What’s Up With Superman?
Alright, confession time: though I’m the store’s resident comics aficionado and authority, I have to admit I’m not much of a Superman fan. As a young comic collector, I enjoyed reading Superman but always felt no matter what peril the writer put him through he was never in any real danger. I mean, though he isn’t the smartest superhero in the DC universe (I think Batman gets to claim that title), you never get the feeling or indication that he won’t be able to figure his way out of any dilemma. He’s predictable: Superman will always win. Always. I mean, what can’t he do? Superman is the strongest, toughest and (arguably) the fastest hero in the DC universe. And really? And there’s only one way to beat or kill Superman? Come on!
And yet I’m still drawn to Superman. Confused? So am I.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
Superman was first published April 18, 1938 in Action Comics #1, and until recently we have all enjoyed one Superman. Even though there’s a lot of continuity that might challenge the idea at times, for the most part Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent has been the same person since 1938. That all changed in 2011 when the entire DC Universe was given a hard reboot, and every hero in the DCU was re-imagined, redesigned and had their title(s) restarted at #1 under the “New 52” banner. The “New 52” was in reference to a couple things: the multiple 52-part limited series that had been running each year for the previous three years leading up to the reboot (with each year’s series finding a way to make the number 52 important to its core storyline); and the fact that with this reboot, DC committed to publishing fifty-two different monthly comic series.
Though not as radically re-envisioned as some heroes, Superman didn’t get through the “New 52” reboot unscathed: first off, the “New 52” Superman comics were de-aged–that is, DC abandoned the high numbering on the Action Comics and Superman books so the New 52 Superman books would start with an issue number one along with all the other “New 52” titles. Prior to the reboot, both the Action Comics and Superman books were still following their original numbering run, traced all the way back to 1938 and 1939 respectively. In the “New 52” universe, all the continuity from Superman’s previous seventy-three years of publishing was erased and no longer existed.
With this version, many changes were made. Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, has lost both his earthly parents before he gets a job as a reporter in Metropolis — meaning Superman doesn’t have the elderly Kents as his moral compass for how he views the world. And though in the pre-“New 52” continuity Clark had married Lois Lane, the “New 52” Clark Kent is a bachelor again, with Lois working as a rival journalist (dating another man no less!). Most tellingly, the “New 52” Superman was not the boy scout he was before the reboot: his outlook reflected more of the cynicism and distrust of society that we all harbour.
I can hear some of you saying it already: “So you mean from 2011-2016, for approximately 52 issues, I have been reading about a different Superman?”
Yup! Crazy, right?
Ok, so four years after the “New 52” reboot, DC comics decides to consolidate the physical head office of their comics division with the physical office of their entertainment (T.V. and movies) division from Manhattan Island, New York to Burbank, California. During the move, all comic titles were put on hold and some stand-in titles were printed instead and presented as DC’s two-month, Spring 2015 event called “Convergence.” The event basically produced forty new titles, each being a two-issue miniseries. One of the titles was called “Superman: Lois and Clark,” with art by Lee Weeks (you should check it out, it’s pretty good!); that title breaks ranks with the “New 52” Superman canon: Lois and Clark are not only a couple but they have a son too. At the conclusion of the “Convergence” event, we find out that Lois, Clark and their son Jon are now living on a newly formed earth with all the other heroes …including the “New 52” Superman.
Because of the duality, “Old” (Lois & Clark) Superman and his family live in hiding while they try to figure out what is going on. Then the unthinkable happens. “New 52” Superman, absorbs too much energy –or something really close to that– and …DIES. Oh, and in this rebooted “New 52” universe, there is no longer that Kryptonian trait that imbues a resurrection power in Superman (this resurrection …thingy is what was originally used to bring back Superman after that time in the 90s when Doomsday killed him), meaning that the “New 52” Supes is dead dead DEAD.
This leaves the Lois & Clark series, “Old” Superman as the only Superman on earth. So just like that, mere months after Convergence, DC returned to us the ORIGINAL Superman we all grew up with and knew and loved–well…not necessarily loved, but this storyline did a lot to endear Superman to DC’s readership who had tired of him. Not only have I (and many readers) been enjoying these stories, but the art in both Action Comics and Superman has been backing up the titles well. I give the last six months of Superman: 4 out of 5 stars. Seriously. And this, coming from the guy who started all of this off by saying he wasn’t the biggest Superman fan.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
I’m assuming that if you’ve made it this far, you care enough about comics to be vaguely aware of DC’s “Rebirth” event going on this summer and early fall. If you’re not familiar with the changes at DC, suffice it to say they’ve come up with a plot line that lets them bring the sensibilities of the pre-New 52 heroes back into their current books without having to resort to rebooting the universe and replacing all their heroes once more with updated versions of themselves. This is a permanent change at DC (not just a summer event); it’s a good thing, and it’s been really enjoyable so far!
We’re now in the second month since the Action Comics and Superman titles have had their Rebirth issues. Not only do we have our old Superman back, but Action Comics also has its old numbering back too. The Action Comics Rebirth issue didn’t enter the market as a new number one; no, it resumed its old numbering and arrived as Action Comics #957! It’s been de-de-aged! That aside, the ongoing story has spawned another unexpected story and monthly title to explore it: the Chinese have decided that they need a Superman!
Introducing: the New Super-man! As described by DC Comics, “An impulsive act of heroism thrusts an arrogant young man into the limelight of Shanghai as China begins to form its own Justice League of powerful heroes. Rising from the ashes of The Final Days of Superman, award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and on-the-rise art star Viktor Bogdanovic introduce readers to Kong Kenan—the New Super-Man! When the world needed a new hero, China made him!”
The title may sound like a bit of a stretch, and yet initial reviews have been good …and more telling, DC was sold out of all its copies before the comic’s official street date. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this book.
And DC isn’t done yet! Soon we’ll have Clark and Lois’s son, Jon, becoming Superboy; and someone (Lois??) becomes a new Superwoman following a little later. (And where is Supergirl?) That’s a lot of Superman titles! Normally, I’m skeptical about so many offshoot books all living under the same brand maintaining their quality; but with all of these story lines following on tracks laid down by that great “Superman: Lois and Clark” series, I actually can’t wait to see what happens!
At the very least, the “Old” Superman is new again. Even if he ends up still being the strongest, toughest and (possibly) the fastest hero–though not be the smartest (Batman?)–hero that DC has, for the first time I think we’re getting Superman stories about more the MAN and less the Super in his title, that the outcomes won’t be utterly predictable and that nothing with the current Superman is set in stone.
– Jim out