When DC ceased publishing new Elseworlds stories in 2004 it seemed like a real crying shame. They had crafted some of the most interesting stories that comics had published in the 16 or so years that they had been releasing these hypothetical stories of major DC characters. What would happen if the Wayne Family had found baby Kal-El instead of the Kents? Superman: Speeding Bullets by J.M. DeMatteis and Eduardo Barretto answered that question. What if the Justice Society of America had been mere men of adventure who fought for the side of good during WWII? Tony Harris & Dan Jolley's JSA: The Liberty Files explored that very scenario. And perhaps one of the greatest comics of the last 20+ years, Kingdom Come bore the Elseworlds logo. But it was understandable when DC decided that they wanted to focus on telling the best stories they could in their established universe. Their decision to do so would birth a new wave of incredible stories all based in the DCU and kept the readers focus on what was going on with the major players in their own books and in their shared world instead of fracturing their attention off onto alternate realities.
2004 was not just the beginning of the hiatus for the Elseworlds imprint. It was also the beginning of such landmark mini-series as Identity Crisis & Green Lantern: Rebirth. The following year was a banner year for DC with the release of Countdown to Infinite Crisis they fired the second shot of what would be their coming salvo of incredible stories to come over the next 6 years and there is certainly no end in sight for the incredible stories that are ready to roll out from DC. But I guess the folks in charge over at DC have decided that it's time to open the gates to fun and interesting hypothetical stories, because tomorrow Elseworlds returns.
Carey Bates & Renato Arelm's Superman: The Last Family of Krypton is an absolute joy to read. There is something subtly perfect about a book like this during the summer. The hypothetical they approach is "What if Jor-El had managed to save himself and his wife from the tragic destruction of Krypton as well as their son Kal?". What follows is an interesting story of the kinds of decisions that all immigrants must make. "How do we raise our son? He will never truly know what it means to be a Kryptonian, he will never see the planet of his birth. He will know far more of his new home Earth. Do we allow him to partake of their customs? Do we impose upon him our lifestyles?" and add to that the concerns of parents who will be seen as heroes, saviors, and perhaps in some ways even gods: "How will we ever have time to properly raise our son with so much responsibility implicit in our powers not to mention our knowledge of advanced technology?". The book was just the kind of thing that I was looking to read.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that Carey Bates has been working in the comics and superhero genre since 1963 and has an incredible pedigree of work under his belt. He returned from a 15 year absence from the industry in 2008 with True Believers for Marvel and now is breathing new life into one of the most widely loved imprints of comics history. Bates has a bit of age to his writing style but it makes it feel distinguished rather than dated (think more Denny O'Neill than Chris Claremont),
Renato Arlem is a 15 year veteran of the industry having worked most recently on the Blackest Night resurrected title "Weird Western Tales #71". His art has a sense of realism to it and really works for this story. The colors by Allen Passalaqua are most reminiscent of recent colors utilized by Howard Chaykin, which has been controversial in many circles but is, in my opinion, used spectacularly here.
All in all the book has a few twists that you might not expect and introduces an interesting look at what kind of thought process it must take to be a superhuman in an almost entirely human world. It looks at the kind of responsibility that must be taken and the kind of gratitude that must be shown by individuals in order to not appear to be taking advantage or seem villainous. The book, as I said before, is just darn fun to read. And here's hoping that it's only the start of a resurgence of the Elseworlds imprint.