Reset! Reset! Reset!
Seriously. It’s hard to imagine, a bigger, more grandly-scoped, modern day epic that ends with less changes to the status quo than New Krypton. War of the Supermen managing to bring all the various plot threads to a world-shattering climax, with massive battles, the nearly complete destruction of one population, and vicious destruction wrecked upon another, and yet with all the familiar pieces of Superman-lore back into their most comfortable positions, all neatly tied up in one trade paperback. Which is a pity, since it wasn’t that long before the whole DCUniverse reset again, so in retrospect there was no real need to bring everything back to such well-trodden ground.
Examples? Well, New Krypton is gone, of course. Superman is back to being more-or-less the only survivor of Krypton, except for his cousin and a few baddies. General Zod is back in the Phantom Zone with a bunch of angry criminals. Supergirl’s parents are dead again. General Lane is dead again. Superman is back with Lois on earth. Chris Kent is back to being a young boy, and he and Mon-El are back in the Phantom Zone and are actually forgetting everything that has happened. The Guardian and his relatives have left Metropolis are no longer fighting crime with the science police. The whole Nightwing / Flamebird thing is off the grid. Steel is better. Jimmy Olsen is better. It’s all back to normal.
What has changed? Well, if we go back to how things were before Brainiac, which was when New Krypton began in earnest, than I count the following: 1. Brainiac is now defeated – not a biggie, since before Brainiac, we thought he’d already been defeated anyway. 2. Lex Luthor is pardoned and in charge of Lexcorp again – I don’t know how long it’d had been since this was the case, but whatever the answer, this is just resetting another older status quo. 3. Lucy Lane is a psychopath named Superwoman –this could have been one of the biggest new developments but she ends up playing such a nothing role in War of the Supermen (being defeated off-panel by Supergirl) that it’s easy to forget. 4. The Guardian’s niece is carrying Mon-El’s unborn baby – a throw-out comment at the end of the story. I’m not aware of either #3 or 4 every being followed up on prior to Flashpoint, but I could be wrong. And finally, 5. Jonathan Kent is dead. This is arguably the biggest change to the Superman mythos, but it happened way back in Brainiac itself so doesn’t do much to take away the feeling of irrelevance that this last book casts over everything.
How about the story itself? Well, it’s all right. Certainly, on first reading it, it’s possible to get swept up in the thrill of finally seeing the long-approaching showdown between earth and New Krypton, but the actual plot quickly leaves me cold. It starts off with Superman confronting General Zod about his plan to go to war, blustering heroically, but failing to do anything to stop it. Just at that moment, General Lane’s Xanatos Gambit #147 goes into action, and Reactron, who has been a secret but willing prisoner of the Kryptonians for a loooong time now, finally blows up and destroys New Krypton.
Only a handful of soldiers have survived, as they have spent the first part of this story just floating around in space waiting for instructions. Too bad that Zod didn’t order them to attack earth before General Lane was able to get his various masterplans into action. Too bad that Zod isn’t essentially the worst military strategist in the history of fiction. And too bad that General Lane is the most brilliant, which he shows when he arranges for Lex Luthor to put together an impromptu red sun (really!) next to Mars, to take out most of the rest of the Kryptonians.
Then we get the last few remaining Kryptonian survivors laying devastation to the earth – but strangely, it all remains pretty much off-panel and just feels like lip service. Apparently, earth gets pretty badly hammered, with the British Prime Minister being killed and the White House destroyed, but we’re so far removed from this action that it doesn’t feel real. This is a pity, because it would have been helpful if General Lane had shown some stress and frustration over the fact that even after all of his brilliant machinations, he actually has failed to save the earth. Indeed, the Kryptonians are only defeated thanks to Superboy and the other heroes zapping them all into the Phantom Zone. But Lane never is confronted with this truth, because he shoots himself first (ugh).
A better ending would have gone a long way toward saving the book, or at least pulling it up from the dregs a bit. At the very least, there should have been a confrontation between Generals Zod and Lane. As it is, they never meet. Superman dukes it out with Zod, whilst Supergirl ends up confronting General Lane in a fit of rage until she gets a “No-he’s-not-worth-it-don’t-let-him-drag-you-down-to-his-level” speech from Lois Lane. And then, as I said, he shoots himself (ugh, again).
So at the end of the day, it’s a pretty “by the numbers” conclusion, with little to recommend it, except that this whole epic is finally over. As for saga as a whole – it was certainly ambitious, and had plenty of interesting moments. I particularly enjoyed the business of Mon-El working with the Science Police and the Guardian, along with the slow revelation of the Legion of Super-Heroes. But you know that when you’ve got a big story where the best chapter is the prologue (Geoff John’s Brainiac) than you haven’t really hit your mark.
Superman: New Krypton Index
Last Son • Brainiac • New Krypton vol. 1 • New Krypton vol. 2 • Mon-El • Supergirl: Who is Superwoman? • Nightwing and Flamebird vol. 1 • New Krypton vol. 3 • Codename: Patriot • Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives • Nightwing and Flamebird vol. 2 • Supergirl: Death and the Family • Mon-El – Man of Valor • New Krypton vol. 4 • Last Stand of New Krypton vol. 1 • Last Stand of New Krypton vol. 2 • War of the Supermen