couldn't be happier about that.

The past year has been filled with a number of parallel plotlines in the Super Books. Each has spent time with different new and old members of the Super-Family, and how they deal with a World Without Superman. I'll look at them in detail in a later piece, as their stories are still unfolding. But all told, the Super-team has done a great job of telling a sweeping story, while still making each title entertaining in its own right. A lot of folks took the mindset of "If there's no Superman there's no reason to read the book" but I think they've really cheated themselves out of a great bunch of stories. I look to the future of the Superman narrative with a hopeful eye.

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