SUPERMAN COMICS HAVE RESTORED THE SHINE IN ‘REBIRTH’
How do you make the most recognizable superhero in comic book history more enjoyable to read? Make the backstory even more complicated.
DC’s New 52 era was supposed to bring a new kind of Superman comics to a new generation of readers. And so it did. And despite a gruff response from long-time Superman comics fans, the New 52 Superman—one that resembled Harry Potter while in Clark Kent attire and spouted off sarcastic one-liners more likely to be written for Green Arrow than Superman—eventually grew on most DC fans. He was given a cleaned up backstory by Grant Morrison—one that saw the Kents die before Superman even made it to Metropolis, Lois Lane never playing a romantic role in Kal’s life, and the Daily Planet mattering very little in the overall arc of this “new” Superman.
Despite all that, there were many redeeming traits about the Kryptonian champion. He was equally reluctant to give up in the face of certain failure as previous incarnations. He was quick to jump to danger against foes that could defeat him (see “Superman Unchained”). And he looked death in the eyes and smiled with defiance on multiple occasions. In fact, he was standing on the precipice of becoming the Superman for the foreseeable future until one of those times death smiled back. And as a result, it was not meant to be.
Enter DC’s Rebirth era.
So how did DC turn Superman, maybe the character who suffered the most during the turbulent New 52 era, into one of the best characters to follow? By plucking the Superman from the pre-“Flashpoint” era out of the past and dropping him into a section of the multiverse he doesn’t belong to. Yes, that’s not exactly a streamlining of the complicated Kryptonian legend’s past. But it’s working.
“Superdad,” as he is affectionately referred to by message board enthusiasts, is a much more mature Superman than his New 52 counterpoint. He’s married to Lois Lane. He’s a father to the half-human, half-Kryptonian Johnathan Kent. And the John Byrne traits that signaled a massive turning point to Superman readers three decades ago are once again ringing true. His nobility blasts off the colorful pages of his comics. His sense of mortality by virtue of his famous “Death of Superman” story arc has returned. And the legendary and relentless pursuit for doing the right thing no matter what permeates through every panel. In short, this version of the character puts the “man” back in “Superman.”
So what makes Superman and Action Comics must reads of the DC Rebirth era? For starters, writers Peter Tomasi and Dan Jurgens just know this character and what makes him tick. While Action Comics has dropped Superman into an insanely epic battle with Doomsday right from the get-go it is doing the same thing that Tomasi is doing with Superman in his self-titled book—reestablishing the importance of Clark’s supporting cast. Without caring about Lois, Jon, Jimmy and quite frankly, innocent bystanders, Superman’s true colors can never be displayed and he’s left to be interpreted as just a boring hero who punches really hard and flies very fast. Now, with his supporting characters in harms way and even more importantly, being developed by skilled writers, the Superman comics world is expanding instead of contracting—the biggest indictment on the way the character was handled in the New 52 era.
So where will this all lead? Who knows? We’ve seen highs and lows with Superman comics going back to 1938. But one thing is for certain: we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. Because when we open up the pages of Action Comics or Superman now—It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No…it’s Superman.