Up, Up and Away!

Authors: Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns
Artists: Pete Woods and Renato Guedes
Titan Books
RRP: 8.99, US $14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 348 0
ISBN-10: 1 84576 348 3
Available 20 October 2006

In the aftermath of the Infinite Crisis, Superman is mysteriously without his powers. Now it's up to Clark Kent to keep an eye on Metropolis, with the help of a few super-powered allies. But with Lex Luthor acquitted of his past crimes and ready to reclaim Metropolis as his own, it'll take more than friends in the right places to keep the city safe. Lex has obtained a powerful and ancient Kryptonian artefact and, armed with an almost limitless supply of Kryptonite, he plans to use this doomsday weapon to destroy his archenemy once and for all. Without his powers, how will Superman save his city and those he loves...?

With clean and crisp art by Pete Woods and Renato Guedes, and a truly epic storyline by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, this graphic novel, which collects issues 650-653 of Superman and 837-840 of Action Comics is very enjoyable indeed.

This is the first story since DC's latest clutter-clearing "crossover event", Infinite Crisis, and it is billed as being "reader friendly", meaning free from confusing continuity that might otherwise put off casual readers - such as those who have recently seen the movie Superman Returns and who are eager to give the comic-strip Man of Steel a go. There are still numerous references to the past, though.

Some of these are jocular allusions to other media. For example, when Clark and Lois watch a televised retrospective on Superman, Lois comments on the relative youth of the actress playing his adoptive mother - a reference to the casting of Annette O'Toole in the TV series Smallville. For the first time outside of Smallville, we see a human being given super-powers as a result of exposure to Kryptonite. As in the new movie, the symbol on Superman's chest is raised in relief. As in the movie and the classic 1963 strip The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman (recently reprinted in Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told), Lex Luthor gets a chance to fight his unpowered opponent man-to-man. And when Clark's powers begin to return, he is unable to fly but is able to leap over tall buildings, just like his original 1938 self.

Other references, though, come across as mere repetition. This is not the first time, for instance, that Clark has lost his powers for an extended period of time. The same thing happened following his death and resurrection in the mid-1990s. (However, Busiek and Johns ensure that we get to see the Man of Steel in every chapter, thanks to various flashbacks and impersonators.) As in the new movie, Lex has recently become a free man following his trial (though in this instance he didn't serve any time in prison). He steps out into a world without a Superman, but it's not long before his archenemy is back to challenge his evil schemes. Indeed, this volume could easily have been called Superman Returns! Most glaring of all, Luthor's use of Kryptonian crystal technology seems like a straight rip-off of the movie plot, even down to his fusion of regular crystals with Kryptonite. It's possible that this storyline was put in place before the plot of Superman Returns became known, but given DC's access to the movie, it seems unlikely.

What is more refreshing is the depiction of Lex. Having lost control of his business empire during the scandal that surrounded his trial, he is now a vengeful madman who has been driven underground, both figuratively and literally. In other words, he is closer to the Luthor of the comics and movies of old, before John Byrne reinvented the character in 1986.

If it weren't for the repetition and rehashing, I would probably have given this book a 9 or a 10. Even so, it's still a beautifully written and illustrated tale.

Richard McGinlay

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