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Last Days of Krypton

Writer: Kevin J. Anderson
Jacket design by James L. Iacobelli
Jacket illustration by James Jean

Published by: Harper Entertainment (October 23, 2007)

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Last Days of Krypton

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I typically alternate my reading styles between crap and literature. I'll be honest. I do it because it keeps me sane, abreast of reality, out of the realm of elitism, and because I enjoy a brainless romp occasionally.

For instance, I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged. I followed this with a Star Wars Legacy novel. One, like it or loathe it (loathed it) is a novel that makes you question yourself and your philosophy.

Star Wars Legacy makes you wonder what the heck happened to Luke and Leia, and why they don't slap Jacen senseless and straighten that lousy punk out. With stock phrases, clichés, adverbs, and simplistic writing.

I bring this up because I first encountered Kevin J. Anderson on what I considered a brainless romp. I was reading, at the age of, I think, 13, the Star Wars: Jedi Academy series. This was the first time after the movies where Luke Skywalker pulls a bunch of force potentials together and tries to make them coherent. It introduced a character I very much enjoyed going bonkers, Kyp Durron, as I recall, and had Luke in a prolongued coma. This prolongued coma bored me out of the book, and I stopped reading the series halfway through the third book.

So in other words, Kevin had a long way to go to win me back over, because if you can bore a 13-year-old as obsessed with Star Wars as I was, you've got some issues. In other words, I got this book and was ready and willing to tear it a new one.

I was totally astounded. Literally blown away.

I expected it to be a "dumb" book. And when I say dumb I don't mean badly written, or for the unintelligent. Just, you know, stock. Nothing really special, just a retelling. Like an average TV show you watch just because it's there.

Instead, this book offers subtexts of criticism toward government, a stark personal vision of what a society crumbling could be without sensationalizing it, it confronts issues of fascism and family, it touches upon the naivety of people in power, and it has more Superman references without being schlocky than you can shake a stick at.

Most re-imaginings of Krypton are victim to Byrne (far too cold) or the Silver Age (Kryptonopolis is Metropolis, with proxy Jimmy, Perry, Lois, etc). It usually suffers from having too much technology NOT to have avoided the disaster, or too little to get Clark out of there (hello, Birthright, yeah, I'm talking to you).

This book, through complex weave of plot, shows how Krypton, through xenophobia and a censoring central government, could push bright minds into seclusion, and how those minds, slowly but surely, could not save their oligarchy, but nonetheless send hope shooting to the stars.

In a style evocative not of Germany but more a meld of modern politics with fascism, Zod rises in a believable, almost Palpatine style way into power, corruption, dictatorship, and iron rule, working as blackguards often do very closely with the intelligent, beneficent, and benign, in this case Jor-El, who he plays as a patsy. Nonetheless, artfully Jor-El somehow never manages to come off as unaware, just cruelly deceived.

Lara is spot-on. Alura and Zor-El are incredible. I want to illustrate how, but I honestly also don't want to take away from the twists and experiences of this book.

Needless to say, I went in with the Neal Bailey mentality, looking for hooks and edges to pick this book apart. "Ah! Forgot Argo. Ah! Forgot Brainiac. Ah! Forgot Martian Manhunter and the Green Lanterns! Ah! Forgot Lyra."

Nothing in this book is forgotten, and none of it seems thrown in just to appease. Even the "Look, up in the sky!" reference works well.

The one thing that may irk is the way Krypton is ultimately annihilated. But frankly, it's so damned creative that it doesn't bother me in the slightest, and I doubt it'll bother you.

The Phantom Zone has always bothered me. It makes Jor-El look like a cruel, evil fool who condemned others to an eternal hell. In this book, the Phantom Zone plays a pivotal, well put, and excellent role. It's the best use of it I've seen.

Point of fact, outside of Superman II, this is the best Zod. It's certainly the best Jor-El and Lara. It's made me a fan of Zor-El when I wasn't, and makes me want to see another Superman book written by this man.

Color me astounded, and then after you put down the paint brush, get your butt up and go get this book. In a field of schlocky pop culture tie-in novels, this things stands apart as near literature with its social commentary, characterization, and faithful, respectful re-examination of Superman's original home planet.

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