Sunday, March 15, 2015

Too Little, Too Much, Out Of Order, Repeated: Superman: Our Worlds At War Is A Crossover Mess!

The Good: Interesting moments of character conflict, Plot resolution
The Bad: Inconsistent artwork, Repetitive/missing story elements, Scope/New integral characters
The Basics: Another crossover event graphic novel that prioritizes fidelity to issues over fidelity to story, Superman: Our Worlds At War has moments of coolness undermined by plot and art problems.

It seems like lately, I have been getting my enthusiasm for new graphic novels from my love of trading cards. On the marvel front, getting in stock of the 2014 Mavel Universe cards inspired me to read House Of M (reviewed here!). Very recently, I picked up the Cryptozoic Epic Battles trading cards and between those and my love of Wonder Woman, I decided it was time to read the big DC Universe crossover event Our Worlds At War. The volume I found for that purpose was the giant trade paperback anthology Superman: Our Worlds At War.

Superman: Our Worlds At War tells the bulk of the story of Imperiex invasion of Earth. The volume was a major crossover event and I was surprised by how it actually undermined the power of Infinite Crisis (reviewed here, which followed it a few years later). Infinite Crisis was a major crossover event that had the potential to destroy the entire DC Universe (it rebirthed the DC Multiverse). In Superman: Our Worlds At War, a throwaway line from one of the big DC Universe scientists insinuates that the creation and destruction of the DC Multiverse is something that occurs semi-regularly. Instead, years before Infinite Crisis, the DC Universe faced extinction from multiple sources, led by Imperiex and Brainiac.

Following a prior attack on Earth by Warworld, Brainiac, and (apparently) Imperiex, Earth once again finds itself besieged by . . . all three. Superman: Our Worlds At War generally focuses on Superman as he works to thwart the array of villains that face Earth and the volume’s opening has a number of similarities to Batman: Knightfall (volume 1 is reviewed here!) in that Superman goes through a pretty decent array of adversaries that have little to do with the overall story before the real threat pops up. As much as Superman: Our Worlds At War is a Superman volume, it is a Lex Luthor book and this volume takes place shortly after Luthor became President of the United States in the DC Universe.

Superman is contacted by his longtime ally, Emil Hamilton, who informs Superman that he believes he has found Pluto. Hamilton has, instead, found Warworld, which Superman easily appears to thwart (though it is now under the control of Brainiac-13 and Lena Luthor). After repelling attacks by adversaries like Shrapnel and Plasmus, Superman is shocked by the inhabitants of Metropolis being removed from Earth. With most of the population of Metropolis being conscripted to serve on medical space ships, Superman is alarmed to learn that the gambit is one orchestrated by an odd alliance of traditional villains and heroes from off-Earth. When Apokolips materializes above Earth, Darkseid reveals his intent to help save the universe.

War is soon met by Superman as Superman fights General Zod and the Imperiex probes. As Earth is swarmed with Imperiex probes bent upon bringing about the end of the universe, Superman and Earth’s heroes struggle to save the world. With Kansas utterly destroyed and heroes like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash incapacitated by Imperiex probes, Superman finds himself allying with Darkseid and Doomsday to fight the main force of Imperiex. But as the inevitable defeat of Imperiex looms, Warworld rematerializes to destroy the fragile alliance between Earth and Apokolips and bring about the end of the universe with Brainiac’s vision of the end!

Superman: Our Worlds At War is a tough sell because the story is not complete and significant elements of it are told out of order and/or are repeated. There are some pretty significant events that are omitted from Superman: Our Worlds At War, simply because Superman is not a part of it. Chief among these is how the Justice League thwarts Imperiex’s main ship in order to leave his probes unable to continue to reproduce. This major event is mentioned as an offhand remark as a tactical note after-the-fact, without any real description or depiction of how the event occurred.

By contrast, Superman: Our Worlds At War has some pointless digressions (like the brief Supergirl subplot) that are repeated and shown from different narrative angles. As a result, Young Justice crashes on Apokolips and suffers a casualty . . . only to have the events repeated and the final solution which puts Darkseid alongside a powerful magic user and several others is shown before the Amazons are marshaled to join Darkseid’s tactic. So, Superman: Our Worlds At War is hampered by a weird fidelity to the issues in which the Our Worlds At War were originally printed, but not the whole story.

In a similar fashion, the disparate volumes from which Superman: Our Worlds At War was assembled leads the book to have dramatically different artwork from chapter to chapter. Superman is given about five different looks throughout the book and other major characters oscillate between incredible artwork and comic strip-quality artwork.

On the story front, Superman: Our Worlds At War also falls down because the book relies far too much on seemingly obscure or new characters instead of keeping focus on the familiar, powerful characters of the DC Universe. The death of the J.S.A. version of Wonder Woman, the disappearance and apparent deaths of Aquaman and Martian Manhunter (who, do be fair is finally referenced again in one of the last chapters) are undermined by Black Racer and Sharon Vance popping up at key moments to dominate critical portions of the plotline. The fact that Steel does not even remain dead for duration of Superman: Our Worlds At War undermines the deaths that occur within the volume. After all, if what is supposed to be one of the big deaths that drives Superman to his breaking point in the war is undone well before the end of the book, it is hard for readers to believe that the other major deaths will stick.

What tends to redeem Superman: Our Worlds At War is the book’s resolution and the character focus on Superman. Superman is brought to the point where he seems willing to kill. Pushing the character to that, despite filling the book with long passages of speeches from major Earth wars (from a U.S. perspective) that are distracting and dull, makes the book intriguing in a “will he or won’t he” kind of way.

The result is a book that is at once magnificent and complex and frustrating and droll. In other words, an annoyingly average comic book experience.

For other major DC Universe crossover books, please visit my reviews of:
Superman: Sacrifice
Blackest Night


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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