Chapter by Chapter features me reading one chapter of the selected book at the time and reviewing it as if I were reviewing an episode of a TV show or an issue of a comic. There will be spoilers if you haven’t read to the point I have, and if you’ve read further I ask that you don’t spoil anything further into the book. Think of it as read-along book club.
Technically it’s also the prologue but it’s only a page long. As I mentioned in the intro article this book is in three parts and 29 chapters. We’re starting with “Doomsday”, which should be the arrival of the titular villain. Will he appear here? Will Stern add something that I don’t know about because I haven’t read the comics in question so I can’t even tell you which issues are being adapted? I don’t know. Let me get through the article open so I can find out.
The question I actually have now is how this is going to draw in those Superman fans who don’t read the comics. And if you don’t think that’s possible check out the numbers of the Black Panther movie and see how many comics with the character are actually selling. As much as the Man Of Steel defenders assuming people who didn’t like the movie are only getting their opinion from the Donner movie ticks me off, there are people like that. I however rarely think of the Donner movie among all the comics, TV shows, and serials/animated shorts that has defined Superman for me. And now that I’ve padded this out long enough for the homepage, let’s get into this book and see how well the mini-event that started group comic mini-events adapts into prose form.
Chapter 1: Doomsday part 1
Again, the chapters themselves have no individual titles so I’ll be noting which story arc of the big storyline we’re in.
The prologue doesn’t do much, and given that it’s not even a full page that shouldn’t surprise you. It’s just a creature I assume is Doomsday waking up to find himself chained in what we learn in the first chapter is a subterranean vault, fighting to get out. It does give the reader not familiar with this story a slight amount of curiosity but if you didn’t know who Doomsday was, would you have bought this book? I think it works better by the end of the first chapter, as we the creature slowly break one of his bonds. It’s also possible that I can’t approach this scene the same way as someone who didn’t know this part of the story either by reading the comics or hearing the highlights like I did.
The first chapter starts with a man named Henry Johnson, and here I remind commentors (when I have them) not to spoil things for people new to the story, or at least this part of it. Henry will be important later but the foreshadowing of just who Henry is, or at least was, is supposed to make us curious as to who he is. At this point though for us the reader he’s just a guy Superman saves. Henry’s co-worker, Pete Skywalker (yes, really…was this in the comic?), falls off the construction site they’re working on, Pete working one floor up when he trips. Henry saves him but ends up falling himself. He seems bothered by this when just a minute ago Henry was contemplating suicide. Here we learn he used to be an engineer (who actually starts calculating the rate of descent before he’s dead), he’s a tall and muscular black man, and he may be in construction now but he used to be in destruction somehow and he wronged his grandparents. However, the delivery is a bit on the clunky side. Stern is doing too much to make sure we know that this character is somehow important with all this backstory (and good thing he is or this backstory would make no sense) and it just doesn’t flow right in this format.
From there we shift our attention to Superman. His talk with Henry about him making his second chance worth something is vintage Superman, as well as praising Henry for risking his life for the other guy, noting that he’s braver than Superman because he can’t fly. You know, one of those things Superman haters (in-universe) harp on; that Superman can afford to be brave because he has superpowers (and real life haters complain) makes him less interesting, which I disagree with). He acknowledges that and greatly respects those who help others without powers and greatly admire, trying to live up to their example as much as he tries to be a good example for others. It’s not the powers but what he does with them and why that makes Superman who he is.
This is followed by another good Superman-defining moment. He was happy he was in time to save Henry since he just got back from Japan. This leads to a flashback about a time Superman couldn’t show up in time to stop a crashing plane, the pilot able to land the plane but three of the passengers died. He was so upset that he kept patrolling the skies for falling planes. Even Perry could tell something was up with Clark and told him to talk to somebody. So he went to his parents and I love that Clark could talk to his parents post-Crisis when he needed to. They help him realize that he can’t save everybody–something every doctor, police officer, firefighter, and so on have to accept or be crushed under the impact of their own fists beating themselves up. It was even affecting his still beginning career at the Daily Planet. This is where Superman shines. No matter was he was supposedly created to do he can’t save everybody and has to accept the lives he can save, like at the fire that kept him from saving the plane. As far as Japan, that might have been a previous story in the comics prior to this arc.
And that’s pretty much what this chapter is, showing off who Superman is. Half of it involves his adventures, including one more rescue to get a stalled car and its passengers to the day care center, and just why kids get into Superman, a character sadly not living to his full potential being trapped in comics for older readers or Justice League Action, a show buried in Cartoon Network’s obsession with one show and I don’t even think it airs anymore in the US. The other half features the post-Crisis origin of Superman, or at least once the birthing matrix (making Superman an Earth citizen by birth and not the space immigrant he gets painted as now) arrives in the back area of the Kent farm. We also see that Clark slowly gained his powers instead of being born right off with them. I like that idea better, that Clark had to slowly gain his powers under a yellow sun, with maybe a few resulting from being from another planet. His earliest origin involved him being from a planet with heavier gravity, which could explain his strength and endurance. Have that boosted by solar energy stored in his body. His brain is naturally better than a human’s given he’s an alien. Have everything else, like flight and his various visions, be the result of slowly adjusting to yellow sunlight as opposed to the red sun he was genetically fashioned to exist under.
For the most part I liked this first chapter. Forced exposition for Henry but otherwise a good telling of Superman’s origin and why he is who he is, as well as HOW THE CLARK KENT DISGUISE WORKS BEYOND THE STUPID GLASSES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, it continues to be a pet peeve of mine. How much more set-up will there be before the fighting starts? Check in next time and find out.
Next time: Doomsday part 2
This is my favorite Superman novel. The exacting details about streets and locations that Roger Stern gives throughout the book makes Metropolis seem like an actual living, breathing place.
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