Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Cover date: May 2009
"World of New Krypton - Part One"
Writer: James Robinson and Greg Rucka
Penciller: Pete Woods
Inker: Pete Woods
Reviewed by: Ralph Silver
Upon landing, his first encounter is with Commander Gor, who is quite unfriendly and suggests that Superman leave. Lieutenant Nar is more welcoming. Superman ignores Gor's order to see Zod, preferring to be with his family first. Superman heads on to the office of his aunt Alura. In conversation, they acknowledge that they have a strong disagreement about whether Zod is evil; however, they avoid rehashing that argument. Alura reminds Superman that he is welcome to live on New Krypton if he renounces his life on Earth. Superman agrees, although we know (from his discussions with Lois and Ma Kent in Superman #685) that this is just a ruse.
Kal-El asks to see Kara, and is told that he will see her soon. He asks Alura for help in building a new life on his new home planet. Alura mentions that he must choose a guild; essentially a lifetime career path. Alura tells Kal that he can have his choice of guilds, and gives him time to think it over. She introduces Tyr-van, one of her pages; and offers his services to Kal as he goes to look around the city and also goes to find out what Zod wants.
Superman and Tyr-van seem to be fast friends. Superman helps him with his fledgling flying abilities; and then they head out to tour the city. They view members of different guilds, which leads to a discussion of the guild system, which is essentially a caste system on New Krypton. Superman expresses disapproval. He points out the injustices involved with being a member of the Labor guild. Superman draws a parallel to slavery in America's past; but Tyr-van says it has been the Krypton way for all time, and is not so bad.
Superman spots two of Zod's assistants trailing him, and confronts them. He offers to go see Zod at this point. Superman heads towards Zod, but again members of the Military guild are unfriendly and unwelcoming to Superman. Non attacks Superman, who fights back and quickly gets the upper hand. After easily defeating Non, Superman warns the Military guild members that his superior experience using his powers will give him the advantage in any physical confrontation.
Zod meets Superman and they exchange additional words on the topic of whether Zod is evil, and whether the two of them can learn to coexist. Superman expresses anger because Zod had once tried to conquer Earth. Zod expresses irritation when Superman asks about Chris (Zod's son Lor-Zod, although he was temporarily raised on Earth by Clark and Lois as Chris Kent).
When Superman returns to Alura, she asks which guild he has selected. Superman replies that the guild system is unjust, and that he will decline to pick one. She replies that if he does not choose one, the choice will be made for him; and that he perhaps will be unhappy with that choice.
Subsequently, we see that Superman has been drafted into the Military guild as "Commander El", reporting to General Zod.
Story - 5: I enjoyed this story. Although some people prefer more action, I really like stories that are heavy on characterization; stories that take their time and rely on character interactions to reveal the main issues and areas of conflict and to advance the plot. This style of comic book storytelling is called "decompression", and it works well here.
I am fascinated by the premise of this series. There is so much that is new and different and challenging for Superman. This is bound to cause uncomfortable and conflicted feelings for him.
Superman's whole world has turned upside down as he adjusts to life on New Krypton. On Earth, he has powers that make him exceptional. But on New Krypton, Superman has the same powers as everyone else. Superman is Earth's greatest hero. He is used to the accolades and expressions of gratitude that go along with that. But on New Krypton, he is treated with disdain by some; and perhaps indifference by many others. This will take some getting used to.
Even Aunt Alura treats him shabbily. She welcomes him to New Krypton, but only on her terms. He is not to criticize any of Zod's past behavior or present motives. He is pretty much not allowed to criticize any New Krypton laws or customs. Political dissent is not tolerated. This must be very frustrating for Kal, since he sees Zod as an evil menace, while Alura sees Zod as a great leader. And he is not able to get through to Alura, or even allowed to try. New Krypton really seems like a tyrannical society to me; with Alura settling in as dictator in the aftermath of her husband's recent death.
Superman may be having feelings of divided loyalty and uneasiness as he attempts to fit in on New Krypton. He has perhaps fantasized for many years about the prospect of living with his own people on Krypton; but now he has his wish, and it is nothing like he had imagined. He has strong feelings of loyalty and protectiveness towards the people of Earth; but now he is told to abandon those feelings. He has a desire to be with his Kryptonian family; but must endure the feelings of indignation at how poorly he is being treated by Alura. This all must be vaguely confusing and disturbing for Superman. His sense of pride as a Kryptonian has been greatly compromised (or maybe completely destroyed).
But Superman must endure all of this, because he is here on a mission. In the aftermath of the Metropolis Science Police murders, he is here to "keep an eye on" New Krypton. And he is particularly here to keep an eye on Zod, who is a very dangerous threat. As such, his assignment to the Military guild is a blessing in disguise. Although it may be humiliating to have to report to Zod, it allows Superman to easily keep Zod under close surveillance.
In the meantime, Superman is dealing with his first impressions of New Kryptonian life. I particularly liked Superman's reaction to the injustices in the guild system. His analogy to slavery in America's past seems appropriate, and reveals the depth of his feelings on this matter. This all seems very in character to me; Superman has always been a champion for the "little guy".
In the days ahead, Superman must try to find his place in New Kryptonian society. He will likely make new friends, forge new alliances, and have his own impact on the world around him. My sense is that this will be a battle for the soul of New Krypton. I predict that this will be a battle that is not fought only with fists, but mostly with words and ideas. Right now, the hordes look up to Alura as their political leader and Zod as their military leader. Kal-El is regarded by some with suspicion and disdain. How will that change over time?
As I said above, Superman is Earth's greatest hero. But a hero is more than just powers. A hero shows courage, determination, and moral excellence. A hero is a beacon for others to follow. And in this new place, where Superman's strength advantage has been neutralized, will these other qualities nevertheless cause him to become a hero to the people of New Krypton? (This notion was suggested by Andrew Kreisberg, the person originally assigned to write this series, in a CBR interview two months back.)
We will see how this unfolds. I feel this series has a lot of potential.
Art - 5: Pete Woods does a good solid job. He is adept at conveying facial expressions and emotion. Superman looks stern and determined in his encounters with the Military guild. But he appears pensive and somewhat more relaxed in the panels where he is discussing matters with Alura. He appears warm and accepting in his first meeting with Tyr-van.
Alura tends to keep her expression professional in most scenes; as befitting the ruler of the planet. She only lets her hair down once, when Superman reveals his decision to live on New Krypton. In that one image, Alura beams as her face shows a wide grin in approval of his decision. Throughout, Alura is shown to be very beautiful, belying her stern personality. The resemblance to her daughter Kara is unmistakable.
Woods has a flair for detail in his backgrounds; something I really appreciate as a reader. I particularly like his cityscapes. As Superman first arrives from Earth, or while in transit to visit Alura, we are treated to some nice images of the Kryptonian city.
I also particularly liked the three dimensional holographic images in Alura's office. They appear to be elaborate schematic drawings or models, or else computer interfaces using advanced technology. Perhaps they are a combination of these things.
Whether or not you are a fan of Pete Woods's art, there is no denying he put a lot of care and detail into this book.
Cover Art - 5: Gary Frank draws a great image here. Superman is standing amid the bustling city on New Krypton. The camera is looking in a slightly upward angle at Superman, and at the magnificent city behind him. Many of its citizens can be seen flying in the background; presumably enjoying their newfound powers. Superman's facial expression and body language exude a sense of wonder and awe at being here; a remnant of the world of his birth.
Cover Art (Variant Edition) - 5: The Ladrönn cover has a much different feel due to his creative use of perspective. It is still Superman in the center of the city; now hovering in the air as he takes the scenery in. But this time, rather than presenting a closeup image of Superman, the camera has pulled way back. We are watching from a distance, making Superman appear relatively small compared to his environs. This contrast in size helps to symbolically emphasize the magnitude of the challenges facing Superman as a result of New Krypton. By having him floating alone as the world passes by, this cover also suggests the feelings of isolation that Superman may be experiencing as he struggles to assimilate into a society that feels more alien than he expected it to.
Two great covers!
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2009.