Superman: The Trial of Superman

Superman: The Trial of Superman
Alternative editions:
The Trial of Superman review
Alternative editions:
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Titan Books - 1-85286-856-2
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 1-5638-9331-2
  • Release date: 1997
  • UPC: 9781563893315
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Superhero

An earlier graphic novel, Exile, detailed how Superman left Earth after a period of being controlled by Brainiac, feeling he couldn’t trust himself not to endanger humans. His journey around the universe taught him several things, among them that he was unique among Kryptonians, his genetic structure altered to ensure he was the only one of his race not linked to the planet and so prevented from leaving it. It was an interesting little twist on Superman’s origin story, and seemingly of no further consequence. Except that there’s a group of extremely powerful beings who’ve set themselves up to judge crimes. They’re immensely long lived, and their code of justice allows for the prosecution of descendants for the perceived crimes of their ancestors. It was one of Superman’s ancestors who altered the Kryptonian genetic code in the first place.

As with other Superman graphic novels reprinting comics from the 1990s, the overall concept crosses through the work of four different creative teams, each given a relative amount of freedom within individual episodes. While this process had resulted in the astonishingly successful Death of Superman (in sales terms, at least), the most creative Superman graphic novels of the era allowed the writers the greatest freedom. This is one of them. The capture of Superman is only the opening point, a lot of ground is covered in the following episodes, and clever limitations are set ensuring that Superman is in situations where what he can do is severely restricted. Counterpointed with Superman’s exploits are the experiences of a squad of his friends assembled to track him down under the leadership of Alpha Centurion.

Ron Frenz (sample art left) and Keiron Dwyer (sample art right) are both new to the regular Superman teams and Frenz slots in well to the house style, pitched somewhere between the elegance of Stuart Immonen and the distortions of Jon Bogdanove. Dwyer’s not as successful, his pages very messy and the eye not necessarily drawn to the essential elements of a panel.

Some less than stellar art apart, the main problem with The Trial of Superman is that it’s predicated on the ludicrous logic of people being held responsible for the actions of their distant ancestors. It’s so daft that even Superman comments on the stupidity early on. Within the broad structure of that premise, though, there’s enough going on to render this an enjoyable Superman adventure.