The Good: A sensible progression of the Superman corner of the DC universe, Good moments that explore grief.
The Bad: Casts far too wide a net, Lack of focus, Requires intimate knowledge of many ongoing subplots, Ultimately goes nowhere, No superlative artwork.
The Basics: The most tedious graphic novel I have suffered through in a long time, World Without A Superman realistically presents all the varied elements in Metrolpolis grieving the death of Superman.
I have become a bit of a fan of the graphic novel medium. When done well, the graphic novel can tell an amazing, deep, and very rich story without falling into prose that is revealing, pedantic or inarticulate. But, as someone who is highly literate, I am very able to acknowledge that there are a lot of bad graphic novels out there. In fact, most graphic novels aren’t even graphic novels, they are trade anthologies of comic books that were previously released in single issue form. And, alas, many comic books live down to their reputations. World Without A Superman is a trade paperback anthology that lives down to some of the worst expectations of what comic books can be.
World Without A Superman is the immediate follow-up to The Death Of Superman (reviewed here!). World Without A Superman chronicles the mourning period between the death of Superman, the rise of four people and beings who take up the mantle of Superman and the inevitable return of the original Superman character. In retrospect, World Without A Superman probably appears even more silly than it ever did at the time because the resurrection and return of Superman was not, at the point this was released, a foregone conclusion. Instead, World Without A Superman treats the death of Superman as if it were real and final (while laying enough clues as to it being a near-death experience) to at least take itself seriously.
World Without A Superman illustrates how messy and complex a storyline can be when it has endured for decades and has an incredible number of subplots and characters to service. In fact, the problem with World Without A Superman is not that it is too ambitious, it is instead that it has too much to do, so it does none of it particularly well. Instead of being an intimate portrait of Lois Lane’s grief, World Without A Superman, following the funeral and internment of Superman’s body, becomes a complicated rigmarole of exceptionally minor characters and organizations scrambling for their own self-interest around Metropolis.
As someone utterly unfamiliar with the Superman corner of the DC Universe – I believe this is the third or fourth Superman title I have read and reviewed - World Without A Superman is almost entirely inaccessible and calls upon so many events and characters from before either this book or the prior one as to make more of a mess than tell a coherent story. The net result is that the only character that really has any development is Lois Lane and what grief she is able to explore is quickly pushed aside to service other characters and plot threads that do not have any sense of character engagement.
Some of the many plotlines/characters in World Without A Superman, following the confirmation that Superman is dead and having a funeral for him include:
Lex Luthor revitalizes Supergirl, who was damaged in the attack that killed Superman and Doomsday. Following that, he uses Supergirl to run missions for him. Following transforming one of the parks in Metropolis into a mausoleum for Superman, Lex Luthor is as shocked as others when the Cadmus Project beats him to robbing the grave. Supergirl investigates the disappearance of the body and ends up in a fight with the genetic mutants of Underworld, trying to save a cop who is underground as well,
Ma and Pa Kent and Lana Lang come to Metropolis for the funeral, which they do not actually attend. While Lois worries about the Kents, the Kents fear that Lois may crack under the grief of losing both Clark and Superman. Upon returning to Smallville, Pa Kent begins to suffer dementia until he collapses,
The kid whose house was destroyed in the Death Of Superman story feels guilt and journey’s to Metropolis, where he runs into Jimmy Olson and Bibbo. Bibbo keeps popping up, talking like Popeye, to try to keep the streets of Metropolis civil following Superman’s death,
Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department resurfaces to bug Gangbuster, who is making the choice as to whether or not to take up the outfit again. Henderson’s presence starts off a pissing match between Metropolis PD, the Federal Government, and the Cadmus Project about where Superman’s body belongs,
Guardian starts patrolling the streets of Metropolis, until he is brought back to the Cadmus Project by the scientists there. One clones the Guardian and uses the clone to try to steal a digital representation of Superman’s DNA. This leads to a ridiculous chase with young clones of Cadmus leaders who talk like they are from the 1940s,
Sadly, that interaction is not nearly as bad as the journey into Underworld that Lois makes to find the source of flooding when Cadmus Project charges go off underneath Superman’s monument. Filled with giant creatures and homeless people the journey goes nowhere and seems only to happen to showcase the weird art and characters of the location,
And then, after Lois uncovers that Superman’s body has been moved to Cadmus, she enlists an unlikely ally to get it back.
With so much going on, the book never quite lands. World Without A Superman reads like a sloppy writer’s pitch where everyone in a single writer’s room had a different plotline they were working on in their own different Superman comic book and with their stories abruptly cut off, they had to figure out how their disparate part of the Superman world fit into the story. Frankly, the Underworld plotline – and the divergence with Waverider – feel like filler and only add confusing elements to a book that lacks a cohesive story or voice.
The less said about the “Newsboys,” the better.
The artwork in World Without A Superman is nothing to write home about; most of it looks more like a comic strip than what one expects from a comic book. There is a distinct lack of detail and the colors are nowhere near as rich or vibrant as fans of the medium are used to these days.
As one who is not vested in the series or characters, World Without A Superman was an utter waste of time for me. I would have been at least as well off if someone had just told me, “Superman died, characters whined, he came back” without actually trudging through the stories associated with it. You need not make the same mistake. World Without A Superman may easily be passed by.
For other books that focus on Superman, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Kingdom Come - Alex Ross
Sacrifice - Greg Rucka
The Black Ring - Paul Cornell and Pete Woods
For other book reviews, be sure to check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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