Too Famous to Live Long...
War of the Supermen #1-4
James Robinson is the best writer working in the DC Universe today. Focusing on his recent work alone, his deft handling of the “World Without Superman” storyarc leading to War of the Supermen—merits a sort of greatest hits commemoration. While, recently, the Batman storyline struggled, sometimes, on the verge of incoherence, the Superman storyline thrived with boldness. Much of this infusion of energy into the world of Superman is due to Robinson—joined by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka and Sterling Gates in the top of the top tier of DCU storytellers for this arc. In War of the Supermen, the conclusion of the World Against Superman/World of New Krypton saga, Robinson is accompanied by fellow writer Gates and artists Eddy Barrows, Cafu and Eduardo Pansica to bring the storyline to an epic conclusion.
To a great extent, War of the Supermen is quite cinematic both in its storytelling and art. After much drama, Earth is finally invaded by General Zod and company following the destruction of New Krypton and most of its inhabitants in what amounts to a Kryptonian Genocide orchestrated by General Lane – Lois’s long-thought-dead, xenophobic father. While the conclusion of War of the Supermen is almost entirely predictable, it is the complete journey to get to the storyline that is really worth the time.
In what became some of the most innovative storytelling of the DCU in the past decade, readers were introduced to the New Krypton arc which found the bottled city of Kandor rescued from Braniac and reconstituted nearby earth on a new planet—an entire world of Supermen (and women). It presented what was an extraordinary exploration of the Kryptonian caste system (and therefore our own) in commentary that was high on social relevance and intrigue. In storylines such as “World of New Krypton” and “Last Stand of New Krypton” readers were able to explore both that super-powered world, along with our own. The arc became an allegory about ambiguity, tolerance and trust.
All of that ends, sadly, in War of the Supermen—the culmination and, unfortunately, least strong link in the storytelling chain.
A Place Where There Is Not Darkness: Triggering a nuclear bomb inside a New Kryptonian facility sparks the 100 Minute War.
While, during the entire rest of the storyarc, Robinson had treated readers to nuanced mystery and action stories with political subtext, War of the Supermen takes readers to a place most could have expected, but hoped against—the destruction of New Krypton and an inevitable battle between Superman and General Zod ending back in the Phantom Zone. Despite being a somewhat engaging, fast-paced read, it’s one that as the action continues to mount, so does disappointment on the part of the reader as it lurches toward the inevitable.
In the destruction of New Krypton, DC Comics destroyed its most socially relevant storytelling mechanism in years—an entire world of superpowered humanoids living in a rigid caste system juxtaposed against the earth. This could have provided an enduring mechanism for storytelling into the future—far more than a year or two worth of tales culminating in a genocide. Destroying New Krypton, especially so soon, is like finding a precious resource and then exhausting it as quickly as possible.
Come To Blows: Superman defends an aggressing Earth against the expeditionary forces of Zod
The destruction of New Krypton does, however, show to a horrible end, the utter devastation of genocide that results from xenophobia and hatred. Indeed, the creative team behind this series has made their point, but at the expense of a vast array of future storylines when other options were possible. It’s a lesson and at the same time a great waste.
In fact, War of the Supermen may have been the most predictable end to this last arc of storytelling, but it’s also the most unfortunate way it could have ended. Are there still some Kryptonians left? Yes, with likely rare exception all from the military guild and all in hiding for the time being. But, none able to demonstrate the vast richness of Kryptonian culture and strife in future storylines. There does exist, however, more revenge based storylines for the Kryptonian survivors or, even refugee storylines of lost Kryptonians drifting amidst the sorrow and loss of their people and planet.
Maybe there’s another bottled Kryptonian city somewhere. Maybe there can be another New Krypton. But, DC seems to have failed to see what a story-telling jewel they had in this society that moved from bottled city to planet to dust so quickly. It’s very unlikely this type of storyline will ever see the light of day again. And that’s a shame. What if the people of Earth and the people of New Krypton actually had the far more complex task of learning to live together? That would have made for a far more complicated range of stories that, still, would not have negated Superman as the world’s greatest hero and could have dealt with the same things Robinson and Gates present in War of the Supermen. Readers could have been introduced, in great detail, to a planet of new characters, interactions with Earth and Earth’s heroes, perhaps humans who eventually went to live on new Krypton and Kryptonians who came to live on earth.
But that’s the problem with genocides—they destroy everything forever.