Superman: Last Son has been one of the more controversial DC comics of recent years. The controversies have little to do with the quality of the comic itself, and much more to do with its notorious delays. The five issues of this storyline were released months apart from each other, making a mockery of DC’s production and release schedule for the storyline.
Those controversies have hung over the story. At this point, DC’s inept responses to the delays have made it difficult to assess the quality of the story itself. However, the story has finally been finished and placed between two hard covers. Readers can now read the whole story in one sitting, and put the whole controversy behind them.
So how is the whole story when it’s all collected together in one place?
It’s a great, widescreen, sprawling mess. It’s filled with stirring moments but weak on internal logic. Adam Kubert draws the hell out of these stories, but there is an unfortunate emphasis on gimmicks that detract from the story.
Let me start with the aspect of the comic that I can praise unreservedly–Adam Kubert’s stunning artwork. In scene after scene, Kubert delivers spectacular tableaux. When army vehicles mass on the streets of Metropolis to attack Phantom Zone criminals, Kubert delivers a breathtakingly detailed scene that includes an incredible level of detail. Kubert always draws the buildings and streets of Metropolis in perfect perspective. Each building is exactly detailed, and he takes real pains to ensure that the angles and views of the city make perfect sense.
This mastery is evident throughout the whole book. In chapter one, we see a view of the city of Metropolis from the Daily Planet’s offices–and every building is in place, every detail perfect. When a fateful meteor crashes into the streets, Kubert does a wonderful job depicting both the texture of the city and the energy of the sequence.
He’s also excellent in his depiction of people. He does a wonderful job of using detailed facial expressions to emphasize the feelings and emotions of the characters. There’s an especially brilliant scene between Superman and Luthor in which Kubert does a wonderful job of using the characters’ facial expressions to emphasize the emotional conflict between the two men.
It’s this outstanding artwork that helps add to the feeling that this is an unproduced movie. With Superman and Superman II director Richard Donner as its co-writer, it was always inevitable that this book would be seen as cinematic. However, Kubert’s artwork adds to that effect. Unfortunately, it also highlights the weaknesses of this collection: the story.
In outline, this is a simple story. Two of the Phantom Zone criminals from Superman II, General Zod and Ursa, have a son who mysteriously rockets to Earth one fine day. Through strange circumstances, the criminals follow the boy’s entry to Earth. General Zod then attacks in an attempt to take over Earth. Only Superman, with the help of Lex Luthor, can stop the criminals and save the planet.
It’s a sound enough plotline, though not exactly original. As you might expect, though, it’s a fairly sketchy plotline in which many details aren’t adequately filled in.
It’s unclear to me, for instance, how General Zod’s son, Chris, was able to escape from the Phantom Zone. There’s talk of a tether to the Zone, and Chris’s rocket emerging from hyperspace. The tether is a key plot point in the conclusion. Yet, there’s not nearly enough explanation to make the tether feel like anything more than a deus ex machina.
Chris’s place in the plot is problematic as well. There’s a dramatic scene in which Superman steals Chris back from Sarge Steel and other government operatives, but it’s not clear how Chris is hidden from the government, nor why they don’t go out of their way to get him back.
Additionally, what makes the government think they can defeat the Kryptonians with plain old tanks and other standard devices? Are we to believe that Sarge Steel really doesn’t have a cache of Kryptonite on hand to defeat a rogue Kryptonian, especially after a scientist specifically states that the government has Kryptonite on hand?
Why does the holographic Jor-El recognize his son on the first few pages, but doesn’t recognize Zod and the other Phantom Zone criminals in chapter three? Especially after Kal-El and his artificially intelligent holographic father specifically discuss Chris early in chapter two?
Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, why does the defeat of every other Earth super-hero, including Supergirl and Green Lantern, occur off-panel? The obvious answer is that Donner and Johns wanted their universe to be free of other heroes who didn’t fit his main plot, but that answer is a real cheat for readers.
These gaps really detracted from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a shame, because some of the scenes are wonderful. Donner and Johns nail the relationship between Clark and Lois, and I really enjoyed the confidence and arrogance they give Luthor. I also felt the relationship between Clark and Chris, the young Kryptonian child, was poignant and more moving than similar scenes in the recent Superman Returns.
I even enjoyed the weird 3D sequence stuck in the middle of this book. It’s superfluous to the story and unnecessary for anything but a bit of showing off–but those are the very reasons I enjoyed it. The 3D sequence feels like a quick little moment of wacky, over-the-top fun in the midst of all the drama.
Superman: Last Son is an okay book, but it could have been so much better. We’ll never know if the production delays caused the book to have so many flaws, or if the book was approved despite the flaws. It seemed like a no-brainer for Donner, Johns, and Kubert to team up on a blockbuster of a comic. Kubert kept up his end, but the work by Donner and Johns is a real disappointment.