By: Cary Bates (writer), Renato Arlem (artist), Allen Passalaqua (colorist), Rachel Gluckstern (assistant editor), Mike Carlin (editor)

The Story: What would have happened if Jor-El, Lara and Kal-El all escaped the destruction of Krypton?

What’s Good and What’s Not So Good: Right off, I really enjoyed Arlem’s art. He puts rich texture and detail onto the page. Even with a computer, Arlem must have spent hours and hours and hours to stipple (put down little dots to denote texture and/or shadow) on the bedspread, wallpaper and chair on the last page (to say nothing of the people). Or, check out the panel where Lara tells Jor-El she wants to be alone. The Quitely-like level of detail is worth the price of admission. Arlem’s expressions evoke emotion and the action, and even the environments, are dynamic. Arlem is hereby invited to draw any book I buy.

On the writing, I want to split the technical, tactical telling of the story (the dialogue, the panel-by-panel unfolding, the character choices) from the strategic, editorial choice (the premise and the DC’s decision to tell this story over some other one).

On Bates’ telling of the story, I’m mostly pleased, with one significant exception. Bates delivers crisp dialogue and a well-paced story; although the jury is still out for me on whether to buy the motivations he’s selling for the characters, especially the all-important choice to foster Kal-El to the Kents. There’s obviously conflict there, between Lara and Jor-El, but also within Jor-El, but Bates takes the easy way out (for the writer) by dismissing the characters’ doubts without showing us why they would do that. To me, it seemed patently obvious that the decisions deserved more explanation. Still, if I forgive his tactical short-cut, I’m left to enjoy the execution of the story.

The larger (largest flaw) with the story is in the premise itself. Somewhere along the way, the editorial team chose to give this miniseries a green light. That’s cool. The need to green light projects that will make DC some money (by selling more than 20,000-30,000 copies per issue). Will they succeed?

The what if story (that’s the Marvel lingo for Elseworlds for you DC unilinguals) is a special kind of story. What if stories open up all sorts of creative options for writers? The best what if stories reflect back on crucial decisions in the history of comics and show us more about the choice itself. Some of the best examples I can think of were “What if Phoenix had lived?” (on sale about 3 years after Phoenix died in Uncanny X-Men #137) and “What if Captain America were elected president of the United States?” (on sale about 2 years after Captain America almost ran for president in Captain America #250). The Phoenix story revealed that there were no other viable opportunities; there was only one window to kill Phoenix, unless you want the whole universe to sleep with the fishes. The Cap story revealed the essential heroism of Steve Rogers the man, and how even as president, Captain America is the one hero needed to beat the Red Skull, even if he must die to do it. An example of a failed what if story was “What if Uncle Ben had lived?” (on sale more than 20 years after Ben took it on the chin). It failed because the story answered a stale question no one was asking about, and, the answer itself ultimately made Peter Parker less heroic.

DC has a string of recent, major events (Final Crisis, Batman RIP, Blackest Night, Battle for the Cowl, etc). Asking a question about any one of them would have had the same sort of resonance and impact as the best what if stories. Instead, DC picked a question about an origin that hit the stands in 1938 (yes, that’s 72 years ago). The question doesn’t hinge on a heroic decision, but on a set of circumstances that predate Kal-El’s birth. So the question is not about something recent and it’s not about a heroic choice (unless you count the choice to be a hero at all). Is the question compelling enough to drive readers to scoop up this miniseries? I doubt it. The only other major driver this story could have to pull in a lot of readers would be if this series gives new insight into Kal-El and Lex Luthor. Is that going to happen? Maybe, but both characters have been reimagined so many times, how is a brief, out-of-continuity story going to stand out? I leave you to ponder that while I hope that Gluckstern and Carlin’s gamble pays off.

Conclusion: DC has a solid creative team at bat with a mildly interesting question. If you want a self-contained story, The Last Family of Krypton might be your thing. If you want a story whose impact will send out ripples (big or small) into the rest of the DCU, this series may not matter to you. I’m not hooked enough that I’m sure I’ll fork out another ten bucks for the next two issues.

Grade: C-

-DS Arsenault