Superman Last Son is a surprisingly rollicking good romp of superhero goodness and a pretty fun and memorable superman story to boot. And believe me, in the long publishing career of this character, there are surprisingly (that word again) few excellent, memorable comic epics involving the Man of Steel, making Last Son all the more special. Although not a perfect collection, (I'll get to that in a bit), this story is definitely worth owning if you're a) a Superman fan; b) a Superman the Movie or Richard Donner fan; c) looking to read a cool superhero story; d) you like collected comic multi-part epics where something meaningful happens in every single issue. If any or more of that list above is you, you should buy this collection.
Others have covered the plot of the story, so I won't go into too much of it here, but I wanted to focus on the aspects of storytelling and art that made this volume worthwhile for me. Story-wise, three things really jumped out at me. First, the plot. No pages are wasted here and no decompressed storytelling is apparent in any of these chapters. The story moves along at a brisk clip, has some surprising turns, (even Superman does some interesting things when he discovers Chris missing), and is most importantly, full of action! What's more, it's neatly and fully wrapped up at the end, which is rare in the modern comic industry. Second, the villains make the hero. Last Son involves Zod, and Johns and Donner are smart enough to recall the most impressive version of the character, namely the one created by Terrence Stamp, and in this volume, the character, together with his compatriots, Ursa and Non, form a perfect triumvirate of menace and destruction. Three, all the other characters, including Lois Lane, the supporting cast, and especially Superman, are well handled, three dimensional, and resonate with you as a reader. One sequence in particular which really epitomizes why Johns' and Donner's understanding of the characters, helps to make better, more compelling storytelling, is the Phantom Zone sequence involving Superman and Mon-el. In a heartbreaking scene in which Mon-el risks his life to save Superman, (who in some ways, has saved and condemned Mon-el all at once,) Superman must hurry to push Mon-el back into the Zone to ensure he doesn't die. Reflecting on Mon-el's fate and his own responsibility for Mon-el's misery in the zone, Superman can only say, "I'm sorry." The pain on his face is admirably captured by Kubert and the moment nicely encapsulates Superman's humanity and the tragedy of the situation the characters face.
It's surprising in reading some of the other reviews, how little fuss gets made of Adam Kubert's art in this series. I can try to imagine why. Although a veteran in the comics industry now, Adam Kubert always struck me in the earlier days of his career as the "more talented" of the Kubert brothers. At the start of his career, he appeared to have a better, stronger command of anatomy, seemed a stronger, clearer storyteller than Andy, his brother, and employed an art style that was slightly less exaggerated, and perhaps also less obviously influenced by the flavor of the times, particularly when both he and his brother were just coming into their own at Marvel in the early 90s. Of late though, his art style has become more expressive, more stylistic and loose than his previous work, while Andy's has remained consistent in style, but is now consistently stronger in all those other areas (anatomy and storytelling) where Adam seemed more comfortable.
The result of the evolution of Adam Kubert's art is a slightly exaggerated, more relaxed, and only occasionally cartoonish approach to Superman Last Son , but which nevertheless is highly detailed, visually dynamic and extremely accomplished in its staging. In fact, it's clear that Adam Kubert's very in control of his craft here, and is making very deliberate decisions about how he wants to present this story. It's also clear that he's been reading or spending quite a lot of time studying European graphic novels, whose approach to storytelling is visually more open and cinematic than North American pencillers generally tend to be. For instance, across the same two pages, he uses a combination of large, double page panels that emphasize the importance of the moment the writers are going for, with much smaller, very tight panels usually focused on a character or close-up, to evoke intensity. Alternatively, Kubert uses a full two pages with panel grids that go across both pages. In one funny sequence involving a conversation between a physically imposing Superman and fairly average, human, Lex Luther, the reader gets to enjoy the full range of both characters' reactions to each other. It's a conversation that is key to Luthor's character, who isn't the least bit intimidated by the Man of Steel, and Superman's reactions to the villain flow from indignant, defiant, to downright sympathetic (to Luthor's point of view) at times. As a reader, you could get the gist of the conversation even without the words.
All his choices work superbly in this volume, so that the story reads with a scope that is reminiscent of a summer blockbuster in the best sense. As someone else said, it's like the pages are a really good, very polished storyboard for a movie of the graphic novel. Although my ideal would be for the tighter, more conservative Adam Kubert anatomy of his early career, to be fused with his present cinematic approach to page layout, I still think readers will be delighted by the different feel and scope of the art in this volume. It's just a pity Kubert wasn't disciplined enough to get the art out in a more timely fashion, or to have stuck around on Superman for a little longer. To be sure, part of the negativity initially associated with this story is related to the delays he caused to finishing it, and so that may explain why some are reluctant to give him the kudos he deserves. It's an all round pity, because he could have had a more lasting influence if he stuck around, but his brief work here is memorable nonetheless.
My only complaint about this volume is the very silly, ill-advised gimmick on DC's part of including the 3D glasses as a cut out in the middle of the volume, and worst, actually having the part of the story taking place in the Zone rendered in a fuzzy, "3D" ready way. As it turns out, if you don't want to use the glasses, the art in a 5th of the book is basically indecipherable to you. This kind of gimmick is completely stupid. I can maybe understand offering a "3D" version of the story as a single issue when it originally came out, but surely DC should offer readers the option to buy a non "gimmicked" version and to see the regular art if they wanted. "3D" glasses in a hardcover edition makes no sense, and suggests to me this volume is for kids. I've therefore deducted one star for a boneheaded decision by DC.
Overall though, I think everyone who reads this volume will come away happy. Coupled with the dynamic, creative and cinematic art, the characters in the story seem like the versions most people know and remember, even if they aren't regular readers of the Man of Steel's adventures. And all elements of a strong, clear, brisk plot, a great trio of villains, and heroes who are likeable and lovingly handled, make for a great time reading.