By: Grant Morrison (story), Travel Foreman (art) Brad Anderson (colors)
The Story: Who knew that aliens have ghosts of their own?
The Review: I have my grievances against Morrison as I suspect even his loyalists do. I’m well aware he can be deliberately obfuscating and bewilderingly abstract. I have recently heard his writing style described as “improvising,” which certainly feels true, but anyone who listens to jazz or has been to a Second City show knows that even the best improvisers risk falling flat from time to time. But even then, you can’t deny they’re always striving for originality.
Who else, I ask you, will give you a sci-fi ghost story? That’s exactly what you get in this issue; despite its trappings of aliens and pseudo-science like “ecto-technology…powered by pure consciousness,” it essentially is a tale of vengeful spirits targeting the living. Morrison can often make what would otherwise be a rather straightforward story sound better simply by casting it in a different light. Using Halloween as a backdrop for the hauntings of an imprisoned, alien mad scientist definitely gives off an interesting flavor, no?
Morrison also takes the opportunity to revise the concept of Phantom Zone technology a bit. Instead of being a completely separate dimension from our own, Morrison portrays it as one that exists side-by-side with ours (reminding me of the concept used for the Three-boot Phantom Girl). The impact of this change is pretty significant; it allows all the villains within the Zone to observe Superman freely, to learn about his powers and his home. Besides that, such proximity between our dimensions means crossing over is a somewhat simpler task than before.
Where Morrison tends to misstep is when he lets his enthusiasm get away from him, amping up the dialogue’s amp factor to Silver Agey ridiculousness. Unfortunately, Doctor Xa-Du gets the bulk of those lines, downplaying whatever threat he actually poses to Earth. The moment that really kills most of his credibility is when he declares his evil plan to the world: “I’ll make an army of super-zombies to bring the world to its knees.” Super-zombies. Seriously? That’s about as wacky as vampiric universal Monitors.
But maybe all that is irrelevant considering the whole point of this issue: the return of Krypto to current DC continuity. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable to predict that your enjoyment of this issue will depend on how much you appreciate the idea of Krypto. For my part, there’s a wonderful kind of purity attached to him that I find irresistible. His loyal companionship seems a perfect complement to Superman as the people’s hero.
If you don’t feel that way, maybe Sholly Fisch’s back-up will change your mind. Granted, you’ll be less touched by the idea that Krypto’s bond to Clark was imprinted rather than natural, but regardless of its origins, you can’t help being moved by the depth of that bond. It’s a little hard not to let my personal love for dogs get away with me in reading this stuff, but seeing Krypto as a phantom still following his beloved boy across the universe—it gets to me, as I imagine it may get to some of you. Brad Walker (along with inker Andrew Hennessy and colorist Jay David Ramos) draws Krypto’s affection very credibly, making his story that much more sentimental.
As for Foreman’s work on the main feature, I have to say it’s a kind of revelation. I thought I knew the limits of his talent from the work he did on Animal Man, but here he proves shockingly and delightfully adept at drawing Morrison’s imaginative vision of Superman’s world. Foreman’s sharp angles and sleek lines lend a great dynamism to the characters, and his sense of scale is quite awesome. Until I saw all the props he stuffed into the Fortress of Solitude, I had no idea of Foreman’s sense of detail. And the expression and body language he gives to Krypto are nothing short of adorable.
Conclusion: I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, but I suspect many won’t feel the same if they don’t love Krypto as much as I do. It’s safer to say this is a more middle-of-the-road issue, considering the hokier elements you have to work with here.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Not sure how I feel about Phantom Stranger getting trapped in the Phantom Zone. There’s irony in there somewhere, right?
– I wonder if Earth-based exorcism techniques would work on alien spirits?