Superman Rebooting: One Year Later

So a year ago, DC Comics (kind of) blew up their comics universe and (kind of) rebooted everything by canceling all their comics and starting fresh with #1 issues of 52 titles. Amongst the many heroes that were getting different looks, stories, and histories was Superman.

In spite of some hesitation about what they were going to do to my favorite childhood superhero, I walked in to the local comic book store that I frequented until my early teens and bought Action Comics #1. As I wrote a year ago, I loved it and decided to stick with the rebooted adventures of Superman.

Now it’s a year later. What are my thoughts on the continued adventures of the (kind of new) Man of Steel? Glad you asked.

The hook of these revamped tales of the Last Son of Krypton was that he was more a call-back to the Golden Age Superman stories. This Superman was more about sticking up for the little guy and the societal forces that pushed them down than just super-punching powered villains in the sky.

We got that and, though they echo Kal-El from over seventy years ago, they seem like the freshest takes on Superman without trying to make him edgy and modern. The most recent reminder of that was this past month’s excellent “Zero Issue” in which Superman helps and inspires a young boy suffering abuse at home.

This renewed focus on helping the underdog is important for a character as powerful as Superman. His role of “Champion of the Oppressed” is far more valuable than being for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” If a character so immensely powerful only stands for causes that are large and, in their own way, powerful then there is little compelling about the character. But if that character helps and even identifies with the lowest of the low? That’s someone worth writing about (and, yes, spiritual parallels abound).

But it also wasn’t too long before he was super-punching villains on the streets of Metropolis and in space. That in and of itself is not bad as long as it is written well (i.e. is not mindless violence and explosions). Fortunately our inexperienced hero’s early showdowns with Metal-Zero (a non-kryptonite powered Metallo) and Brainiac were strongly written and found great ways to introduce these classic Superman villains (plus the Bottle City of Kandor) to this new universe.

What didn’t help that arc and what has hampered the series as a whole has been the filler issues. For example, Action Comics #4 ends with the cliffhanger in which a large portion of Metropolis (conveniently containing Lois, Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor) is vaporized. It vanished. It’s a prolonged suspense that only comic books can deliver because you won’t find out what happens for another month.

Yet that story is not picked up again until issue #7 because of art work issues. The two issues in between weren’t necessarily bad (#5’s Kryptonian origin re-telling was pretty good, #6’s time-traveling tale involving the Legion of Super-Heroes was a bit more of a head scratcher), but it killed all storytelling momentum which is already a hard thing to maintain when you only get a episode every four to five weeks.

The summer story arc, which came after another filler issue containing the adventure of Earth 23’s Superman, had some strong story elements but I found the “lost Superman” villain(?) to not be an incredibly compelling character. But there is still some fun elements like young, idealistic Superman trying to get the Justice League to eradicate poverty, watching Jimmy, Lois, and Clark hang out, some good Superman/Batman scenes, and a great back-up story in which Clark’s journalism friends gather to honor their late colleague when they think he has died in an explosion.

Grant Morrison has done a great job despite the fact that whatever he wrote was going to be considered somewhat of a letdown. His last time writing for the Man of Steel—the amazing 12 issue series All-Star Superman—is considered one of if not the best Superman stories of the past 25 years (and the first collection I would recommend to someone who wants a quintessential Superman story).

Morrison definitely knows the characters and has a breadth of knowledge concerning Superman’s long and sometimes obscure history. He does have an interesting affection for time travel, metaphysics, multi-dimensionality, and apparently Mr. Mxyzptlk. Some times these aspects enrich the story and sometimes I find them distracting. But on the whole, he’s done a great job laying the groundwork for the rebooted Superman and I’ll be sorry to see him go after issue #16.

On the whole, I’ll give this past year of Action Comics a solid B+ and look forward to the further adventures of the Man of Steel.

Real quick, here’s a rundown of what I’d like to see in the next year:

  • More Clark Kent, Crusading Journalist/Blogger.
  • More Clark hanging out with Jimmy and Lois. Clark Kent is essential to Superman’s character. He needs those normal, everyday relationships to ground him and to raise the stakes when he’s facing super-villains; it means there is something at stake.
  • Let’s see more of the Daily Planet.
  • Bring back Steel, who had a great introduction in issue #4 but has disappeared since then.
  • Don’t forget to keep showing Superman defending the down-and-out.
  • Let’s find out what Lex Luthor has been up to.
  • Another interesting take on a classic Superman villain a la what was done with Metallo and Brainiac.
  • A few more back-ups featuring Clark’s early life including his relationship with his adoptive parents.
  • Continue to develop Metropolis as a place that feels lived in and real.
  • Don’t try to modernize or make Superman hip. Remember the quintessential qualities that make Superman who he is.
  • Let there be a bit more of a sense of fun. Sure there’s a lot to deal with, but being Superman should be pretty awesome as well.
  • Tab a smart, imaginative writer to take Morrison’s place when he leaves. He probably is too tied up at Marvel, but Mark Waid would be a great get.

Alright, I have nerded out quite a bit, so that’ll do for now. It’s been fun this past year. Up, up, and away!

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