In continuation of the posts dedicated to recommended comics reading for fans of the classic Superman Movies comes this unique offering from – of all people – the creative team behind the 2006 movie Superman Returns.
Tasked with bringing the Man Of Steel back to the forefront of popular culture with their upcoming movie, screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (along with director Bryan Singer) would bridge the cinematic gap through DC Comics and the four-part miniseries Superman Returns: The Prequels.
For anybody under the Illusion Returns as released was intended as a standalone reboot/ remake/homage to Superman: The Movie, like it or not, it may come as a surprise to find that (in the context of these issues anyhow) that Singer’s picture is a bona-fide sequel set firmly in the continuity of the classic franchise (or at least the first two) and on that basis alone is being acknowledged here at SUPERMANIA.
For an exhaustive (and I do mean thorough) well-written overview of the collection go here – for those more intrigued by how The Prequels exploit and capitalise on aspects of the Donner pictures – stick with me.
Pandering directly to the nostalgic eye with Part 1 – Krypton To Earth – we actually open on a panel featuring the unique Action Comics cover from the first movie next to a splash page of the red Krypton sun (having never been referred to onscreen as Rao). Though the trial of the Phantom Zone Villains has been omitted, what follows is a wordier but otherwise unchanged adaptation of STM’s first act (concluding in Kal-El’s arrival on Earth). Some expansion on the notion that the Red Sun is in fact the main contributor to Krypton’s demise along with the abilities of the crystal technology are key to the writing here which is fairly seamlessly incorporated into Brando’s dialogue. And for once on the comic page, all the hallmarks of John Barry’s design, Geoffrey Unsworth’s lighting and Yvonne Blake’s costumes are unashamedly embraced here in the art (by Ariel Olivetti) which makes up for the tentative likenesses of the actors.
With the exposition neatly setting the tone of what was to follow, its a pity the subsequent chapters fail on most every level to maintain Part 1’s quality. Instead the following chapters are a series of dull vignettes of how supporting characters have spent their time during Superman’s five year absence. The first, Ma Kent (already in violation of the classic series continuity having passed sometime between Superman II and III) is a bittersweet, mostly internal monologue about her loneliness (with some flashbacks to scenes from STM) concluding with Kal-El’s (somehow undetected) crash landing as seen in the film. The trend continues with Part 3 as Lex Luthor waxes similarly lyrical during his incarceration and eventual release also with lingering STM flashbacks except this time the art (by Rick Leonardi) is so cartoonishly hideous you’d be pressed to recognise them.
Its left to Lois Lane in Part 4 to conclude proceedings with her descent into bitterness having taken Superman’s absence personally to the point where, quite out of character, she writes a Pulitzer Prize winning piece on ‘Why the world doesn’t need Superman’ after falling for another man and having a child. Though again interspersed with memorable scenes from STM (including the helicopter rescue and the flight around Metropolis) the flashbacks seem to serve only as a catalyst for misery.
While The Prequels on paper was a great idea and a worthy endeavor, In execution the run is hurt badly by inconsistency and as a collection fails to engage past the opening chapter. Though Singer, Harris and Dougherty take (large) cover credit, in fact none of the actual comic writing was done by them (Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray for Parts 1&3, Marc Andreyko for 2&4) and the art veers from sublime to ridiculous. Though its a thrill to see scenes from Superman: The Movie finally, legitimately in print, their treatment here as a springboard to the events in Superman Returns, like the movie itself, leaves much to be desired...
From the top – Cover and pages from The Prequels softcover collection released by DC Comics in 2006…