“Superman” (and all the other comics in the line) have a crossover scheduled for August, “Codename: Patriot.” So far as I can tell, James Robinson seems to have finished his setup a little early this month. So while this issue is titled “The Setup,” it seems at times like Robinson isn’t just setting other stories up, he’s also stalling.
The opening plot line at least looks to be followed through next month, as we get the promised duel between Steel and Atlas. This is the part of “Superman” #690 that works the best, even though it’s mostly a massive fight scene. Atlas’s attack on Steel actually comes across a little creepy, and I like Robinson giving Steel an opening monologue about the number of times he’s been duped over the years. But it’s going somewhere, and I did appreciate that Robinson didn’t devote the entire issue to this since it wouldn’t have filled a full 22 pages.
On the other hand, the rest of the issue is devoted to what felt like little more than teaser scenes for other projects. We end up with no less than three “To Be Continued In _____” slugs, pointing readers towards “Superman: Secret Files,” “Justice League of America,” and a “Superman Annual.” It’s a fine line to walk between having other projects flow smoothly out of an existing comic, and to just plaster advertisements for different books within one of your other titles. The blatant plugs for other comics shoved into Dwayne McDuffie’s “Justice League of America” were ill-received, and these don’t come across much better. The only subplot not to get the “To Be Continued In _____” slug is also the best of those spotlighted; it makes me wish we’d just gotten more of Zatara and his new mission, so that it might not have felt so compressed and with an abrupt ending.
Pere Perez does a good job of stepping in for regular artist Renato Guedes, keeping that open, clean style present in “Superman.” Perez definitely has some fun with the script along the way; there’s a great three-panel sequence running across the bottom of a two-page splash in the Atlas vs. Steel fight where someone literally gets knocked from one side of the page to the other. He also draws a good looking Tellus, which since all poor Tellus has done is lurk on the edges of “Superman” since being revealed in the present day instead of the 31st century, at least counts for something.
For a book that’s supposed to be starring Mon-El for a year while Superman is in “World of New Krypton,” this latest “Superman” comes across particularly odd since Mon-El himself is barely here. At least it does move things forward with Robinson’s other stories, but in the end this feels like Robinson’s just stalling until next month’s crossover. I’m not entirely sure that’s the right call.