Comics! Big Red Guys in Capes!
Both DC and Marvel Comics have always had their flagship Big Guy in a Red Cape – with DC it’s of course been Superman, the strongest and most powerful of all the DC superheroes, and with Marvel it’s been the thunder god Thor, the Asgardian warrior-god sojourning on Earth and adventuring with Earth’s superheroes. And in this week’s latest comics offerings, both these Big Guys in Red Capes undergo remarkably similar adventures – but with disappointingly different outcomes.
In Action Comics #976, the “Superman Reborn” storyline comes to a high-flying if very nearly incomprehensible conclusion, written by Dan Jurgens and drawn with real energy by Doug Mahnke. The story seems to have been conceived in order to address some of the roughly 1 million problems created by DC’s “New 52” company-wide reboot from years ago, a reboot that took the traditional iteration of Superman – a fairly square, intensely human superbeing who fights for what’s right and is in love with Lois Lane – and transformed him into a shallow, omnipotent jerkwad with a pipped uniform, popped collars, and no romantic interest in any puny weakling human woman (instead, he falls in lust with Wonder Woman because she has an impressive dead-lift). This substitute Superman was, of course, intensely unsatisfying as a dramatic character, and as fan clamoring over the years grew louder on that point, DC finally decided to wipe out that new Superman and restore the old one, complete with his beloved wife Lois Lane and – in a new and wonderful twist – they have a young son named Jon.
In this latest issue’s whirlwind conclusion, those two Supermen merge somehow, for some unknown reason, and Mahnke illustrates the outcome with a two-page spread that’s clearly meant to establish at single visual stroke the new, smoothed-over past and present of this Man of Steel, and Jurgens provides the appropriate narration:
“This changes everything. A new, existence-wide, single reality, rebuilt from two. A timeline and history both familiar … and new. With lives realigned. Consistent with the memories and experiences of all. Everything solidified. Locked in … so it all fits.”
There’s a very similar narrative arc coming to its conclusion over in Marvel’s five-issue mini-series The Unworthy Thor, which likewise deals with the fallout of an ill-conceived earlier comics “event” storyline. In that earlier event, the mighty Thor lost ownership of his mystic hammer … which then came into the possession of a human woman who assumed both the powers and – bewilderingly, irritatingly – the very name of Thor, leaving our original character saddled with the lackluster name “Odinson.” It was all completely ridiculous, a puling sop tossed to some addled idea of “inclusivity” – and at a stroke it both created a watered-down ersatz echo of Thor and set adrift the original Thor, who we find in The Unworthy Thor striving to come to terms with crippling self-doubt and regain possession of a mystic hammer.
When he finally comes to grip that hammer, writer Jason Aaron and artist Olivier Coipel present a wonderfully uplifting moment, the moment when Thor regains his nobility and seems poised to regain his mantle. “I am Thor,” he says, overlaid on a two-page spread showing the character’s history in Marvel Comics. “I am the mighty Thor. The god of thunder.”
But he doesn’t take up the hammer. He stays the hammerless Odinson. So although I was pleased by the ending of “Superman Reborn” because it at least partially restored my favorite DC superhero to his natural state (not quite all the way, but at least partially), I got no such satisfaction when it came to my favorite Marvel superhero. So next month I’ll have the adventures of something very much like “my” Superman … but no Thor in sight, alas.