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

The Story: It’s a bird, it’s a plane—it’s a flying muscleman with Super-Seiyan hair!

The Review: If you’re going to write one of these Elseworlds-type stories, my unsolicited suggestion would be to really take the plunge into the alternate universe aspect of things.  Play into the unexpected and steer clear from the predictable and the familiar.  No sense in putting in a halfhearted effort and ending up with a world that’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away from we already know anyway (see Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1).

Much of the success from this series comes from Francis keeping Superman a distant figure, even within his own title.  We’re so used to seeing him take charge, the star of the only comic with action in its name, that to see him a passive, even tangential character to others has a quietly unsettling effect on your psyche.  His hesitation to act or speak, even in a narrative sense, feels so unnatural that you know without a doubt you’re in a strange, new territory here.

Superman’s wariness allows other characters to step up and assert themselves, not the least of which is Subject Zero.  As a villain, he exists in an interesting state between cliché (the well-intentioned person mad with power) and sympathetic (a deeply-rooted loneliness).  He’s veered back and forth throughout the series, but in the end, he falls closer to the cliché, raving like a lunatic, throwing around his abilities for the sheer pleasure of showing off his omnipotence, before proving the focus he needs to keep in control is more tenuous than he believes.

Lois Lane also injects a strong voice into the issue, much more so than in her own tie-in.  Here she demonstrates her courage, her determined pursuit of truth and justice, and her compassion.  The reunion of Lois and Clark—I mean Kal—lacks any of the cutesiness you’d fear from the fateful meeting of the iconic couple, and as much of their chemistry bubbles, it never reaches the sizzle of romantic tension, which would be totally inappropriate for this story.  What we get is more of a sibling attachment, a truly fresh, inspired take on their dynamic that really works.

You expect Lois’ meeting with Kal means smooth sailing onward, so it’s honestly shocking how she ultimately meets her face. Spoiler alert—you’ve seen important characters bumped off over the course of Flashpoint and never batted an eye, but Lois’ demise manages to hit you where it hurts.  Her final lines perfectly encapsulate what makes her great as Superman’s muse: “…you have to go help…save these people…not because of me…because it’s the right thing to do.”

Ha has done tremendous work for this series and his issue is no exception.  We by now expect him to offer rollicking action that skirts shy of campiness despite its graphic violence, striking drama that never looks soapy, and strong character designs.  But his tributes to iconic images from Crisis on Infinite Earths and the cover of Action Comics #1 not only serve as a lovely homage to Superman’s epic history, but also to Kal’s growth of this issue, from fearful prisoner to the man of action we all know and love, topped with Rob Leigh’s crafty blue captions: “My name is Kal.  Today, I must be a superman.”

Conclusion: Much like its counterpart in Batman – Knight of Vengeance, this tie-in strives for the unpredictable, and scores big because of it.  Congrats are in order for Francis and Ha; not many could have pulled a story like this off with such taste and integrity.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – This is almost certainly intentional, but Kal’s gaunt, wide-eyed emaciation gives him an eerie resemblance to an Auschwitz internee.  That’s one heck of a twist in your subconscious.