By Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & John Kalisz
When was the last really strong Superman run? For me, it was several years ago when Kurt Busiek was writing the title. One of the stronger elements of Busiek’s run was his decision to give Lois and Clark a Kryptonian child named Christopher. It created an intriguing family dynamic which added to the characters. I have long been in favor of the Lois and Clark marriage, feeling that it does much to ground Superman in a relatable environment. The addition of Chris built on this.
Or at least it did until Chris was shuffled off the page with the conclusion of Busiek’s run and a couple years later DC retconned Lois and Clark’s marriage out of existence. It is back now, thanks to the magic of the multiverse, as another Earth’s Superman prepares to take the place of the one who recently died. Normally this might simply make me raise an eyebrow, but then DC announced that the team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason would be tackling Superman as part of DC’s Rebirth initiative. Previously, they had chronicled the four-color father/son dynamics of Bruce and Damian Wayne. Their Batman & Robin was one of the brightest books of the New 52 until the death of Damian took away its purpose and it devolved into a rather angsty version of The Brave and the Bold. Still, if Tomasi and Gleason could recreate that magic in Superman, they could once again be responsible for one of DC’s best superhero series. The first issue does not quite hit all the right notes, but it does have plenty of strengths.
For starters, it is a vast improvement over Tomasi’s disappointing Superman Rebirth one-shot from two weeks ago. As with some of the other debut’s, it seemed much more concerned with tidying up old loose threads than spinning any news ones. No, readers did not need a rehashing of Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen. The bigger problem, however, was that the issue offered little of what DC promised: a series centered on the Kent family. In fact, Lois and young Jonathan do not even appear. Tomasi corrects this error with an issue focused squarely on the Kents.
There is a brief prologue of Superman reflecting on the death of the previous Last Son of Krypton. He takes this moment to bid farewell to his “brother”, while promising his legacy will endure. “The colors will fly,” he declares as Gleason dramatically recreates one of the most iconic motifs in comics: Superman pulling back his clothes to reveal the S-shield on his chest. It is a poignant moment, wherein the power rests in its simplicity.
From there the narrative shifts to the Kents’ homestead. Lightning has struck, frightening Jonathan awake. Soon, though, calm returns as he watches his father rescue the animals from a burning barn. A smile spreads across his face along with a sense of security. His father is Superman, what could go wrong?
Unfortunately, Jonathan is still gaining a handle on his own powers. His father has Jon promise not to use his abilities without him, his father, present. Yet, one afternoon, Jon sees an animal attack another. He wants to help, but cannot check his heat-vision. Both prey and predator are instantly charred beyond recognition. Jon is overwhelmed with guilt, especially as a girl from a neighboring farm witnessed the episode. At this moment, the tone of the series takes an interesting shift. The early pages suggested that Tomasi was harkening back to a lighter feel for the Kents, one built around the daily give and take of family life. The second half however, gives readers a brooding Jonathan more reminiscent of Damian. Indeed, an argument between father and son feels as though it could have been lifted more or less out of Batman & Robin. Parenting is difficult and there are going to be plenty of tough moments. Yet, Tomasi needs to keep an eye on what makes Clark and Jonathan distinct from Bruce and Damian. As long as Tomasi can keep the tones balanced, so that Superman does not feel like a carbon copy of Batman & Robin, the series should be fine.
Gleason’s art was a strong element of Batman & Robin’s success, and he remains in top form here. The issue is front loaded with striking images, from the opening splash page of Superman’s silhouetted profile to the above mentioned double-page spreads of the S-shield and the burning barn. What makes Gleason a good match for books such as this, though, is his ability to convey the drama in character moments. Immediately following the dynamic image of Superman rescuing the livestock is a full-page illustration of Jon leaning on his windowsill giving his father the thumbs up sign. The gleam in his eyes and breadth of his grin communicate just how proud he is of his dad. It is a heartwarming image, as striking as any full-throttle action scene which also appeared in comics this week.
While not everything in Superman #1 clicks immediately, most of it is successful. In sum, it offers up the promise that Superman may finally soar once again.