REVIEW: Superman Returns graphic novel

Superman Returns: The Official Movie Adaptation graphic novel (DC Comics, 2006)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Matt Haley, Mike Collins, Ron Randall
Colorists: Nathan Eyring, Larry Molinar
Front cover art: The Cimarron Group (Superman Returns One Sheet Poster)

To honor the first anniversary of the release of Superman Returns (all right, so I missed it by a couple of days), I thought this would be a good time to finally read and review the DC Comics adaptation. Does a comic book inspired by a movie inspired by a comic book lose something in the translation?

The Superman Returns graphic novel is both expanded and condensed. The comic includes various scenes excised from the finished movie, including an extended opening with brief shots from Richard Donner’s Superman, as well as Clark visiting the dead remains of Krypton.

The comic also keeps the original order of the opening: Donner intro, Clark on Krypton, Clark crashes in Smallville, and then Gertrude’s death. In the final film, there is an abrupt cut from the credits into Gertrude’s death. I still think the Smallville crash may have worked better there. But hey, everybody’s a critic.

In fact, one of the best things about the comic is being able to better visualize some of the deleted scenes in context. The movie was certainly long enough as it was, but it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the overall, original vision by reading the script, watching the DVD’s deleted scenes, and then reading this comic.

The comic is far from perfect, though. The narrative flow is just choppy. It crams too much into too little space. The experience just feels rushed. You can almost feel an approaching deadline. It uses the fact that most of us have already seen the movie by the time of reading the comic as a crutch, for parts of the comic would likely be incomprehensible without it.

The quality of the art varies widely, which is funny considering the relative size of this comic. Some of the images are terrific, while many others fall flat. Some of the artists have a better handle on how to draw the leads than others. Brandon Routh sometimes looks authentic, but often looks more like Superboy. Sure, there was fanboy whining about Routh’s age prior to the movie, but the movie itself more than put that to rest. He never looked like Superboy in the movie, but he does at times in this comic. Like the narrative, the overall feel of the art is a rushed hodge-podge.

Another version of this graphic novel, Superman Returns and Other Tales of the Man of Steel, was released at the same time. Though the Superman Returns content was the same, it also includes a mismash of unrelated, previously released Superman comics.

Why bother with that second version? I suppose it was an attempt to bring a cross-over audience of movie fans to the comics. I think they would have been better served making one version, and using those extra pages to fully tell the Superman Returns story.

Since the comic was made prior to the release of the film, lacking is the entire, secret subplot about Jason White’s true heritage. For all those who whine about Jay-El, this book proves that subplot is necessary — at least to tell this story. Without it, Superman Returns feels a bit empty. And the comic adaptation is a disappointing version of an otherwise incredible story. This appears to be a tie-in designed only to cash in, rather than offer quality work. As interpreted by DC Comics, Superman Returns is a jumbled mess.

Story/Writing: 4 (out of 10)
Art: 5
Cover Art: 10
Overall Experience: 4