Pete Woods is a heck of an artist, capable of drawing the small moments just as well as the big battles, and his work makes this comic worth checking out, but the story doesn’t live up to the quality of the artwork.
It’s not that the dialogue is particularly bad, and I don’t have any problems with the relatively slow pace of the series, but three factors pin this comic down to the level of mediocrity. Three limitations keep it from being a dramatic event in the life of DC’s flagship character.
First of all, after over 100 pages of story, we still know very little about the supporting cast. This series is structured like an ensemble book, with Superman playing a role within a larger story about the political machinations of New Krypton (sure, he has the primary narrative role, but he’s still just part of a larger team here), yet the secondary characters are still underdeveloped. Some of them get plenty of time on the page, and you can see Robinson and Rucka making an effort to shed some light on the entire world of New Krypton (as it says in the title), but the entire supporting cast seems filled with military movie stereotypes at best and bland, lifeless voids at worst. Beyond Kal-El and Zod, there’s not much flavor to this entire Kryptonian world, as much as the writers spend time trying to create it.
Secondly, the political machinations aren’t particularly interesting, and they seem to be what the entire story is about. It’s not that I demand constant heat vision blasts and super-punches in my comics, but this comic suffers from the same kind of problem that caused “Star Wars Episode 1” to rot from the inside. Nobody cares about the struggles of the trade federation going in to the movie, and the film didn’t make the audience care by the end. This is a comic where Superman has left Earth to live amongst his people and it’s just ended up being issue after issue of him playing the role of a naÃ¯ve new recruit as he watches Zod manage the Kryptonian nation. The entire plot of issue #5 was a series of arguments and deliberations about whether or not Kal-El should get the death penalty for disobeying orders. It was about the technical details of the situation instead of the emotional core of the conflict, and that adds to the bland lifelessness that drags this comic down.
And third, this just doesn’t feel like Superman. He leaves Earth for an indeterminate amount of time to do this? After all he’s been through in his life — after all he’s been through in the past DC Universe year — he goes to New Krypton to act like a rookie on the space police force? It might make sense if his pretend naivete was his attempt to infiltrate Zod’s army and take him down from within, but neither this comic nor the lead-up in the main Superman titles gave the impression that Zod and the Kryptonians were such immense threats to the well-being of Earth that they couldn’t simply be ignored. It might also make sense as a way to show Kal-El struggle with being just one among many, for the first time in his life. But while these might be hinted at within the series, they aren’t explored in any depth.
Ultimately, this series has to do a better job making me believe that Superman would put himself in this situation. It has to make me care about Kal-El’s plight and the affect on those around him. Even the twist ending of this issue merely offers the promise of more political maneuverings, and that’s just not enough.