Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artists: Dan Jurgens (p), Jerry Ordway, Cam Smith, Art Thibert and Nelson (i), profile pages art by Dave Bullock, Howard Chaykin, Kalman Andrasofszky, and Stephane Roux
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: All is revealed concerning what happened to Alexander Luthor, the Superboy of Earth-Prime and the Earth-2 Superman and Lois after Crisis on Infinite Earths and what led them to start the chain of events that resulted in Infinite Crisis.
Commentary: The clichéd way to begin this review would be to point out how appropriate it was that Marv Wolfman wrote the main story for this book. Anyone who has read the original Crisis on Infinite Earths or its novelization probably feels this way, and there is something to be said for the sense of history it gives the tale. Not only that Alexander Luthor was Marv's co-creation and he was the last person before Geoff Johns and crew to touch these characters (with the possible exception of Mark Waid hinting at the Earth-2 Superman during the whole Kingdom fifth week event from 1998) so there's that whole homecoming aspect as well. However, it would be a real disservice to both the author and the story to start things off with that statement for one simple reason.
This was a fantastic story.
Not good. Not great. Not even above average. Fantastic. I'm giving it for a number of reasons that go beyond the writing and the art. This was the whole package. Excellent writing. A wonderful art team. A solid emotional grounding. Marv Wolfman took what was essentially an exposition piece and made it into something special that actually got to me and made me feel something for the characters involved.
It's kind of hard to put into words what I was feeling while reading this book. On one hand, I enjoyed the mechanics of the story and the back and forth between Alexander, Superboy and Superman. Wolfman crawled inside the characters' head and explained their motivations. One of the aspects of Infinite Crisis that I have enjoyed the most is the fact that the "villains" of the piece are not the ultimate bad guys who are destroying the universe simply because that is their function. Geoff Johns has hinted at what has brought these characters to do what they have done, but Wolfman put an emotional face to the name. After reading this book, everything fell into place and most of my questions were answered.
Beyond that, this was a very sad story and that came through in Marv's writing. Marv's strength as a writer has always been characterization. He always writes his cast in such a way that makes you feel like you know them. This is what made his work on the Teen Titans the success it was and why that book went toe to toe with Chris Claremont's X-Men in the eighties. Alexander went from being a rather thin character in the original Crisis and the creepy, almost evil character in both Villains United and Infinite Crisis to a complex person who feels like he made a grave error in taking his comrades to their supposed heaven. In the original Crisis he was an instrument, a means to an end. Now that his purpose has been realized he feels cheated but in a cold, calculating way. There is an emotional distance in his narration that is unsettling as you realize that this brilliant person is slowly manipulating those around him to his own, potentially destructive ends.
If Alexander was reserved in his feelings, Superboy is the exact opposite. He is resentment and teen angst in a red cape. He lacks Alexander's cold logic and Superman's relationship with Lois, so he can't really deal with what happened to him. In a way, he's a lot like the person who ten years after graduating high school is still living at home with his parents spending his days looking through old pictures and yearbooks constantly trying to relive what he considers the best times of his life. The difference is that Superboy is physically incapable of moving forward, so all he can do is remember what was and brood on how unfair his life turned out to be. Wolfman did well to reference the events of his origin considering that he didn't appear in too many places outside of the later issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths or DC Comics Presents #87. I also liked how Wolfman wove in Superboy's first love and had Alexander use that to maneuver Superboy into acting as his means of regaining his power.
I'm very fond of how DC has chosen to use Superboy to explain the various inconsistencies in their continuity over the past twenty years. Some readers have been rather vocal in their disdain and believe it to be a rather thin back tracking, but I don't see it that way. Of all the attempts to explain why things have been sixteen different kinds of messed up, from reboots like Zero Hour all the way across the spectrum to saying it just didn't happen and leaving it at that, this works the best for me mostly because it uses DC's own history to accomplish its goal. It has an organic feel to it and adds depth to Alexander and Superboy's characters by making them central to just about every major reboot in DC's post-Crisis universe. Some have suggested that it might turn into something of a catch-all for lazy writers to go to when they want to explain something away, but I get the feeling that once Infinite Crisis and 52 are over, DC will have a more concrete history to its characters and events.
Now if only things can stay that way without an editor or writer undoing it five or ten years down the road.
Then there were the scenes with Superman and Lois. I can't honestly say that I would have felt the same about this part of the story if I wasn't married, but with Wolfman's writing I know that I would have felt something. Marv made me believe that this was a couple who loved each other very much. Given certain events from my own marriage, I can relate to having a wife whose health is frailer than your own. It was just so sad to see Superman trying to save his wife. It is rare for a super-hero comic to touch a nerve like this, but as the story progressed, I felt more and more of a connection to Superman's plight. The page that started in black and had the "camera" slowly pull back was especially poignant since it not only conveyed Superman's feeling for Lois but also his sense of purpose. This story reinforced why Superman was willing to help Alex and didn't question the consequences of his actions.
Sometimes you will do anything for the one you love. I know I would.
I was very happy to see that Dan Jurgens handled the art chores for this story. I have been a big fan of Jurgens since his ten year run on the Superman books and while there were times when I didn't agree with the direction of his stories, I always liked his version of the Man of Steel. It was also fitting that Jerry Ordway provided the finishes on the first part of the book since they were the art team on Zero Hour, so that's a nice bit of rhyming right there. I thought that Ordway's inks tended to overpower Jurgens' style, but it was some nice art nonetheless. You could really tell that Art Thibert helped ink the second part as his style is pretty distinctive. The best combination, though, was Nelson's inks on chapter three. It almost reminded me of when Jurgens would work with Brett Breeding and was definitely the truest to Jurgens' technique.
The profile pages in this Secret Files were well done. Bullock's version of the Earth-2 Superman was great. I liked his art from the Action Comics covers he did a few years back, so it was nice to see him return to the character or at least an iteration of the character. Once again, we are treated to Howard Chaykin's version of Lois Lane, and I was fond of Kalman Andrasofszky's Alexander Luthor piece. While I'm not wild about the "Anti-Monitor" costume I also enjoyed Stephane Roux's Superboy page.
In The End: I'm hoping this story is included in the eventual hardcover collection of Infinite Crisis. Considering the way the story is framed it would make a wonderful prologue with the profile pages added at the end as supplemental material. This story mattered and was a touching chronicle that shed some more light on why these characters ended up at the point where they became a threat to the DC Universe. It also gave context to new readers and was a pay off for those that were around during the first Crisis or have become fans of the series since then.
What did you think of this book?
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