This second volume of Superman: The Man of Steel collects a series of stories released in three separate publications directly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. Like Volume One, this collection helps to re-establish the Superman lore and reintroduce a host of characters in this post-Crisis world.
Compared to that first volume, I found this collection to be somewhat lacking.
*Ducks to avoid items undoubtedly being thrown at her*
The stories themselves were good, but I think I took issue with the fact that issues from three separate publications were used here. This prevents any sort of overarching storyline from appearing, and makes this trade more of a collection of self-contained issues.
As I’ve mentioned before, I much prefer storylines that continue over the course of numerous issues. The stories here, while still good, don’t give enough time for me to become invested in the story or any of the side characters. They appear, and by the end of the issue they’re gone for good. This leaves far less time for well-developed characterization, and leaves an unbridged gap between the reader and the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Superman. This has nothing to do with his character, it’s just a personal preference when it comes to comics as a whole.
I took issue with another concept in this trade, though this is more of a recurring theme that has become somewhat of a joke at this point.
For some reason no one, I mean no one, can ever make the connection that Clark Kent is Superman. It’s not enough that Clark Kent always gets all the stories on Superman, even listing himself as a “close friend” of the man of steel, or that when thugs raid Jonathan and Martha Kent’s home, they find a host of newspaper clipping chronicling Superman’s heroic deeds. Tack onto that any number of other hints and clues peppered throughout the comic, and you would think someone would figure it out.
Eventually a computer puts everything together and informs Lex Luthor of Superman’s true identity, but even then he refuses to believe it:
Seriously?! Lex Luthor, billionaire and super intelligent scientist, doesn’t believe, doesn’t even think it’s worth looking into, this claim that Clark Kent could be Superman???
Sure, I get the rationalization they’re trying to use here. With such amazing powers, why would Superman ever pretend to be an average citizen? That’s a fair argument, but how can everyone ignore all of the other glaring signs? The comic makes such a point of various characters trying to discover Superman’s secret identity that it just seems extremely odd that nobody has figured it out yet. Especially Luthor, who is hell-bent on ending Superman; wouldn’t he want to follow any and every lead that might give him a clue as to Superman’s secret identity?
At this point I’m pretty sure Clark Kent could stand on a podium and announce to the world that he’s Superman, and people still wouldn’t believe him.
As the trade continued I was happy to see a small storyline carry over across a number of issues. In this collection, we see Superman summoned to a far-distant planet by a surprising character:
I’ll admit, I was pretty excited to see Darkseid reappear. I’m glad to see that although Jack Kirby wasn’t able to finish this storyline, the characters lived on in other ways.
In this particular story, Superman serves as The Savior to the Hunger Dogs, the downtrodden people living under Darkseid’s iron rule on Apokolips. He leads them in a rebellion against their ruler, only to turn on them and lead to their destruction.
Cue the audible gasp.
It’s soon revealed, of course, that Superman has had his memory wiped and has been brainwashed by Darkseid’s people into doing his bidding (duh).
What ensues next is a battle between Superman and the heroes of New Genesis, with Superman’s memories of who he is ultimately being restored to him. He returns to Earth as the ongoing battle between Apokoplips and the survivors of New Genesis rages on.
As a story, I liked it. I enjoyed seeing all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters making reappearances, however brief they may have been, and it gives me hope that they may appear again in later trades.
What I really liked, though, was a comment made by Orion after Superman is returned to Earth.
In this scene, it is revealed that while his memories have been restored, he will have no recollection of the role he played in killing an untold number of people on Apokolips:
Apollo notes a key distinction between himself and Superman, one which I believe draws a line in the sand between countless numbers of superheroes: the distinction of warrior versus champion.
Orion, a warrior, has lived through much, and must live with the consequences of his (sometimes less than noble) actions. Superman, on the other hand, is held to a higher standard, both by himself as well as those he encounters. Though not infallible, Superman is not supposed to compromise his beliefs in his quest for justice, and Orion believes Superman should be able to continue his work without his conscience being sullied by events outside of his control. I found the inclusion of this detail intriguing, and much more astute than some of the other characterization featured in this trade.
Although I prefer broader storylines, I still enjoyed the stories collected here. They were entertaining and fun to read. While they may not have had any drastic impact on Superman’s character, they still help to solidify who he is and what he stands for: a beacon of hope, never wavering in his quest for justice, and never tempted by the desire for power which so often plagues lesser men.