Superman: Kal-El Returns Special #1 is here and series regulars like Philip Kennedy Johnson and Tom Taylor let a whole squad of talented comic creators celebrate his return. This allows us to experience his return and reunion with those closest to him from new perspectives.
We’ve seen Dan Mora’s cover on several pages of DC’s comic releases in the last month teasing the release of this very book. He always draws the Man of Steel in a more jovial style rather than imposing like other great artists like Jorge Jimenez and Travis Moore. Superman in orbit around the Earth is iconic and Mora’s take embodies the planets motif as a beacon of light set amongst the darkness of space – similar to hope. The moon also has a nice, illuminated place in the background.
Mario Foccillo returns for another Superman event variant after his Warworld Special cover with this one depicting Superman, Supergirl, Lex Luthor, and the Fortress of Solitude shrunk in the foreground like a movie poster. Even after his big capes 90s variant from the last World’s Finest issue, Foccillo continues to crease and expand the ones he currently draws with the same level of detail and shading to a lesser degree. His take on the characters is like a fusion between Jim Lee and Ed McGuiness, especially with Kara and Luthor’s appearances.
The variant that Travis Moore did for Superman: Kal-El Returns Special #1 is something I wish was a cover for the Son of Kal-El series when Clark first returns, but it’s better late than never with this wholesome and warm variant. Moore’s rosy-red-cheeked Jonathan Kent has been featured on so many covers in the series and now we finally see him reuniting with his father. The background is plain here and all the focus is on them. The hair Moore draws always floats with how he texturizes it. You can also see how he almost photo-realistically depicts the father-son resemblance.
Dan Mora returns with the Spawn variant to commemorate the release of DC and Image’s collaboration with their two biggest heroes. It’s sure to be worth checking out, some of the best Batman creators worked on Spawn. Here, instead of Batman, Mora pairs the undead Spawn Al Simmons with Superman for a crossover of the ages. The Chrysler building in the background implies that they are in New York, Spawn’s home turf. While Batman doesn’t make an appearance here, he’s represented by the horde of bats bordering Spawn in the foreground and Superman floating in the background. Mora also gives Superman a little more edge here so he can compete with the undead hero. It’s always surreal to see officially licensed comic book art like this.
The best part about most of the stories in the Superman: Kal-El Returns Special #1 is that they connect in some way to an ongoing Superman series like World’s Finest, Son of Kal-El, and even Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths. Mark Waid, writer of the World’s Finest series, details the time when Clark returned and meet with Bruce for the first time since and their encounter with the Doom Patrol villain Mr. Nobody. Of course, the highlight of this story is their fight with this meta villain that has become a fan favorite since the show aired. Superman and Batman reunions typically go like this – Superman comes back and Batman admits that he always knew he would, and maybe, just maybe, he would admit he missed him. Sure it’s one page, but it speaks so many volumes.
Clayton Henry, who had also drawn an issue of World’s Finest, pencils this story with colors by Marcelo Maidlo for an overall laminated and modern take on Silver Age comic book heroics prevalent in the World’s Finest series by Waid. The struggle with Mr. Nobody as Batman and Superman try to figure out his unreality powers is packed with visual Easter Eggs that only the comic book medium could do. Meta villains are simply the best in this regard. Clayton’s faces are always expressive in dynamic zoom-ins and Maidlo’s colors add a uniquely smooth texture.
Sina Grace shows us a reunion between Superman and Jimmy Olsen, who we honestly have not been seeing much in any of the main series. This is a story of reflection about a world without Superman – not too different from our own with its parallels. It also has a theme of inspiration as Clark helps his friend find the picture of the year for his photojournalism assignment at The Planet. Grace truly shows us the day in the life of two coworkers – one just happens to be super-powered.
Artist Dean Haspiel and colorist Trish Mulvihill have the most unique illustrations in the book. It’s a goofy, cartoony style that Haspiel employs that makes it look like a comic from a MAD magazine. That’s a compliment, MAD magazine is endearing. Mulvihill’s coloring adds to the cartoon nature with pop art textures. While it all may look irreverent, the message and the story overall are anything but.
Marv Wolfman tells a story that could fit right into the page of Son of Kal-El, as Clark returns to his family life in a more detailed tale. While their reunion was already touched upon in the main series, Clark and Jon are seen here strategically taking on Lex Luthor in one of his usual schemes all while Clark tries to make up for lost time with Lois. Wolfman delightfully adds the family dynamic to super-heroing here as the new normal of new Supermen becomes realized with Clark’s return. If this is the new direction the Superman series will be taking after issue #1050, then I’m all for it.
Jack Herbert does what artists do best with Superman and uses Christopher Reeve’s face as a reference as is evident in some panels. All his faces often look photogenic and expressive in realistic ways. When it comes to comic book action, they all sequence nicely based on the choreographed action – which is something not too many comic creators do. Alex Guimarães’ colors add both near-real texture and cinematic lighting to most panels.
Alex Segura writes a beautifully reflective piece about home (also the title of the story) wherein Superman reunites with the Justice League. As he makes his way to the Hall of Justice, Clark reflects on how it’s one of his many homes and how homes can come with families. Naomi, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter are there to greet him and treat him to lunch as they reflect on the past, present, and future of the League. This story also leads into Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths.
This story would not have been possible without Fico Ossio’s art. Every page has at least one visual Easter Egg of some of the most iconic Justice League storylines, including the many Crisis events. Comic book covers and panels from decades past are recreated down to smaller details like the heroes’ costumes at the time. Even heroes that perished in said events are specifically mentioned. Naturally, the Death of Superman gets some Easter Eggs as well. Lee Loughridge adds the correct colors to all these references and gives this story a light palette in tone.
While it seems a little too late to celebrate Superman’s return home from Warworld considering that he has been back for a whole month – it’s never a bad time to assemble a great team of comic creators to tell stories celebrating Superman and the cast of Metropolis. That’s exactly what the Superman: Kal-El Returns Special #1 delivers on.