By: Scott Snyder & Lowell Francis (writers), Gene Ha (artist), Art Lyon (colorist)

The Story: “I’m only hurting you because I love you so much,” takes on all new meaning.

The Review: Traditionally, we tend to see Superman’s values and virtues as something bred in him by the good, wholesome, Midwestern upbringing of Ma and Pa Kent.  It’s what allows us to believe that such an all-powerful alien would have such adamant devotion to a world full of bickering, selfish, violent earthlings.  In this title, we remove the Kents from the picture entirely, and discover that perhaps Superman’s goodness is more innate than we give him credit for.

After all, in the Flashpoint world, he has extremely little reason to care for anybody on Earth, given the circumstances with which he arrived and has been treated since.  We’re spared nothing regarding his suffering; we see him in crawl spaces, a bowl of food on the floor and a hamster-like water drip against the wall; he’s forced to endure dozens of humiliating and painful scientific inspections; his captors coldly put him through frightening “drills.”

During this early period of his life, he forms attachments only with Subject Two (in our world known as Krypto) and General Sam Lane, the former proving to be sadly short-lived, the latter tenuous at best.  Lane’s affection for Kal (as he insists on calling what everyone refers to as “Subject One”) is touchingly ironic, but naturally portrayed.  It makes sense Lane’s military work drove his family away, leading him to turn his fatherly eye on a child, even an alien one.

You can’t help feeling moved by Lane’s sorrowfully honest treatment of the wary boy, clearly an attempt to make up for the failure of Subject Zero.  Though severely limited in his attempts to give Kal the semblance of happiness, his dedication to that end stays absolute in a way never applied to the former Lieutenant Sinclair.  Speaking of which, Sinclair finds ways to secretly exert influence over Kal’s mind as gently and sincerely as Lane’s desire to touch his heart.  As the bloody results of Krypto’s momentary rage shows us, should Kal follow Sinclair’s lead in lashing out against his captors, it will be grim proceedings indeed.

In the end, two incidents sway Kal’s path, and kudos to Francis for giving them such tasteful understatement you don’t realize their importance until later.  In one, Kal inspects a photo of Lane as a young boy, proudly holding up a baseball with his mother.  Kal realizes it’s the same ball Lane used to play with him earlier.  Kal takes the ball.  Later, he meets a young Lois, a huge moment which many writers would oversell with sickening sweetness, but which Francis limits to, “Who are you?  I’m Lois.  What’s your name?”  The words depict her pure-hearted curiosity, one that assumes Kal’s humanity, far more important to him than any show of kindness.

Ha gives all of these moments the impact they deserve with his thin, scratchy lines, which prove capable of every kind of storytelling.  He can direct the emotional scenes with such finesse that words are hardly necessary (and in fact, many of these scenes end up wordless).  He can also depict splashy, action-packed scenes with terrific graphicness, while never crossing over into over-the-top material.  Lyon’s cold, clinical colors are the perfect match to this essentially sci-fi-horror storyline.

Conclusion: Everything you’d expect from this kind of story, yet totally unexpected at the same time.  Elseworlds storytelling at its finest.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – It’s official.  Lionel Luthor—worst example of parenthood ever.

– Little did they know that years later, the stuff they used to create Subject Zero would be put in athletes’ Gatorade to win them football games.