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Review Brew: Dark Horse/DC Comics Superman TPB

Lest you lament that it’s been well over a decade since the last DC/Marvel crossover, you might do well to remember that DC used to team up with other companies on a regular basis as well. Throughout much of the 1990s, DC and Dark Horse probably did enough joint publications to rival the number done between DC and Marvel. Even better, while the Marvel crossovers could only draw from one franchise–the Marvel Universe–Dark Horse’s multiple licenses opened the DC Universe to major media franchises like Aliens, Predator, Terminator, and others.

Already we’ve gotten one collection–DC/Dark Horse: Aliens–which collected some of the fights between DC’s heroes and the Xenomorphs. That collection had a notable absence of the two Superman/Aliens crossovers, as well as the multiple Predator crossovers which, honestly, are now joined to Aliens at the hip. Anyway, here they are. If you think the absence of the Superman/Aliens fights are a glaring omission, this collection covers it. The downside is that the Superman collection loses some coherence, as the other half of the collection includes the Madman and Tarzan crossovers. If you’re here for Superman, you’ll get him; if you’re here for Xenomorphs, you’ll only get so much.

The collection does make for a fascinating journey into the 1990s, however, and all the weird zeitgeist associated with it. The original Superman/Aliens crossover is a very Dan Jurgens-ish story set in the thick of the era, with Superman having a mullet and still developing a post-Crisis mythology that can’t let go of it’s pre-Crisis origins. Superman is present when a mysterious alien satellite crashes to Earth that’s transmitting a Kryptonian distress signal, and learns that a city floating out in space needs help from…something. (Gee, I wonder.) In deep space, he finds a mysterious Krypton-like city called “Argo” where a young girl named “Kara” is fighting off the Xenomorphs. In an era where a traditional Supergirl was still absent, Jurgens managed to tug at the heartstrings of a fandom that wondered whether Superman’s cousin was going to be reintroduced in an Aliens crossover.

Superman/Aliens was weirdly Jurgens at his best even when he was hampered by his own bad habits. It’s a surprisingly dark story (it helps that Jurgens is inked by Kevin Nowlan) written for one of DC’s lightest characters, as the cheerfully optimistic Superman is trapped in an environment very evocative of the original Alien films. Superman is vulnerable in this story, deprived of sunlight, so the tension becomes as palapble as it is silly. Still, there’s the usual Jurgens clunkiness: the Earthbound villainness who wants to harvest the Xenomorphs is just a little too on the nose in her evil, and the notion that Superman runs out of juice as soon as he leaves Earth is just silly. The storytelling tension is best exemplified by Superman’s “no killing” policy–even with Xenomorphs–based in response to a regrettable story from the late 80s where Superman executed some villains. The story is as believable as it is silly; a pacifistic Superman makes sense, but the reader can’t help but be annoyed at the prospect of trying to tame hundreds of monsters.

In comparison, Superman/Aliens II: God War really comes down to a giant slobberknocker written by Chuck Dixon. Superman’s pacifism isn’t quite set aside, but it’s not the massive handicap it was in the first story, either. God War puts Superman on New Genesis at a point where Darkseid just happens to stumble across a Xenomorph ship and discover that they can be weaponized against the New Gods. Unfortunately, Dixon doesn’t make the best use of the Xenomorphs here, even as Jon Bogdanove’s art makes for a livelier story. Granted, the Aliens are often used as a cipher villain–the big dumb threat–but it’s exacerbated here where the Aliens don’t do much other than invade New Genesis en masseGod War is really a Superman/Darkseid/New Gods story that just happens to make use of the Xenomorphs as the plot point. It’s not bad, but not nearly as invocative of the Xenomorphs’ mythos as the prior crossover.

Then we get to the oddities of the collection. The Superman/Madman Hulabaloo is, well, a very 1990s chunk of the book, showcasing a crossover between the Man of Steel and Mike Allred’s on-again, off-again original creation which he hasn’t touched lately. Madman defies description, except to say that Allred’s writing is as goofy and unique and delightful as is his art. This story’s a treat, but it’s also badly juxtaposed against the Aliens crossovers that come just pages before it. Again, it’s a shame that DC and Dark Horse couldn’t do a better job sorting their various DC/Alien/Predator stories into a few collections and saving the sillier stuff for elsewhere.

That leaves the final oddity: the Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle crossover from 2001 by Chuck Dixon and Carlos Meglia. Whereas the prior three stories were all essentially “in continuity” for 1990s Superman, the Tarzan crossover is an “Elseworld” set in an alternate timeline where Kal-El’s rocket landed in Africa, leaving him to be raised by apes instead of Lord Greystoke. In essence, Superman becomes Tarzan and Tarzan becomes a wealthy British man with no purpose. It’s interesting in concept if painfully unoriginal (an early 90s Superman Annual covered the same concept with a bit more Jungle Book in the execution). Worse, Meglia’s artwork is the most unorthodox in the entire book, resembling a distorted version of Humberto Ramos’, if that’s possible. Finally, the mashup concept just doesn’t quite work here–the story feels inorganic, with too many Superman and Tarzan characters inserted out of necessity rather than as a natural development of the story.

None of this is to say that this overall Superman product is bad; it’s just incredibly eclectic as a whole. Aliens has nothing to do with Madman which has nothing to do with an alt-version of Tarzan. Superman is the unifying factor here, but that’s all he does. The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a weird composite of 1990s Superman products, then that’s what you get. But if you’re looking for an Aliens or Madman or Tarzan product alone, then you’re saddled with the other titles which may or may not be for you as well.

Rating: Two and a half out of five stars.

About Adam Frey (372 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.
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