Or – “Why Wouldn’t Jor-El Make ONE Big Ship Instead Of Four Small Ones?”


If Jor-El of Krypton had been quicker in his experiments, or perhaps more assertive in his arguments, we might have an entire planet of Supermen running rampant across the universe.  Had he built one big rocket instead of several small ones, though, he could have saved his own life and that of his wife as well as baby Kal’s.  Of course, that course of action might also have a few consequences as well…

Superman – The Last Family Of Krypton #1
Written by CARY BATES
Published by DC COMICS

Previously, on Superman – The Last Family of Krypton:  Many years ago, on a planet called Krypton, a man named Jor-El became aware that forces within the planet’s core threatened to destroy the entire world, killing every one of Krypton’s inhabitants.  His beliefs were laughed off by the Science Council, and Jor shifted his focus from saving the planet to finding ways to evacuate his people.  He fired a test rocket with a monkey in it, then sent his son’s beloved pet dog into outer space as well.  As the tectonic forces grew more unstable (or, alternately, as an intergalactic pirate named Black Zero took out a hit on the planet Krypton, depending on your personal continuity) Jor realized that he could only save his son, his beloved Kal-El, who was rocketed to Earth as Krypton exploded.  Raised by an Earth couple, Kal tied a beach towel around his neck and became a full-fledged force for good.  This is the story of how none of that happened…

We open with Jor dreaming of the rocket, of Kal-El’s flight from Krypton to sanctuary on Earth, holding his beloved wife as the planet explodes around them…  As he watches, his son’s rocket escapes orbit, only to take a hit from space debris and explode!  He screams out in denial, crying “NO!” as he suddenly awakens from a nightmare.  Jor and Lara discuss his survivor’s guilt, and even walk to the window of their home looking out over the skies of… Metropolis?  Heh.  Got me with that one.  Flashing back a few weeks, we see the arrival of a Kryptonian ship on Earth, as Jor-El and Lara use their super-abilities to save various innocents caught in their ship’s wake, and stop a military helicopter from crashing.  No year is given, but the Els quickly stop disasters that are eerily reminiscent of various late 70’s cataclysms on our world (Mount St. Helens, Three-Mile Island, Skylab and more) and an appearance by Walter Cronkite gives us a rough idea that this is happening about the time of the Superman movie opening or thereabouts.  Jor then creates a home for them using Kryptonian technology, and quickly forms his own scientific corporation, JorCorp, to Lara’s consternation.  I am troubled by the fact that the “S-shield symbol is the crest of the House of El” schtick from the movie has become canonical to the comic book incarnation of the hero.  I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does, pulling me out of my enjoyment of the issue for a few panels as Jor-El does very Superman-like hero stunts. 

The fame of the House of El on Earth spreads until young Kal can’t even so much as play without being surrounded by paparazzi and fans, so Lara comes up with an alternate method of raising the boy:  send him undercover with a couple from Kansas and raise him there.  This development annoys me, as nearly every Elseworlds/What If story comes to the point where we, the readers, realize that everything would have been better in the “regular” version of the tale.  Moving little “Clark” in with the Kents feels like they’re doing that bit again.  Lara becomes a star with her “Raology” self-help texts, while JorCorp becomes more and more pervasive in the culture.  Kal-El loves living with the Kents, but more and more his real father seems to disapprove of his life and his methods.  When a brilliant young boy from Smallville is given an internship at JorCorp, Kal thanks that his father is more like his former classmate than he is like Kal.  (And if you didn’t realize that the brilliant boy’s name is Lex Luthor, you probably haven’t read enough Elseworlds stories yet.)  Renato Arlem’s art reminds me of a more abstract Howard Chaykin in this issue, and nowhere is that more apparent than the scenes where the Jor and Lara have a fight, then makeup in the heart of the sun, leading to her getting pregnant.  (This issue covers nearly a decade of time with skips here and there.  It’s actually pretty deft in the time-jumping, though.)  Lara’s due date comes at the Kent farm, and she gives birth to twins with the help of the Kryptonian birthing matrix, leading Jor-El to finally accept John and Marth Kent as surrogate family…

The premise of this series is a pretty neat one, a story that we haven’t seen done to death (not mentioning any names, but “Bruce Wayne becomes Batman in X Time Period” has gotten pretty shopworn.)  Cary Bates is a name that recent readers may not recognize, but he has an extended history with the Man of Steel, and his take on Kryptonian super-science is pretty ingenious.  Jor-El is a fun central character, reminiscent of certain appearances of Brainiac 5, and his unhappiness at the path taken by his wife and son makes for what I can only assume will be the basic conflict of the two issues to come.  All the players are in motion here, the Daily Planet, Lana Lang, and all the usual toys are in the sand, and it’s shaping up to be an interesting miniseries.  I wonder if this wasn’t originally put together as a SIX issue stretch, as this extra-long book reads like two books in one, but the art is well-done throughout, giving us 70’s era vehicles that look like 70’s era vehicles, and the coloring and effects do well in showing Kryptonian science in action.  All in all, this is a fun issue, marred only by a butt-ugly cover (Alex Ross apparently uses the same actors for all his works, as Jor-El and Lara are clearly based on the same faces he uses for Superman and Wonder Woman in every other thing he draws) that bears no resemblance to the interiors and an overuse of the Kryptonian typeface in word balloons.  Bates brings his old-school chops to this project without feeling at all dated, and Superman – The Last Family of Krypton #1 earns an impressive 4 out of 5 stars overall from me. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  All the promotional material for this series used the Ross cover image, leaving me completely NOT interested until I thumbed through this issue first-hand.  Can a bad cover ruin a good comic for you, or am I just overly sensitive?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Minhquan Nguyen
    August 4, 2010 at 11:11 pm — Reply

    Honestly, considering the number of terrible covers for terrific novels out there, I’ve learned to live by the old maxim, tired as it is, “Never judge a book by its cover.” As far as Alex Ross’ work goes, he impresses me at turns and leaves me nonplussed at others. I don’t feel this particular cover is as bad as all that.

    I really enjoyed this story. Even though in theory, considering the differences in circumstances in which they arrived on Earth, the Els should never have encountered the Kents, I actually felt there was a certain kismet in their relationship that was really endearing. I’m very fond of the Kent characters, so I liked that they were as earthy and decent as ever even in this incarnation of the Superman story.

  2. MJ
    August 5, 2010 at 4:54 am — Reply

    Alex Ross did not do the cover. FELIPE MASSAFERA did, it even says so at the top of your review.

    • Brian G.
      August 5, 2010 at 8:47 am — Reply

      Wow … your right. Someone out there is mimicing the wrong guy then.

    • Doctor Sleepless
      August 5, 2010 at 9:41 am — Reply

      So the faces were picked a “tribute” then?

    • August 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm — Reply

      Alex Ross did not do the cover. FELIPE MASSAFERA did, it even says so at the top of your review.

      You are absolutely correct. That information comes directly from the publishers, and I frankly didn’t read it as I did my cut/pastey thing… Thanks for keeping me honest!

  3. Doctor Sleepless
    August 5, 2010 at 6:47 am — Reply

    A cover could never ruin a comic for me, but it sure can bother me. And yeah Wonder-El and Super-El annoyed the heck outta me. Especially because the two faces are so well done and distinct in books like Kingdom Come. This is to a degree where my “face” for an elder Superman basically is AR’s interpretation. So its like seeing an actor play a character and also the role of that characters father. And Lara should never look like Wonderwoman with…But then this just goes to show you how good the book actually is when you can spend so much time on the cover.

    And of course this means I’m very excited for the rest of the story. And not just to see another version of Batman. You know if Jor-El didn’t prevent that particular mugging and thus undid Batman’s creation. I always come around to Batman somehow, I gotta stop doing that. Anyway what I’m most interested in is actually how different this version of Clark and Lex will turn out to be now with all these changes… I’m betting this will be where the meat of the story is.

  4. Brian G.
    August 5, 2010 at 6:54 am — Reply

    I was really surprised that I enjoyed a Superman book for once. Typical that it had to be an Elseworlds though. It was a very good read. I laughed when Lara was looking though the potentials and there were the faces of Dan Didio, Mike Carlin and Angelina Jolie. (Don’t know who the red head is). Then there was Thomas and Martha Wayne on her list.

  5. Brian G.
    August 5, 2010 at 6:58 am — Reply

    Crap … I hit Submit too early.

    The cover isn’t bad. It’s a nice concept. The problem with it is that the people look like something we’ve seen a million times before, like you said. I like the cover but do get frustrated at the fact that Alex Ross draws the same people with the same chubby looks as superheroes. Seriously man, get some diverstity and realize that superheroes shouldn’t have chicken fat.

  6. Ricco
    August 5, 2010 at 9:25 am — Reply

    I don’t know all that much Superman, but the 12th level intellect AI in the El’s ship wouldn’t happen to be Brainiac right?

    • TaZ
      August 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm — Reply

      Give that man a “no-prize”!

      • Ricco
        August 5, 2010 at 4:59 pm — Reply

        Ah okay, it’s just that in the Superman cartoon Brainiac was an AI program that ran planet Krypton.

    • August 5, 2010 at 9:44 pm — Reply

      I don’t know all that much Superman, but the 12th level intellect AI in the El’s ship wouldn’t happen to be Brainiac right?

      Almost absolutely, she even calls it “B.”

  7. TaZ
    August 5, 2010 at 4:33 pm — Reply

    Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin were THE MEN at DC many moons ago and one of the best Flash writers ever. Cary was also the only DC writer that I’m aware of to actually become a super-villian during a trip by him and Elliott to Earth-1 from Earth-Prime in the pages of JLA. I’m glad to see him back and glad to see him able to work with an alternate to the Superman mythos.

  8. Allen Jones
    August 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm — Reply

    Matthew, this is the first new book in the new Elseworlds right? I have a friend who was a big collector of Elseworlds books and I told him they brought it back with this book.

  9. August 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm — Reply

    To answer your question, yes. I was going to read Identity Crisis when it came out knowing of Rags doing the pencils but when I saw the covers for the series, I said no. Not until later did I pick up the hardcover, but took the dust jacket off so I wouldn’t have to look at it.

  10. Damascus
    September 7, 2010 at 1:40 am — Reply

    Sadly, because I don’t get to the comic shop as often as I’d like to and I don’t always have a lot of time to thumb through a lot of issues when I go in, if a cover doesn’t grab me right away I’ll bypass it completely. I’ve bought some books that weren’t so great due to having great covers and I’ve missed a lot of stuff simply because it’s had horrible covers. Covers can be great too, I can know if I’m picking up a Liefeld within 2 seconds of looking at a book typically and I’ll just keep on walking.

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