Superman ‘78 starts with a dedication page to Richard Donner, which would feel better if the comic were better. But, instead, entire sequences are just lifted from… Superman: The Movie? I mean, there are a couple continuity-building nods to Superman II (Lois Lane likes Metropolis hot dogs, not just Niagara Falls ones). However, you’d think everyone would remember in II when Superman gets thrown through the Daily Planet, the exact same thing happened once before.
Maybe if the warning sign didn’t kick off immediately with writer Robert Venditti rewriting Marlon Brando and Susannah York’s death scene from the first movie? Poorly rewriting it. So as to introduce the big bad, Brainiac.
Well, to hint at him. There’s a little Brainiac at the beginning, and a bunch more Brainiac at the end—Venditti doesn’t have a heroic protagonist for the comic; he relies on artist Wilfredo Torres to make it feel like a Christopher Reeve Superman movie even though Torres isn’t a photo-realistic artist. Instead, Torres catches the expressions and body language of the actors’ performances, often saving scenes from Venditti’s undercooked dialogue. For example, there’s a Perry White scene-the exact same scene as in the second half of Superman 1—and thanks to Torres, you can actually imagine Jackie Cooper delivering the performance. It’s lovely.
Because Venditti doesn’t have any story for the issue, he’s got one long action sequence where Superman fights a Brainiac drone. It’s a decent enough fight scene, and Torres hits the right Movie notes—almost too much. There are a couple times Torres’s panels mimic what was special effects technology constraints of 1976, not the best possible Super-action. But then the comic is over. There’s a hint at Brainiac’s plan and a story a little bit too complicated for late seventies, early eighties audiences, and then cliffhanger.
Torres got Twitter famous for his beautiful takes on Superman: The Movie—he did one of those page a day things—but there’s no sense Venditti’s got any investment or even more than a superficial understanding of the original material. In other words, Superman sets up villains first—Zod, Luthor… Otis—also, there’s a cute but entirely pointless Otisburg reference, unless Torres can actually make Ned Beatty tagging believable. But the Brainiac villain setup is terrible here.
Is it really so hard to do a good Superman II?
Maybe—big maybe—Venditti will improve from here, but way to screw it up, DC. Neither readers nor the exuberant Torres deserve Venditti quarter-assing it. All you’ve got to do is beat Superman III and IV, which isn’t easy without Reeve, but at least try.