Superman Returns- The Prequels: The Donner Movie Adaptation We Never Had

IMG_1201I’ll confess I’ve never been that big a fan of comic book movie adaptations. It always seemed kind of redundant to turn a movie based on a comic… back into a comic? And usually they’re an afterthought not really done by A-listers, anyway. For every Batman movie adaptation by Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway and José Luis Garcia Lopez, there are ten Thor or Green Lantern movie prequels. Souvenir magazines and “making of” books are alright if you love a movie, but I’ve never chased down a comic adaptation. Still, some really enjoy them.

The Christopher Reeve Superman movies of my childhood were pop culture phenomena and continue to have a special place in fan lore. Despite the legendary status of the first two, in particular, neither received comic adaptations upon their release or since. That is, until 2006.

(Note: an adaptation was done for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and a humorous, quasi-adaptation for Superman III, but nothing for the first two because of copyright issues)

An unexpected benefit of Superman Returns being a nod to Richard Donner was that its prequel comics- 4 in total- were also loving tributes to the Donner films, as well. Completely unbeknownst to me, the prequels for Superman Returns, released by DC in 2006, were the closest we have ever gotten to a comic adaptation of Superman: The Movie. I ran into a copy of Superman Returns: The Prequels at my local library recently and was pleasantly surprised when I read it.

 Part 1- “From Krypton to Earth”- is more or less a recap of the Jor-El and Lara scenes, the destruction of Krypton, the rocket launch, etc, from Superman: The Movie (which I am totally okay with!). The artist, Ariel Olivetti, is a sci-fi comic veteran who clearly enjoyed drawing crystals and glowing gowns. The art looked amazing and is the strongest issue of the four by far. I loved it!

The second chapter picks up where part 1 left off and is about Ma Kent. More Donner scenes are adapted in this issue, if a little more loosely, but still nicely. You can practically picture young Aaron Smolinski smiling at Glen Ford when he picks up his truck, drawn almost shot for shot from the original in the first few pages. Towards the end of this chapter we see Clark leaving the planet to go see if a new planet that appeared in the galaxy is truly Krypton, the explanation for his five year absence at the beginning of Returns. Here is where the book begins to turn more from being an adaptation of Donner toward setting up Returns, bridging some of the gap between the films.

 The last two chapters more or less continue filling in the blanks on what other characters- in this case Lex Luthor and Lois Lane- did after Superman II. A few Richard Donner scenes are included, most notably Superman breaking into Lex’s lair and flying with Lois for the first time. Most of the issues are setup for Superman Returns, and aren’t bad. There is some strong character work in both and are told in first person narrative, probably my preferred storytelling choice for a comic. Great stuff. The art is decent enough for the last few chapters of this series, as is the writing, although I think I liked Marc Andreyko’s scripts better than Palmiotti & Gray’s (issues 2 and 4 vs 1 and 3, respectively).

The only downside in this book is that the characters are not drawn with actors likenesses, which sometimes makes the book feel like a pretty standard Superman story. I’d be curious to know the explanation for that, as some of the Krypton scenes do look like the artist was working from some of the original actors’ faces, but really nowhere else.

Still, there is a grace and beauty about these stories that really are a result of tapping into the feeling of Superman ‘78. It’s amazing to me that over forty years after the movie’s premiere, fans like me are still encountering material from it and being blown away. I snatched up a cheap copy of this on eBay and can’t wait for it to arrive.

If you liked Superman Returns, you’ll probably like this book. If you liked the Richard Donner movies, I can promise you will LOVE things about this book. I certainly did.

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