Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: Superman #51

When the #Rebirth event was streamed, the execs from DC made it clear that they realized something was missing from the current universe. They called it legacy. But they also said that they needed to go back to what worked for these characters. They had lost their way.

I could point to Superman as a key example. Outside of Grant Morrison's run and a most of Greg Pak/Aaron Kuder's run on Action, the Man of Steel has been a mess. Distant, turned into a monster, depowered, exposed, stuck in crossover events that weren't well timed, well planned out, or well executed.

When I heard that Peter Tomasi was going to be the writer of one of the post-Truth #Rebirth Superman books, I was concerned. There was this call for classic interpretations. So I was optimistic. But Tomasi had written one of the most flawed interpretations of Superman in The Truth, the bashing, angry, sadistic guy in Superman/Wonder Woman. Was he the one to be given a Superman book?

Well, Superman #51 quelled a lot of my fears. This issue was one of the best Superman books I have read in a long time, reminding me of all the things I love about this character while spinning an interesting story. I closed the issue and said 'this is my Superman' something I haven't been able to say for a long long time.

Mikel Janin is on art on the book and brings a clean, stunning look to the book. There are a lot of splash pages and big panels but I didn't mind. This felt like the sort of issue that needed big art. We are starting fresh here. So let's be big and bold, trumpeting this new direction.

If this is the tone Tomasi is bringing to the book moving forward, count me in.

We start out with a splash of Superman's face with the simple words 'I'm dying.'

Between his turn as God of Strength in Darkseid War, or his prolonged exposure to Kryptonite at the end of The Truth, to a fight with Rao in Bryan Hitch's Justice League of America, Superman's body has been put through the proverbial wringer. It has been damaged. He is dying.

Now you might think this was another dark opening to a darker story. But I will remind folks that All-Star Superman, one of the most revered takes on Superman, is built on a similar plot. It is how you move forward - grief or celebration - that will dictate how this plays out.

Janin gives us a slick double paged spread of the three big arcs mentioned above, showing how Superman's body is battered a bit.

Superman is obviously not pleased with this discovery. In fact, he is quite angry.

But instead of the broody, glowing red-eyed, angry Superman from recent times, we see him angry because he won't be able to help people any more. He is here to help. And if he isn't here, he can't help.

How great is it for us to get back to this simple idea. That Superman wants to help.

And nothing says happier, more classic times than Superman being consoled by Krypto. Even the super-dog can detect something is wrong.

Tomasi really shows us just which Superman we are dealing with here. We see that a statue of the Kents has been put in the Fortress. The Kents are 'amazing'. They made him who he is. They are as big a part of who he is as Jor-El and Lara. I would probably say a bigger part.

But Krypto, praising the Kents and their wisdom, wanting to help ... this just feels right.

Not that everything is perfect.

In China, a woman hacker is trying to take advantage of the recent attacks on the Fortress to get into Superman's computers. Her attempts are initially successful but then the anti-virus software kicks in and locks her out.

Later we see this woman talking to an unidentified body floating in a big fluid filled cylinder.

We have a villain of the piece!

But this is about Superman dealing with his imminent demise. He has personal business to attend to.

He flies off ... but there are things which are jobs for Superman, things he needs to pause his own needs for.

Again, Janin gives us a double page spread that is perfect. We see a nice montage of classic Superman rescues - saving a plane, catching a construction worker who is falling from a high rise, saving people from a runaway train and a fire, vaporizing incoming asteroids, and punching out a giant robot.

This is my Superman.

The first person Superman visits is Lana, still living in Smallville.

It is a bittersweet visit. First we see the two reminisce about their idyllic youth. Their love and friendship is obvious. These are two who have been companions and more for a lifetime.

Clark tells Lana he is dying and tells her she needs to bury him next to his family. They hug.

I love Janin's Lana, wearing an S-shield tank top. I guess all that 'I am mad at you' stuff we saw in The Truth is behind her.

The woman in China isn't the only possible threat.

An unnamed man, an ex-con on the run. But this guy isn't a normal human. He lashes out a those chasing him while yelling he is Superman. This power looks suspiciously like the solar flare power.

Who is this guy? And why is he saying that? And why does he have that power. Is some of the energy Vandal Savage drained from Superman accessible?

This is a decent hook.

Now there is a lot to love about this issue.

But this end scene might be my favorite part.

The next person Superman wants to talk to is Lois. We have had a long long run in the Superman books where Lois was basically a non-entity. Here we get several pages of these two characters interacting in a comfortable and friendly way.

I mean, there are no words here, but this little exchange says volumes. Superman knocks on Lois' apartment window. He waves. She smiles and waves back. He points to the balcony, inviting her to join him.

That smile on Lois is just about perfect. The easy breezy feel of this scene tells us these two are friends, happy to see each other, and don't need to talk to understand each other. Just wonderful.

Inside the apartment, she talks about missing talking to her best friend. He concurs.

Superman and Lois. Together again, for the first time in a long time.

And we end with perhaps one of the most iconic images of these two, Superman holding her in his arm and flying. He wants to tell her his story.


Kudos for Tomasi and Janin for showing us why Superman is been the hero he has been these 75 years. How he is selfless. How he wants to help. How he is really a regular guy with incredible power who wants to help.

I haven't been this happy about a Superman issue in a long time. I think I'll savor this one for a while.

This is my Superman.

Overall grade: A+


Anonymous said...

I'm stunned. It's actually good. I'm still a little worried about the long run, but for now, I'll exhale a little.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

So does thids mean the nu52 Superman WILL die, so that the pre-Flashpoint Superman stays here?

Dave Mullen said...

But instead of the broody, glowing red-eyed, angry Superman from recent times, we see him angry because he won't be able to help people any more. He is here to help. And if he isn't here, he can't help.

Is this shift not particuly noteworthy as it directly flies in the face of Peter Thomasi's previous interpretations of a moody Superman? I.e DC's preffered model.
I received the impression of a writer very deliberately going about a u-turn, being told to lighten it up, despite the death notice Superman himself is dealing with.
Really this book didn't impress me as much as it did you as this sunnier treatment in itself is not unprecedented, we have seen this heroic cheery Superman numerous times in the last five years, but it is always then overstacked against the other Superman, the angry embattled alien. Call it a lack of faith at this point, but one issue is nowhere near enough to convince me that this character is headed back to some more traditional characterisation. The past five years worth of material does not support it as being at all likely...

Martin Gray said...

Well, you'll know from my own review that I loved this as much as you did, Anj. Great summation, fine insight as ever.

Yeah, we've seen this Superman with some happy moments previously but I'd argue we've never had a post-2011 story in which every character beat is so perfect, every moment screams - or rather, gently whispers - 'Superman'. I can't help but be optimistic, I've read an awful lot of Tomasi over the years and that Superman/Wonder Woman story is the aberration; this is much more the Tomasi I know. And he's giving me, with Mikel Janín, the Suoerman I love.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be a transition arc where the New 52 Superman will bow out and the Pre-Crisis Superman will take over. The Rebirth ads do point to Super Sons, a book featuring Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent (who was in Superman: Lois and Clark).

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

The tone is completely different. Will it stay? I can only hope. As always, sales and fan response will dictate.

If the people who have been insulting the more recent runs while vocally clamoring for this stay away, DC will look for more quick $$ wins.

So everyone who liked this should be praising it.