I had a nice, lengthy post for this comic all written up, but when I went to publish it this morning WordPress lost it.
I guess that’ll teach me not to back up my drafts.
So, let’s try this again.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a Superman trade where the individual issues tied into one another, but Superman: Exile does just that. The story focuses on the aftermath of a story I haven’t read, but which is quite neatly summed up in the early pages of this trade.
A group of villains is terrorizing worlds, killing millions of people, and eventually Superman, seeing no other way out, kills the villains. Feeling that he can no longer be trusted around civilization, he banishes himself to the cold depths of space.
Many of the issues focus on Superman searching for an abandoned but habitable planet. He seems to have difficulty finding something that meets this criteria, and faces a number of challenges along the way.
One of the most notable incidents Superman faces is the reappearance of a villain from a previous comic: The Word-Bringer, a villain previously seen when he murdered an entire South Dakota town and kept the citizens’ brains in glass jars.
In this issue, Superman faces the Word-Bringer again, this time on a much larger scale. Aboard his ship, Superman realizes how many untold lives have been subjected to the Word-Bringer’s half-life, with millions of disembodied brains on board his massive ship.
Superman ultimately defeats the Word-Bringer, using reason moreso than any real muscle. It was great to get a follow-up on this storyline, and even more entertaining given the means with which Superman overpowers his foe.
Many of these stories were only loosely tied together, providing our hero with a chance to meet various people across the universe and face any number of personal trials. While this action is welcomed, it is his personal anguish that makes for a far more compelling read.
Superman is so distraught over what he’s done, and isn’t willing to grant himself any sort of leniency. He views human life, any human life, as precious, and not something that should be robbed from anyone, not even mass-murderers. While many of us may view this as extreme and believe Superman is overreacting a bit, it’s truly fitting to his character. He fights for what’s right, and in his eye he must be a beacon of justice to all of mankind. How can he stand for such morals when he breaks his own rules?
Superman’s own morality is never in question; instead, he must face the struggle of admitting that he is not above failure. Although he uses his Kryptonian powers to protect mankind, he himself is unflinchingly human in so many ways. Once he accepts this fact, he is able forgive himself enough so that he may return to Earth once more.
There was plenty of action and exciting scenes in this trade, but the issue of Superman’s internal struggle was the real star here. Once again we get to see Earth’s Mightiest Hero as less than perfect. While some may argue that to see Superman as human removes him from the pedestal of justice we’ve all placed him on, in reality it only builds him up higher. By acknowledging that he is capable of making the wrong choice, it makes all the times that he makes the right choice that much more meaningful. If Superman was always perfect, it would make for a pretty boring comic. We would always know how he would react to any given situation. Seeing him pushed to his breaking point, forced to do something he swore he would never do, shows us that he does have his limits. This entire story, from the deaths of his enemies and the self-imposed exile to his ultimate acceptance of his imperfect nature, create a truly compelling read, expanding the character and making him that much more relatable and likable.
After all, a super-powered being who is capable of anything but chooses to be good is far more intriguing than a cookie-cutter hero who never wavers in his actions.