Friday, June 16, 2017

Superman: Son of Superman (comic)

Writer: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Artists: Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jorge Jimenez
Collects: Superman Rebirth #1, Superman (2016) #1-6

Of the trinity, Superman fared the worst in the New 52. The side books were a wash, but Batman itself was in the midst of another blockbuster run. Wonder Woman was divisive the whole way through, but even if they didn't like the tone or direction of the Azzarello run, most seem like they'll at least admit it was well put together. Superman had a year and a half with Grant Morrison on Action Comics and that was it. Nothing else really measured up*.

Worse still, for a majority of the time, the New 52 version did not really feel like Superman. It was like DC consciously decided to take a different tack with him. In some regards, it worked - Morrisons run starts off with a Superman that is more moral crusader for justice, both social and societal - but in others, it felt like we'd diverged too much from what made the character work to begin with. There's a real feeling, both in and out of his books, that the New 52 is a lot more concerned with his alien origins and feeling like an outsider than he typically is. It's the entire reason he hooks up with Wonder Woman - they both feel alone on an alien world, literal and metaphorical - which is just one part of why that felt like an awful idea from the moment they kissed. I feel like they realized they screwed up and were correcting course by the end, but it came late in the game.

I mean, I'd rather deal with that version than something closer to the Superman from the Zack Snyder films, for example, but it still feels like they missed the point of the character.

That's why the Rebirth Superman title was the one I anticipated reading the most. Just prior to Rebirth, the New 52 version died - if I'm being brutally honest, he died because he was a moron - and the classic version of Superman stepped in to take his place. With him came his wife, Lois Lane, and young son Jonathan Kent. Superman the family man is a status quo that just sounds right the first time you hear it, so the idea naturally agreed with me.

We start off with the Rebirth special, which is admittedly a mis-step. It's entirely about dealing with the fallout of the New 52 versions death and coming to terms with it. It does address an elephant in the room; Superman died once before, so of course he'd think the New 52 version could come back and would go looking for the same means he used to do it. It doesn't change the fact that we're leading off a new era dealing directly with the one we just left behind, one a reader coming back after an absence probably doesn't want to deal with anymore anyway. I know new readers are also mystical unicorns, but part of the reason why is we always see stuff like this, where before you recommend something you have to give a disclaimer or primer because of things that are, to a non comic reader, confusing stereotypical comic junk. That stuffs fine when you're deep in the numbers, but why would you ever lead off with it?

It should have been about a light recap of the life and times of the new-old Superman that glossed over some of the "from a parallel universe" stuff. Unfortunately, that's not what we got, so here we are. Admittedly, there's something sweet about Superman teaming with Lana Lang to retrieve his counterparts remains, then, upon realizing there's no bringing him back, burying him with his parents and carving a memorial to him in the Fortress of Solitude.

After that, we reach the first arc of the series, Son of Superman, and it's off at the races. Much like Tomasi and Gleasons Batman & Robin, this book is very much about the relationship between father and son. Jons powers are only just starting to manifest and he doesn't necessarily know how to control or properly use them. His start is a bit like his fathers in that regard. But unlike Clarks upbringing, he has the benefit of a father who has been through this before and is patient and understanding in dealing with it.

Which is not to say that Lois is a background character. She's just as important to the dynamic and brings her usual headstrong attitude to things. When things start going down, she even manages to get her licks in on the villain in a way I won't spoil, but calls back to the aforementioned Batman & Robin run.

Eventually, the Eradicator shows up. In case you're unfamiliar with him, he was one of the replacement Supermen in the 90's**, during the brief period after Death of Superman where the hole needed to be filled. Essentially a cyborg who thought he actually was Superman for a brief time, he stuck around in one form or another after that. This is a new version, whose history starts as a part of a small force that traps Kryptonian lawbreakers for General Zod. Now, having witnessed the death of Krypton and finding a living Kryptonian, his goal is the rebirth of the race. Unfortunately, he's none too fond of Jons human half and wants to wipe it out.

Naturally, Superman tells him to go screw and the fight begins.

Son of Superman is a fun start for the Rebirth era. We get to see both halves of Supermans life, the domestic and the heroic, how they intersect and how they're all a big part of his life. But we also get to see some scenes that are just downright cool. When the action spills into Metropolis and threatens to put innocent lives in danger, Superman retreats with his family to the friggin Moon, where the climax of the book takes place. Turns out Batman has a special cave there, because Batman, which comes in handy. It all leads to a page that feels like a classic Superman shot, where he rights the American flag and lunar module we left on the Moon and strikes a heroic pose for the cameras to see, to reassure the world that Superman is back and he's there to stay.

The book is full of bright Superman imagery. The way he's drawn by Patrick Gleason, he often comes off as a fatherly presence, larger than life without feeling out of reach. He smiles, shoots his son thumbs up, takes time out to receive keys to the city and proudly introduces his son to his colleagues in superheroics. It's hard to articulate the difference, but it comes down to the way the character carries himself compared to the one he's replaced. The body language feels as important in making him feel like the old school Superman as the dialogue and any of his actions.

There's a bit of fill-in art, unfortunately, but it's not too bad. Jorge Jimenez fits in well enough that I actually didn't even know what he'd drawn until I looked through the credits before writing this review. Doug Mahnke is the one that sticks out. He pencils the Rebirth issue - which is fine, as it's separate - as well as an issue late in the book. Doug Mahnke is a great artist, but his work is just different enough from Gleasons expressive, clean style that you'll notice the issue he illustrated. It's not helped by the fact that Mahnkes issue also uses a different inker and colorist; had he used Mick Gray and John Kalisz I imagine it would have helped smooth over the edges. But I don't know if that decision was in his hands or not. Regardless, Mahnke's a top flight talent and ably handles the material he's given.

Only a few things stuck out to me as a negative. The Rebirth issue being a sort of coda to the New 52 version being one, as I previously mentioned. Another is Supermans prickliness toward his new neighbor. Granted, Cobb kind of brushed off Clarks insistence that they had it under control, but it felt off to see Superman give him a stern look while he repeated himself. Perhaps he knows something we don't? I assume it will be addressed. Tomasi and Gleason seem to be setting Cobb and his granddaughter as recurring characters.

We also didn't need to see Jon accidentally fry the family cat in panic as he tries to save it from a hawk. It's appropriately heartbreaking, because of course the poor kid didn't mean to do it, much less understand how to even use this brand new power he's never had before, and ends up showing how supportive his family is, so it has its use. Superman knows immediately, but doesn't let on as such, instead taking his son with him on a distress call, using it as a teachable moment, helping Jon get control of his heat vision and gently encouraging his son to do the right thing and come clean. That said, did we really need to do that to get to this point? It's the one moment that felt a little bit too much like the kind of dumb, dark moments you'd get in that ugly post-Infinite Crisis period, but it doesn't hurt the book much and probably won't bother anyone else as much as it did me.

It could just be that I'm a cat person. Who knows.

Overall, Superman starts the Rebirth era off strong with the best material I've seen with the character in years. It's good enough that I'm optimistic about the future of the book. I'd go so far as to say it's the best of the Rebirth roll-out that I've read so far. Highly recommended.

My Opinion: Read It

* I say this as I have, at the time of this writing, not read Superman Unchained, which seems like the only thing left to try with a shot at being good to great.

** Eradicator isn't even the only callback to the 90's in here. I didn't expect to ever see Bibbo Bibowski again, but here we are. It's a nice surprise. Superman should have a recognizable fan or two we see from time to time.


  1. The Rebirth special didn't bother me as much, and I say that as someone returning to Superman completely cold -- I don't think I've read a Superman comic published since the first New 52 trade by Grant Morrison. If not for that issue I probably would have been confused about what happened to the New 52 Superman (especially having recently seen that he was killed in the DC Universe: Rebirth special, and knowing that dead superheroes tend not to stay dead for long. Having that explanation for why he couldn't come back was helpful).

    Totally agreed on the appeal of the family dynamic, as well as on the unnecessarily gratuitous cat-killing. I can't help but think that this never would have flown with readers (or editors) had it been a dog in the cat's place. But maybe that's my own inner cat person talking.

  2. I did appreciate the elephant in the room being addressed, because it would be weird if the One True Superman didn't think his counterpart could come back. But I feel like it should have been done elsewhere. Sometimes I think we kind of take it for granted that anyone who might read this stuff are current or lapsed readers. I guess I just feel like an initiative like this, a "Rebirth" that's setting the stage for the future with a bunch of preceding one shots, should be using them to set the stage or give a good, basic primer on who the hero is, how they came to be and where they're going.

    Cat or dog, I'm surprised it went through regardless. Pet violence seems like kind of a taboo no-no. Krypto's like the only exception, because he's a super-dog. It provokes a visceral reaction in most of us. I feel like that might have been the point in doing it here, to get that reaction, but I also would rather they just didn't do it. But eh. The book was so strong otherwise it was like a speedbump.

  3. Now that I think of it, wasn't there a whole traumatic sequence where it seemed like the Eradicator had killed Krypto? They were all broken up over that, but where was that same outrage when Jon barbecued the cat? The bigger issue there was that Jon had lied about it, not that the cat was dead. The only explanation is that they're cat-haters, one and all.

  4. Hahahaha. Maybe!

    I know you're making a joke, but I did actually check, since I have the volume in front of me, as I haven't returned it just yet. It's about the same emotional response. Jon is broken up and cries holding Krypto's cape and Superman resumes the battle, but there aren't any big proclamations or super emotional outbursts. The fight just kind of presses on and no one really comments directly on it, aside from Jon's obvious emotion.