And if I'm making this issue sound like an exercise, I'm misrepresenting. This is no diagram masquerading as a tale, it's a love letter to Superman by writer Cary Bates. Having not scripted the character for decades, he's come back to comics and put together one of the most satisfying stories I've ever read.
The Elseworlds tag bestows certain freedoms on a writer - knowing there'll never be an issue #4, Bates can do whatever he wishes - but when every avenue is there before you, which ones do you go down? Which paths add up to the most satisfying destination for characters, and readers?
Well, the place we wind up here feels pretty perfect to me. The extended El family comes alive, with believable attitudes and relationships - from Valora's desire to be 'normal' to Jor-El's benevolent God complex, it's all rang wonderfully true for three issues. This time there's amusing business involving hair gel, clever contrasts between the way Kal-El and his father use their intelligence and typical pot-stirring by gossip goddess Cat Grant. Where certain classic Superman plot beats are visited, it's never in predictable ways.
And the conclusion, while not without its sadnesses, had me grinning broadly. This may not be Superman canon (this week, anyway) but it's a perfect piece of the Superman Legend, a story that deserves to be remembered alongside such classic Imaginary Tales as the Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Bates' creative partners also deserve huge praise, for bringing his story to pulsating life. Felipe Massafera provides his best cover yet, succinctly portraying the characters' emotions. Inside, Renato Arlem's imagining of the El family is masterful, with everyone looking related while not identikit. Science and the natural world are equally important in this story, and Arlem - aided by the gorgeously appropriate colours of Allen Passalaqua and the vital lettering of Pat Brosseau - depicts them with style.
I especially enjoyed their take on the Guardians of the Universe, who show up to add their usual hypocritical two-pennorth as regards Jor-El's earth-saving ambitions. Though, as it turns out, they have more of a demonstrable point here than in a similar scene in the well-remembered Seventies story penned by Bates' colleague, Elliot S Maggin, Must There Be a Superman? (Superman 1st series, #247).
What that is, I hope you'll discover for yourself, either now, or when DC collects these three issues into an elegant trade paperback. I'd love to see the collections department make an exception to their usual rule and rush this out in time for the Holidays - it would make the perfect Christmas gift for Superman fans.
I suspect I'll be re-reading the story before then, though - simply put, Cary Bates and co, in an Elseworlds tale, have given us the truest Superman in years.