Review! Superman, ‘H’El on Earth’ [No Spoilers]

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Note: This review covers the DC Comics collection of the entire “H’el on Earth” storyline, and reviews the 4-5 issues each of SupermanSupergirl, and Superboy that were part of the crossover.

So the first year of Superman family storylines were pretty problematic.  I’ve not read any Superboy comics, but both Superman and Supergirl had all kinds of inconsistencies, with DC’s flagship character basically fighting a bunch of space monsters month-to-month and, at one point, going bungee jumping with Lois Lane’s sister. His cousin Kara Zor-el came to Earth, also fought some space monsters, but had some interesting character stuff happen–include a sweet subconscious fight with a dragon–and ultimately came out better in the end.  With all of the space monsters unconscious (with even more on their way), the Super-family comes together to confront H’el, another superpowered “last” survivor of Krypton with two objectives: 1) to hit on Supergirl as much as possible, and 2) to bring Krypton itself back from the dead.

H'el on Earth 1

Superman, Supergirl, and Superboy throw down against the Kryptonian astronaut H’el in the Super-family’s first crossover event of New 52.

STORY AND SCRIPT
The premise of this crossover is simple: H’el, a Kryptonian astronaut who has come to Earth to steal both Superman’s cousin and his collection of space artifacts so he can fuel a machine to go back in time to prevent the destruction of Krypton.  This “fuel” comes in the form of the Earth’s sun, so Superman and his “family” fight to stop him.  Overall, the story comes off as unremarkable with its fairly stock Superman premise, mixing a threat against the Earth with some Kryptonian lore, and unfortunately, it evolves in a pretty traditional manner as well.  There are a lot of fights, some interesting cameos from a handful of Justice League members, and a few flashbacks to the Krypton That Was.  I regard the pacing of the story as neither a strength nor a weakness, as the most successful parts of “H’el on Earth is in a few character moments.

The first of these is the appearance of Lex Luthor.  If you’re not reading Action Comics, this is the first time you’ve seen Lex Luthor post-Flashpoint, and he’s awesome.  Calm, self-assured and totally opposed to Superman, he works as kind of an oracle in his half-issue appearance in the middle of the crossover.  His insight into the H’el situation, and the creepy feeling you get that he’s not telling you everything he knows, presents the kind of Lex Luthor that would force a Superman to elevate his game and perhaps show a little character development.

The second of these high points is the character development that Supergirl undergoes as a result of her fight with and against H’el.  She’s been presented by her creative team(s) as a trauma survivor, displaced and in shock on an alien world with all the power of Superman for the first year, but after her run-in with the Silver and Black Banshees, she has enough connections to Earth to make her role in this story interesting.  By the end of the collection, it’s clear that the Supergirl we’ll be seeing in the next arc will be a different, more developed sort of heroine.

H'el on Earth 2

Kenneth Rocafort’s detail-rich artwork makes Lex Luthor’s mysterious appearance even more memorable with a wide range of facial expressions and panel shapes.

PENCILS AND ARTWORK
This is where the different issues in this collection really separate themselves.  Mahmud Asrar and R.B. Silva submit good work, but the arrival of Kenneth Rocafort onto the scene as the artist on Superman is a welcome alternative to the inconsistent artwork in the book during the first year.  Having left Red Hood and the Outlaws to join Lobdell, Rocafort’ gives Superman and his suit of Krpytonian armor a detail-rich makeover.  Lois Lane is striking in her supporting appearance, and Supergirl hasn’t looked better in the New 52.  Lex Luthor’s manic genius is alive, and I found myself wishing that he would take up the mantle of super villain and turn Superman back into the hero that started it all.  Looking forward at seeing Rocafort’s work in the next two volumes of Superman is a very positive thing, and the final issue of this collection is better than its abrupt conclusion thanks to his contributions.

BACKLOG PRIORITY
5.5/10 – For readers of Supergirl or Superboy, this collection will come as more necessary than for readers of Superman or Justice League, as Superman’s role in this story is exactly what we’ve seen up to this point.  Lobdell et al. tell a familiar, unremarkable Superman story that goes on a bit longer than is necessary thanks to a lot of fights.  Still, there are some moments that work okay, and after finishing this volume I’m very excited to see where Michael Alan Nelson and Mike Johnson take the Supergirl series from here on out.  Superman fans will likely find something to enjoy here, but this collection is far from a must-read for most.

– Vandal

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