Spencer: Doomsday is a hard character to write. Of course he’s a legendary, unstoppable force, but he’s also a personality-less beast with little depth beyond an insatiable desire to destroy Superman. In short, he was a gimmick, but a wildly successful gimmick; considering all of that, I was quite curious going into this issue about what Greg Pak would do with the character. Much to my surprise, Pak decided to write a Doomsday story about how the monster’s legend affects various generations of his victims. It’s a novel approach, but I admit, some unclear or missing parts of the story make it a bit hard for me to figure out what exactly Pak is trying to say.
The story opens years ago on Krypton as Jor-El and Lara—whom have apparently not yet given birth to little Kal—join with their family, Zor-El and Alura, to celebrate “Remembrance Day.” Lara recalls her encounter with Doomsday on the day he attacked Krypton, an encounter she only survived because of the arrival of Colonel Zod. Zod and Doomsday’s battle ravages Krypton, but before Lara can reveal how Zod triumphed, the scream of Zor-El’s frightened daughter Kara interrupts. Zor-El attempts to sooth her with the legend of her family’s destiny—a prophecy that foretells Superman’s battle with Doomsday. After Zor-El leaves, Zod confronts Kara as a Phantom Zone specter, revealing why he loves Doomsday—because it destroys everything indiscriminately—and that he is working on a way to escape the Phantom Zone and apparently bring Doomsday with him.
If there’s a lot of “maybes” and “apparentlys” in that summary, it’s because Pak leaves a lot of story ambiguous. How did Zod defeat Doomsday? While the ending seems to imply he somehow sealed him in the Phantom Zone, it’s not necessarily a given. Did Zod somehow create or unleash Doomsday (it would certainly fit his MO), or did he simply discover a kinship with the monster while fighting him? Who knows?
Leaving these kind of narrative gaps can be a big risk in a story, but I think Pak mostly succeeds in this particular case. Doomsday’s origins and motivations were always a mystery back when he first appeared, so leaving some similar gaps in his new history certainly isn’t going to be a loss to anyone familiar with Doomsday. Moreover, Pak’s left us enough thread to weave together the missing pieces of the story for ourselves; maybe our answers won’t be “correct”, but they’ll be ours, and that’s always pretty cool. Of course, Pak could always continue this story in Batman/Superman, and if he does, I’ll definitely be there.
The “Destiny” of the House of El is another story that leaves lingering questions. Zor-El refers to the story as a “legend”, but it’s actually a straight-up prophecy; where in the world did that come from? The legend predicts the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El’s being sent to Earth; how big of a part did this play in Jor-El and Zor-El’s decision to send their children to Earth?
I’m also curious how this telling of the Death of Superman corresponds to the actual thing. Thanks to the rebooting of the Universe, we actually never saw how this story played out in the New 52; Grant Morrison stated in his run on Action Comics that it happened, but we don’t know the specifics, and the retelling in this issue seems to contradict current continuity in some minor ways.
For example, Steel (again, according to Morrison’s Action) was already around before Superman “died”, Supergirl didn’t debut until afterwards, and Power Girl has had little-to-no interaction with the other “Super” characters in this continuity—and who’s that scarred guy next to Supergirl?!. Maybe I’m sweating the small stuff, and it’s likely this image is meant to be metaphorical more than literal, but it does make me wonder if Pak plans to ignore Morrison and put his own spin on the “Death of Superman” storyline.
Another element of this issue I’m intrigued by is Zor-El’s assertion that all stories for children have happy endings. I’m probably reading too much into it, but I can’t help but see a connection to the notion that only grim and gritty stories are suitable for adults (and thus lighthearted stories are “children’s” stories), which seems to be especially rampant in comics (and especially at DC) right now. Notably, this issue ends on a sour note, but the “Death” of Superman ultimately has a happy ending. What kind of story is Pak telling here? I suppose it depends on whether you even believe Pak, and then, on what you consider this story’s ending. I think I’m interested in seeing Pak continue these story beats just to see how he wraps things up and to see if he comes back to this idea. I could see this being a fascinating study of just what exactly makes up an ideal Superman story, but at the moment, it feels a little underexplored—or at least unfinished.
Despite anything I found unclear about this issue, though, I very much enjoyed the focus on Superman’s Kryptonian family. Jor-El is always our viewpoint Kryptonian, so I appreciated seeing Lara in the spotlight; I didn’t even know she was once a soldier. Is this a new development? Kara is also a spotlight stealer; Pak gives her a very fleshed out, strong-willed personality, but also gives us adorable, humanizing moments between Kara and her father.
Is Kara written this well in Supergirl, because this is getting me interested in her character. Maybe we don’t know everything exactly Pak is trying to say about Doomsday, but I appreciated the other characters orbiting this story enough to make up for it.
Alright, looks like it’s time for me to hand this over to our guest writer, my friend Shane. Shane, I know you’re a huge Doomsday fan and a huge fan of the Jurgens-era Superman comics that spawned him, and you’ve already told me you have a lot of thoughts about this issue, and I can’t wait to hear them, dude. Fire away!
Shane: I don’t know of a way to begin without acknowledging that I feared a significant bias on my part with this issue. I grew up reading the Superman titles during the 90’s, and to this day I maintain that, while they were far from perfect, they were a success in their “grand experiment”: putting out weekly, episodic Superman comics. The Superman line successfully became a comic book soap opera, and I genuinely mean that in a positive way: they captured not just the adventures of Superman, but how it would impact everyone around him, and what that would mean to the lives of anyone in Metropolis. The Death and Return of Superman epic was a highlight in that regard. Everyone in Metropolis had to recover from that, and not just because Superman died, but because large sections of the city were leveled in his godlike battle. There’s also, again on my end, the fact that Superman 82—the ultimate finale to Reign of the Supermen!—is the first comic I can really remember reading. Doomsday holds a special place in my heart, and on one level, it pains me to imagine his story being retold, because for me, it’s a legend I grew up with.
And, in that sense, I genuinely respect how Greg Pak has chosen to approach Doomsday’s origin here. You touched on this briefly, Spencer: that Doomsday is a legendary force of nature in-universe, and a gimmick to the public at large. That’s true, of course. Doomsday’s purpose was to kill Superman, and so to many people, that’s the be-all, end-all for the character. To our generation of comic readers, though? We were young when Doomsday killed Superman, and it was devastating. The superhero had been killed, by this absolutely terrifying monster who operated with no rhyme or reason. For myself, at least, Doomsday instantly achieved mythological status, and I see Pak’s reimagining of Doomsday’s origin as a way to capture that feeling, paying homage to the impact the character had in the real world, and translating it to the comics page. Even from the first page of the issue, you can feel just how keenly Kryptonian society remembers Doomsday’s rampage.
Many aspects of the story remain untold, but I agree with your assessment that, for the most part, it worked: Pak didn’t need to overturn every rock here. The world’s most iconic stories all change their details with every telling, and while I’m sure many would argue that the Death of Superman isn’t necessarily an example of a truly iconic story, Pak seems to be operating under the assumption that Doomsday’s story is, at least on Krypton, and moving forward from there. I suspect there’s an analysis to be made comparing Zor-El and Kara to the generations of today and how they react to world events and historical tragedies, but that would take us quite some ways away from discussing Batman/Superman 3.1, wouldn’t it?
You brought up several important points about what the issue means for the Superman line in the New 52, Spencer, and I share a lot of the same questions. What are the implications of Kara knowing of Doomsday and the legends of the House of El, years before her cousin would die at the monster’s hands? I’m also rather intrigued at the possibility of the new Superman-family suggested by the prophecy: were these characters involved in the New 52 Reign? Did something like that even exist? I’d have to err on the side of caution, here, and guess no: or, if it did, that it wasn’t as we see here in Zor-El’s book. You’d have to seriously rewrite the New 52 history to make it happen, which, while hardly unheard of, seems somewhat extreme. I’d assume, rather, that we’re meant to take the prophecy metaphorically: that the Last Knight of the House of El would eventually inspire others to join him in his crusade for justice. I could be entirely, wrong, of course: if you believe the rumors, Greg Pak was once tapped to co-write a weekly Superman series that would retell the Death and Return epic in the New 52 universe, before the project was ultimately scrapped and he was given Batman/Superman and Action Comics instead. I have little doubt that he’ll be touching on the plot points he developed, here, though—and Charles Soule has suggested he’ll be delving into Superman’s greatest enemies, including Doomsday and Zod, in his upcoming Superman/Wonder Woman series.
Questions, implications and nostalgia aside, did Pak succeed with this story? I think so. I had high expectations from Pak after his Marvel and independent work: his run on Incredible Hulk was the first thing to ever make me interested in the character (and to hold my interest for many years), and Vision Machine succeeded in exploring philosophical points while still building an in-depth compelling cast and world in just three issues. I’m not entirely sold on the Doomsday one-shot: it’s not a perfect issue, with some notable structural flaws. Still, it manages to introduce Doomsday in a way that gives him a natural weight in this new DC universe, while also presenting a believable “supporting cast” and exploring how the monster’s presence affects their lives: sort of like an inverted Superman story, really. Pak aimed high, and even though he didn’t quite hit the mark, this remains one of the best Superman issues I’ve read in months. Props to that.
It’s important to touch quickly on how excited I was to open to the first page and see Brett Booth’s artwork. As a product of the 90’s, Doomsday deserved a compelling, energetic artist, and Brett Booth fits the bill. DC’s art stable today is filled with cheap Ivan Reis house-style knock-offs, and while they’re almost all competent, they’re essentially interchangeable. Booth’s style isn’t always the most consistent, and you can easily find flaws in this book, but it still maintains a sense of movement and excitement that many other books lack. I got the sense that Doomsday could turn around and drive his spike-covered fists through a wall (or a Superman) at a moment’s notice, and that was enough for me. In recent years, Doomsday has felt stale as artists and writers tried hard to capture the sense of dread the character carried in his first appearances. Doomsday here is reimagined less as a hulking behemoth (although he still maintains some of those qualities) and more as an ever-moving monstrosity. There’s a fluidity to his character that adds that special something. If this is what Booth can add to the Superman mythos, I look forward to seeing his collaboration with Pak on Batman/Superman in the near future.
All truths considered, I never thought I’d be as pleased with this issue as I was. I owe a large part of my history as a comic book fan to Doomsday and the impact he had on the Superman titles, and Superman himself means a great deal to me, to the point where I plan to succumb to stereotype and get his shield tattooed on myself in the near future. To have both characters immortalized as legend in the DC universe, to match their status in the real world, just seems right to me. I’ve accepted that the Superman stories I grew up with are being set aside so that the company can build something new, and although I was originally skeptical, if this is an example of how Pak and Booth are going to do it? I’ll be maintaining a watchful eye.
At any given moment, Shane is probably spending money that he doesn’t have. When not driving himself towards poverty , Shane spends his time writing and working in the food industry of New York City. You can bear witness to his escapades through his Twitter handle @shanevolpone.
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