Writers: Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, George Perez
Artists: Jerry Ordway, Keith Giffen, Karry Gammill, Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, George Perez, and others
Reprints: The Adventures of Superman #445-460, Superman #23-37, Action Comics #643-646, Action Comics Annual #2.
Reviewed by: Craig Boehmer
Rating – 5 (out of 5): “Superman: The Exile and Other Stories Omnibus” may seem like an odd choice to of Superman stories to get the Omnibus treatment. It follows up directly after John Byrne’s run, and plays with a lot of the themes that Byrne and Wolfman introduced in their respective time on the books. The gist of the stories have to do with Superman’s life spinning out of control due to his undiagnosed PTSD he suffered from executing Zod in the pocket dimension at the conclusion of Byrne’s run. The manifestation of this PTSD is his subconscious adoption of the Gangbuster persona, previously used by Jose Delgado, whenever he is asleep. Confrontations with Brainiac possessed Milton Fines, who is being manipulated by Lex Luthor, furthers these problems and prompts Superman to flee the earth for fear of what he could do if he truly lost control of himself. In his journeys he sees many alien worlds, and is captured and enslaved for the gladiator pits on Mongul’s War World. Superman frees himself and learns from the Cleric of the history of Krypton’s religious movements and wars. In the process of escaping from War World, he comes into the possession of the Eradicator, an ancient Kryptonian weapon that slowly begins to take him over. Meanwhile on Earth, Lex Luthor manipulates the stock markets feigning pursuit of STAR Labs, prompting a huge swing in the stock market, and enabling him to buy a small laboratory for peanuts.
Let me preface this by saying, I did not grow up with this Superman. I grew up in the 90s, and didn’t start reading Superman comics until the 2010s. Action Comics #900 was my first purchase, and the New 52, was when I actively started collecting. So, I do not look at this omnibus with any sort of nostalgia goggles. Having said that I can unequivocally say, without any reservations, this is the BEST SUPERMAN OMNIBUS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE! IF YOU FIND IT, BUY IT! Yes, it is better than Morrison’s New 52 Action Comics or their JLA, Tomasi and Gleason’s Rebirth Superman, the Golden Age collections, and the “Death and Return of Superman” story. This is peak Superman. If anybody wanted to buy a Superman book, this beautiful collection is the first that springs to mind. It has everything, street level heroics, giant threats, alien worlds, and one of the most beautifully drawn issues of Superman ever, Action Comics Annual #2. It rivals the Byrne/Perez issue where he and Wonder Woman faced off against Darkseid. In this one, he fights in the gladiatoral arena, and he looks incredible. This is the Omnibus to buy, if you can find it for a decent price, snap it up. I purchased mine a few years ago from instocktrades.com. I wasn’t too eager to buy it, but I had just finished a digital read of Byrne’s run, and was itching for any kind of Superman Omnibus in print media, this one was available so I took the chance. Man am I glad I did!
Jerry Ordway might be my favourite Superman writer, and artist. I know I have previously sang the praises of John Byrne’s incredible Superman run, but I truly believe that Ordway comes closest to surpassing it. There are so many fantastic stories, and it builds on Byrne’s Marvelization of Superman. The supporting characters are more fleshed out, such as Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane Cat Grant, Perry White, the Guardian, etc. Each member gets at least one story to shine in. Classic villains reintroduced by Byrne are built upon, Luthor is at his most menacing, Mongul is terrifying, Milton Fines (while not the greatest version of Brainiac, still makes a fantastic story). We even get some of the Byrne era creations back; such as Skyhook the batlike kidnapper, the Union’s collective of murdered creatures linked together by a powerful machine, Silver Banshee, and many others. Plus, the incredible confrontation between Luthor and Mxy while Superman is in space. A major subplot is the crisis of Matrix, the Supergirl from the pocket dimension. She is being raised by the Kents, but when Clark leaves for space she adopts his life, believing that the world needs Clark Kent. This also coincides with the supposed murder of Clark after he exposes a major criminal element in the city. Metropolis also feels like more a character in this collection than many others. The city feels lived in, which isn’t always the case in comics. That is one of the reasons it feels more like a Spiderman or X-Men comic, the city is alive with people and the writers let you dwell on these people’s stories and problems. It is the classic way Claremont wrote Uncanny X-Men, three plots weaving through the narrative, and when the primary plot is resolved, a secondary plot gains more prominence until it is resolved. Ordway, and company, do it beautifully here. The world just continues to be fleshed out and real, not in the way that you think it is the world we live in, but in the way that it feels like this world could exist in some alternate reality.
I could continue to sing the praises of this book. For example, the tale of the Cleric and his proselyting on Krypton and the subsequent violent uprising against him is an incredible climax to the Exile story arc. It is also incredible how they use this tale of Krypton’s ancient past to inform the destruction of the planet and the inability for Kryptonians to leave Krypton. This great story also sets the stage for the development of the Eradicator, a recurring villain/ally in the Superman mythos up to the 2020s. Or the development of Jose Delgado and his struggle with paralysis. In his desperation he turns to Luthor Corp for aid in overcoming the disability only to, inevitably, be betrayed. Or Lois’ discovery of the town in the Midwest where all the residents have been murdered by the Union. Every supporting character gets an incredible story, in addition to the fantastic ongoing adventures Superman is experiencing. Not only are the stories amazing, and the characters fully realized, but the art is gorgeous to look at. And there is a consistency to it, that is lacking in later Omnibuses. Sometimes while reading, I had to pause just to admire how beautiful the figure work is, or review a sequence of panels just to revel in how well laid out the action scenes are.
The biggest tragedy of this collection is that it ends midstory. DC needs to publish an Omnibus collecting the materials after this story so that I can learn what happened to Jimmy after being exposed to the space virus! Next up on my Omnibus review, we are looking at the big one, “The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus”. Later this year DC is re-releasing the SuperSons Expanded Edition Omnibus, I didn’t get a copy of it the first two times around and am hoping to grab it this time. I’ll be reviewing it in the fall, as well as the “Superman: The Silver Age Omnibus Volume 1”, that is due out in December. We need more Superman Omnibus Collections and I really hope that the next two Superman related Omnibuses coming out will be gobbled up by fans to prove to DC that there is an appetite for these books.
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