REVIEW: “Superman Returns: The Prequels” graphic novel

Superman Returns: The Prequels graphic novel (DC Comics, 2006 compilation)
Story by:
Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris

Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti, Marc Andreyko, and Justin Gray
Art/Pencils/Inks: Ariel Olivetti, Karl Kerschl, Rick Leonardi, Nelson, Wellington Dias, and Doug Hazlewood

Front cover art: Adam Hughes

Superman Returns: The Prequels is an odd collection of half-stories with varying art where characters go from resembling the 1978 Superman movie to the 2006 Superman Returns movie to recent DC comics continuity, and then back again. Yet, for some reason, I love it.

For one thing, it was nice to get back to Superman art that is pleasing to the eyes. My most recent Superman reads before this one were Action Comics #844 and #845. Though I have loved Geoff Johns & Richard Donner’s writing in the “Last Son” arc, I have thus far hated artist Adam Kubert’s rough-around-the-edges style. I feel his art is doing the story a huge disservice, but I’ll save that tirade for another review.

In Superman Returns: The Prequels, most of the art has a stylized, finished quality. Nearly every page is top-notch. Most characters are rendered realistically. Though, as I mentioned, their appearances do fluctuate over the course of the graphic novel. Since each of the four individual comics that make up this collection had different artists, this is not entirely unexpected.

Superman Returns: The Prequels is set within the Superman movie timeline, specifically the Superman Returns variation of that timeline. The first story, “Krypton to Earth,” offers a re-telling of Superman’s origins as depicted in 1978’s Superman, from the escape from Krypton to his adoption by the Kents. The first Superman movie was never adapted into a comic book, so The Prequels offers a unique, first chance to see parts of that movie in comic book form.

This brings up the problem I have with this collection, though. A good portion of it is an adaptation of Superman. I’m all for that, as it is obviously a prequel to Superman Returns. The issue, though, is that none of the writers of 1978’s Superman are credited or acknowledged anywhere. Entire chunks of dialogue and most of the subplots are lifted completely from that film, with no mention of the contributions of Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, or Tom Mankiewicz. The “story by” credit goes solely to the Superman Returns film writers instead, and I’m not sure I can agree with that decision.

The second story, “Ma Kent,” fills us in on what Clark’s adopted mother has been up to lately, as well as sharing her memories of Clark growing up–including several more Superman scenes. Of the four issues, “Ma Kent” contained my favorite art (Kerschl).

“Lex Luthor” details Luthor’s release from prison and introduces Kitty. Luthor flashes back to being foiled by the Man of Steel in more scenes from Superman. The characterization of Luthor here seems much more akin to the comic book version than the versions portrayed by Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey (Spacey’s essentially just being a darker, more hardened version of Hackman’s Luthor). In fact, this story seemed the most out of place. Even the art (Leonardi & Nelson) is not up to par with the other three entries.

Finally, “Lois Lane” closes out the prequel series with more Superman scene adaptations, including the famous dangling from the helicopter rescue. Unfortunately, since the biggest (yet, in some ways, most obvious) secret of Superman Returns had not yet been revealed by the time of the original release of these individual comics, her story is somewhat lacking.

All four original covers are also presented here. All are by Adam Hughes and are solid. As for the graphic novel’s front cover, it is a fantastic concept that is nearly ruined with what appears to be a rushed job on Superman–who resembles more the horrible version from the animated series than any of the live action incarnations. This could have been a cover for the ages but is instead just mediocre. It also does little to tie in with Superman Returns.

Despite the lack of credit for the film’s writers, I loved seeing the Superman adaptations sprinkled throughout this graphic novel. Though it lacks a true storyline of its own, I still recommend Superman Returns: The Prequels as a fun read with great art.

Story/Writing: 7 (out of 10)
Art: 8
Cover Art: 5
Overall Experience: 8
Recommended: To Superman movie fans