Graphic Novel Review: Son of Superman
Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman
Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, et al
DC Comics, 2017
The “New 52” experiment, which DC Comics conducted across the whole breadth of its titles from 2011 to 2015, was a continuity-revamping designed to blow the dust of the company’s iconic superhero characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman by making them younger, brasher, and in many cases giving them new origin stories.
Even so simplified a description should indicate fairly clearly a disaster in the making. DC’s superhero lineup includes some of the most elegantly conceived and instantly-recognizable comic book characters of all time, and their rich fictional histories were the product of decades of work by some of the best creators in the field. Chucking all that on the vague hope of chasing a younger demographic, re-inventing those signature characters along lines intended to seem cooler or more cutting edge is always a bad idea because it’s always an unimaginative one, and it gets the creative process exactly wrong; if you’re making something worthwhile, you’re audience is supposed to come to you, not the other way around.
One of the DC characters hardest hit by this company-wide change was the most famous superhero of them all, Superman. From a caring, slightly avuncular idealist with a spit curl and a ready smile, he was transformed into a hovering, clueless alien god who happened to look human but floated when he was talking to people … and who immediately took to dating Wonder Woman while keeping poor Lois Lane around as a dimly-understood buddy. Of all the dozens of incarnations the character had undergone since his first appearance in 1938, the “New 52” version was quite possibly the worst.
And when the reboot had run its course, the company’s creators turned to the same place they always do when problems need fixing: alternate realities. In one of those alternate realities, the “real,” pre-reboot Superman had been alive and well all along. He was married to Lois Lane, and – in a particularly dramatic sequence – they had a baby boy (delivered in the Batcave, which you just knew was going to happen one of these days). When the “New 52” Superman fell in battle and was destroyed and completely disintegrated (translation from the comic bookese: he’ll be returning as a deformed super-villain sometime in 2018), the company’s “Rebirth” storyline rescued the happy, married, upright, moral, caring Superman from his alternate reality, put him back in costume, and installed him in the place lately vacated. Suddenly, DC Comics had what it should have had decades ago: a Superman who’s a loving husband and a caring father.
That Superman was the star of Superman: Rebirth #1, written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by Patrick Gleason, which opens with the new-old Superman soliloquizing at the gravesite of the old-new Superman:
I’m tired of staring at cold stone and graves. The dead don’t want us here. They live on in our thoughts and dreams … our actions … our deeds … The dead want to be us. Out and about. Burning the days. I should know, because back on my world, I died too. Everyone I loved and cared for had a front-row seat. But somehow I got lucky. I got a second chance. You didn’t.
He decides to come out of hiding and don the uniform of a superhero again, and the new graphic novel from DC, Superman: Son of Superman collects Superman: Rebirth #1 and the first six issues of the new “Rebirth” run on the Superman comic, with scripting throughout by Tomasi and artwork chores shifting from Gleason (here doing the best work of his career) to Jorge Jimenez to Doug Mahnke. The story itself tellingly deals with the concept of blood-purity: the Eradicator, an animate artifact from Superman’s long-gone homeworld of Krypton, is activated in this new reality and determined to pure the human elements from young Jon, the son of Lois and Clark. The Eradicator is super-powered, of course, and the disjointed and slightly repetitive plot of this first story-arc (paced to be a graphic novel, but written episodically, for the monthly comic – a conflict of natures that some writers resolve better than others) involves Superman, Lois, young Jon, and even Krypto the super-dog fighting the Eradicator and eventually defeating it.
But the sub-plots running through this arc of stories are what save it and make it unabashedly grand. In these issues young Jon uses his father’s trust to give himself the confidence to take his place in the open as the titular son of Superman, and at the same time, the heroics of this “new” Superman are broadcast to a watching world that hasn’t known whether or not to trust him. The creators give fans a crackerjack moment when Superman rights the toppled lunar module on the moon and stands before it in a classic 1950s pose, complete with American flag unfurled in the background … if the character were wearing the right version of his costume, the whole scene would have been perfect (the costume issue – revolving around the movie-franchise decision to do away with Superman’s classic red shorts – clearly makes Gleason uncomfortable, since he almost never misses an opportunity to drape Superman’s midsection in shadow rather than draw the ridiculous “New 52” version of the super-suit).
Long-time fan quibbles notwithstanding, Son of Superman feels entirely right … which isn’t something it’s been possible to say about Superman comics in quite some time.