Superman Exile (Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez & Roger Stern with Kerry Gammill, Dan Jurgens, Mike Mignola, Jerry Ordway, George Perez & Curt Swan)
Superman Exile has been on my to read list for a long time and thankfully I received a copy of the trade as a stocking filler type Christmas present! I finally got around to reading it the past couple of weeks and it did not disappoint! It is also oddly a very topical read in light of a recent movie that came out to do with the Man of Steel. So yes that does mean I will be talking about that particular film so there will be,
You have been warned!
Spoilers to blockbuster films to one side this is a very good read in itself. It is the first major post Byrne-era Superman story, so it is full of the trappings and humanism that John Byrne added to the character with his run on the various Superman titles at the time. So while I may not like the way Byrne handled Superman’s origins for his reboot I did like a lot of other aspects that he changed and introduced. This is a Superman who is actually a person; he has thoughts, feelings, a sense of self and doubts. Y’know just like most people in the world super or not. So if you are not a fan of Superman being a three dimensional character and prefer him on a holier than you pedestal that he can never live up to then this is not the book for you. But if you are a fan of Superman behaving like an actual person in extraordinary circumstances while going through a genuine crisis of faith about himself and his mission then yes, read this book! Read it ASAP!
Superman Exile gives us the story of Superman finding himself in space after breaking that cardinal superhero rule: DO NOT KILL! Before the start of this story the preceding event was a thing with General Zod and Co. which ended with Superman killing them for the greater good/he did not have a choice. (SEE! I told you this was going to be topical with the Man of Steel movie!) Deciding that he is no longer fit to be Earth’s mightiest hero due to his actions he heads off into space to find peace, himself and his mojo. Along the way he encounters alien worlds, lots of weird and wonderful creatures and punches up many cosmic bad guys and robots because there always robots in space! So if you want to, read this as a sort of sequel to Man of Steel. It explains a lot about certain aspects of Superman’s personality and surprisingly this version of the character fits really well with the new movie version. (Although this one is a bit more simplified and wears his heart on his sleeve a lot more) He’s very tortured and introspective, it is all very interesting. Also the first third of his time in space is mainly spent with Superman reacting to events that happen to him or bumbling into grand world destroying scenarios just like the new movie version of the character!
So yeah all those people complaining about the Man of Steel version of Superman not being anything like the comic book version of the character seemed to have skipped over this era or simply not read anything from then. (Oh and they are probably putting him on a pedestal too because *grumble* *grumble*…..ranty, ranty.)
Anyway! Introspection and space farming (yes there is farming in space in this book!) eventually give way, after a very weird Superman Vs Superman Vs Gangbuster Superman Vs Clark Kent Vs Mental Ghosts of dead Zod and Co fight, to the Superman equivalent of a Spartacus/Gladiator type story. Superman, weakened by a lack of exposure to a yellow sun is captured and forced to take part in gladiatorial games of death for Mongul and his Empire’s entertainment on Warworld, a planet that lives up to its name!
Superman is weakened but he can still fight with his super strength and other abilities (it is never really made clear how weak he is beyond him not being able to fly) so he holds his own against Mongul’s gladiators. Naturally and as you were no doubt expecting, Superman refuses to kill his beaten foes and this causes all kinds of problems for Mongul and leads to a mini revolution taking place on Warworld. A revolution that ends with Mongul leaving vowing revenge and the mostly forgettable gladiator, Draaga taking charge of the planet by the end of the book. It also gives the artists an excuse to dress Superman up like a weird Space Roman Gladiator despite all of his opponents not wearing similar outfits at all. They are all so alien it does not fit into their design or they are simply wearing power armour. There is not another Roman-esque outfit in sight!
While all this is going on we get a huge info-dump on ancient Kryptonian history and the introduction of the Edradicator (it is important in future Superman stories, trust me!) through a really old Space Cleric. It all ends with Superman learning more about himself then you would have thought and the Cleric causes him to look at his actions and forgive himself for them. It is character development by way of not really changing anything. Superman Exile serves as a pocket story about Superman doing the unthinkable then seeing what comes of it. It is still very fresh today which says a lot about how the majority of Superman stories are handled considering it is 25-ish years old at this point.
The book itself is well paced and the regular shifts in focus keep things moving to the big finish. The art on the whole is not too shabby either and the constant changes in the art team are seamless due to everyone mostly working to the same style guide. Also with this being a Superman book we get some entertaining fistfights that are just the right length and dynamic enough to leave you wanting more. They also take the book featuring a more sombre and unhinged Superman to inject a bit of roughness to him which is very welcome, especially the space beard!
The only real downside is that some of the other sub-plots and such in Superman Exile are quite bad and boring in places. One of the sub-plots focuses heavily on Matrix, the Post-Crisis Supergirl and shapeshifter thing from an alternate dimension who ends up (after Exile) falling in love with Lex Luthor who is disguised as his own son….its a whole stupid thing (DO NOT LOOK IT UP!). Superman Exile happens before things get really stupid for her but they are still quite stupid by stupid standards. Basically for the majority of the book she is in a delusional state stumbling through life thinking she is Clark Kent. Before leaving Superman gives the world a reasonable excuse for Clark disapearing (he’s gone into hiding after publishing an exposé on Intergang) then Matrix shows up and everyone thinks she is Clark but with amnesia after being duffed up by Intergang. Queue awkward scenes of Matrix being amazed by the simplest things! Yeah like I said…stupid.
The other sub-plots focus on the slow build up of the Intergang story and how everyone is coping without Superman being around all the time. It is interesting to a point but I found my reading speeding up whenever I came across an Earth set section because the sooner I got back to what Superman was doing the better the book was. Seriously the space stuff is gold in this book and I enjoyed every panel of it! Eventually all the sub-plots come together with the main thread for the finale and Superman’s return to Earth where in true Superman fashion his has a fist fight with robot on the day of his return, after having a shower of course!
Finally, because it is an older comic (originally serialised in 1988-89) it has a lot of meat to it. Single issues had a lot more pages back then and still adhered to a reasonably uniform panel structure. So there is a lot of content in the print edition I read which is great! After finishing you realise that modern comics are fairly thin on the ground content wise when it comes these types of larger story-arcs. Both have their positive and negative points of course: the main ones being that modern comics tend to be more focused. That they are very much all about the main plot and little else with all side stories and sub-plots reserved for tie-ins, one-offs and annuals these days. While with Superman Exile you have everything in one place all organically flowing from issue to issue. Writer to writer. Artist to artist. Which is a feat in and of itself by today’s standards.
I went into the book not expecting much and I walked away pleasantly surprised. It is well worth checking out if your interested in reading older Superman stories.
Superman Exile is made up of issues Superman Vol. 2 #28-30 & 32-33, Adventures of Superman #451-456, Action Comics Annual #2 and Action Comics #643 of the 1988-89 storyline. It is available digitally via the Comixology/DC Comics websites and apps (every issue is not available digitally, yet) or in trade via Amazon.