Wait, that’s not right.
Jokes aside, the Superman: Kal-El Returns Special is out now, and if you’re looking for a few light, short stories about Superman and his important relationships (to other heroes and the DC Universe at large), then this will be right up your alley. However, readers in search of more substantive Superman content will be better served reading Action Comics.
The special opens with Mark Waid and Clayton Henry’s “The Concert That Ate Gotham”, tying directly into upcoming issues of Waid and Dan Mora’s ongoing Batman/Superman: World’s Finest. While Mora is not on art duties for this story, Henry’s work is perfectly serviceable, and effectively captures the brotherhood and camaraderie between Batman and Superman, both in and out of costume. On the other hand, while the story doesn’t do anything objectively wrong, some readers may find it hard to care about the villain and (brief) conflict, given that it’s a brand new creation that will (supposedly) be expanded upon in issues that have yet to be released.
The next story is “A Friend, In Need!” by Sina Grace and Dean Haspiel, in which Jimmy Olsen gets to hang out with his best pal whilst trying to get the perfect shot for the Daily Planet. Superman and Jimmy run the gamut on Superman activities, from fighting giant robots to saving people from all manner of disaster and tragedy, before taking a moment to discuss how Superman’s absence has affected both Jimmy and the world at large. While the story is perfectly inoffensive, it feels like the writer is only telling readers that Jon Kent is a worthy Superman successor without showing him doing anything (though readers are more than welcome to check out Tom Taylor’s Superman: Son of Kal-El for a story exclusively featuring Jon). Also, the art in this story may be the weakest of the Special, with lots of weird lines and angles, though the two-page spread of Superman saving people is pretty great.
The strongest entry of the special is “Distractions” by Marv Wolfman and Jack Herbert. From the first page to the last, the art is effective in rendering the physicality of all the featured characters. It’s particularly good to see Clark and Jon standing side-by-side, showcasing the differences in their costumes and general appearance, while still carrying a posture that conveys that they are both Superman. The story also addresses my criticism with the preceding narrative, allowing Jon to really function in the same way as his father by going up against Lex Luthor directly (albeit not in a physical altercation) and indirectly. And, on top of all that, we get some light romance between Lois and Clark. You can’t ask for much more from a Superman comic.
Finally, “Home” by Alex Segura and Fico Ossio is more or less a greatest hits reel for Superman and the Justice League. With some more serviceable art showcasing the Hall of Justice and its assorted memorabilia, Superman is accompanied by Wally West, Martian Manhunter, and Naomi McDuffie as they celebrate his return, before directly leading into the events of Justice League #75 and, by extension, Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths.
All in all, this Special doesn’t feel particularly special, other than the fact that it’s a small anthology. Even still, that there are only four stories of varying quality on display here is not exactly promising. Nonetheless, said stories are very light and don’t do anything bad, per se; they’re just…fine. And for some readers, that will be enough. However, fans looking for another entry in the lead up to Action Comics #1050 may be better served saving themselves the time and money this issue will cost.
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