Yeah, I know, I normally talk about indie comics, but when one of your favorite DC authors drops a brand new #1 for one of the most popular superheroes of all time, well, you feel the need to address it.
Superman is a…complicated character. He was the first real superhero in many, many ways. I don’t have time to go into all the details, but without Superman the comic book world as we know it would look very, very different.
Since his creation, Superman’s popularity has waxed and waned a good deal. While Superman had the first live action TV series with Adventures of Superman in the 1950s, and the first collection of animated cartoons with the 1940s film series helmed by Max Fleischer, it would not be until the end of the 1970s before he would get a real chance to shine on the big screen. While Superman and Superman II were both fantastic and groundbreaking films, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman quickly became the gold standard for superhero films in the eyes of many, and Batman would quickly eclipse Superman as DC’s golden child.
But we’re not here to talk about movies and TV, we’re here to talk about comics, where poor Superman has really been put through the wringer recently.
See, there’s this ongoing narrative in the minds of many members of the public that Superman “isn’t relatable.” They look at someone like Superman and think that no one with that much power would a) be threatened by anything or anyone, and b) wouldn’t go nuts with that level of power.
I mean, arguably Superman is incredibly popular right now, but only in a deranged, cracked mirror form. Characters like Omniman, Homelander, and even Superman himself from the Injustice series are all popular, and all of them morph the hero narrative to make Superman a much darker and more twisted figure. With Mark Waid’s Irredeemable book slated to get adapted as well, and new seasons of The Boys and Invincible already green lit, it seems like there is no dearth of corrupted Superman pastiches in our future.
But what about the man himself? Following the New 52, Superman underwent a variety of changes. No longer with Lois Lane, Superman instead started a, I’m just going to say it, really awkward relationship with Wonder Woman. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people who loved that story, but to me it just felt lazy. They’re both super powerful, of course, they want to be with each other. Frank Miller does it all the time with them, and it feel super icky when he does.
See, this get’s back to that core issue that a lot of people seem to have with understanding what makes Superman tick. Why would he be with Lois when he could be with Wonder Woman? Why would he want to be with a mere human when he could be with a goddess? She’s a powerful girl; he’s a powerful man, so they belong together.
The result? Name one significant story the two of them had together? I’ll wait. Yeah, I can’t think of one either. It was lazy, and the results were pointless.
So pointless that DC quickly moved heaven and Earth to wipe all of it away with DC Rebirth, which story twisted things up to figure out a way to get the Superman we all love back to prominence. Through multiverse trickery and fifth dimensional imp meddling, not only was the original, married-to- Lois, Superman restored, but also his New 52 doppelganger was eliminated/ absorbed/ rewritten.
Yeah, comics are weird.
What wasn’t weird was the series that followed. In both Action Comics and Superman, there was a consistent new thread that worked, and I mean really worked. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would go on to write what I consider to be the definitive modern Superman. This Superman was powerful, kind, brilliant, and loving. His weakness was his dedication and his need to care for his son. Seeing him struggle to raise his son and trying to help him navigate his emerging powers gave the book a heart it had been missing for a long, long time.
Read the run where Superman has to fight Manchester Black for the soul of Jon and you’ll see what I mean when I say that this Superman run finally got it right.
And then, well…
I’ve mentioned before how much I loathe everything Brian Michael Bendis did on Superman, from the ridiculous retcon of Rogal Zara to the marriage chaos when we just got them back together, to the secret identity insanity, and, of course, to the complete destruction of the core of what I loved about Superman, the aging up of Jon Kent.
After Bendis took over, I dropped all Superman related titles. Even after he left the book, I could not bring myself to give it a read. I had been hurt too much and couldn’t trust it. Plus, after reading Future State, I wasn’t really interested in the adventure of older Jon. Not saying he’s a poorly written or bad character, but it just didn’t appeal to me.
And then I saw that Superman was coming back, with a very soft reboot from one of my favourite comic book authors ever, Joshua Williamson. Williamson wrote what I consider to be the definitive modern Barry Allen Flash book, and so if anyone could get Superman back on track it was him.
So I sucked it up, snagged issue 1, and now I’m here to tell you all about it.
Is it good? Is it trash? Let’s dig in together and find out.
Full disclosure, I have not read a Superman comic since Bendis took over, so I went into this book fairly cold, but it is a new #1, and those should be accessible to new readers and people up to date as well, so if you want to give me grief for missing things, well, you’re welcome to sound off in the comments.
Here’s the blurb: IT’S THE DAWN OF DC! Superman has returned to Metropolis and his greatest enemy Lex Luthor is finally behind bars. The future of the Superman family has never been brighter! As Clark Kent settles back into his life, iconic and new enemies erupt from the shadows to strike down the Man of Steel! But waiting in the wings to back up Big Blue is…Supercorp?! What secret project has Lex given to Superman?! “A hero is only as good as their villains” will be put to the test in this brand-new oversize #1 featuring comics’ greatest superhero by DC Comics architect Joshua Williamson and award-winning superstar artist Jamal Campbell!
Issue #1 opens with a fight, Superman vs. Livewire. It’s pretty typical superhero fare, with one noticeable twist: throughout the fight there are these word balloons encouraging Superman to use extreme brutality to take her down.
We quickly discover that these words are being spoken by Lex Luthor, who is currently locked up in prison. Because Superman trained his ears to always hear Luthor’s voice, he’s able to listen to his advice, even if he completely ignores it.
We then cut to the Daily Planet, where Lois Lane has been made editor in the wake of Perry White taking some time off. She’s holding up to the pressure, but also going a bit nuts with having to reign herself in to be this figure that everyone needs her to be. It’s a nice parallel to Superman’s daily plight and I hope they do more with this moving forward.
After a bit of rooftop romance, Superman has to leave Lois and Jimmy to see what’s going on at the former headquarters of Lexcorp, where the once prominent L shaped skyscraper has been given a Superman-eques make-over, leading to the revelation that Luthor has left his entire corporation to Superman to help him fight the good fight and prepare for some dark, creeping evil that Luthor believes is coming. Superman rejects this offer, but after a run in with the Parasite, it seems like Supes is going to have to accept Luthor’s offer if he wants to protect the world.
There is a lot to love here. First, Lex Luthor has always seen himself as the hero of his own story, and honestly, the best Luthor stories are the ones where writers remember this. Lex Luthor is not The Joker. He wants, in many ways, the same things that Superman does, he just wants to be the one to deliver it to the people. Luthor believes that his methods are the best methods, and has no qualms about how he achieves his ends. And that works well here.
Lex Luthor is still a bastard, but he’s a bastard that is making a good point, and it will be hard for Superman to ignore that.
I also love that we’re bringing Lois and Clark back in closer. A big part of what made Williamson’s run on The Flash work for me was his ability to balance the superhero life of the character with the personal life of Barry Allen. We need that human core to Clark to give us a real sense of stakes, and we’re seeing the groundwork for that being laid already. Plus I just like seeing Lois and Clark supporting each other and loving each other.
HAPPY MARRIAGES CAN STILL LEAD TO COMPELLING STORYTELLING DC! PAY ATTENTION!
(Yes, I’m still bitter about Batman/ Catwoman. Deal with it).
The status quo shift is also really interesting. We’ve seen Luthor play at being Superman before, with mixed results. Seeing Superman play at being Luthor though, that’s new and interesting and I really hope to see them run with it. There is so much potential here for not only fresh storytelling, but also for some solid interpersonal conflict. How will Clark’s friends and family respond if he starts running Lexcorp? There is a lot of potential here and I am excited to see where it goes.
Superman is supposed to be the centerpiece of James Gunn’s new DC movie universe, so it makes sense that there are fresh eyes on the character. Seeing that this time DC has entrusted him to Joshua Williamson is good first step in my opinion, and this first issue fills me with what Superman should, hope!
If you have been away from the Man of Steel for a while, check this issue out. Maybe if we help send the message to DC that there is more in life that Batman, we might just start seeing some better books being published!
Until next time, Stay Safe!