Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: Superman #52

It is the end of a brief era.
The New 52 chapter of the DC Universe is coming to a close. There is a #Rebirth. There is a scrubbing away of the angst, hate, and dismal nature of the characters. There is a return to a more classic feel, leaning on legacy.

But such a change cannot happen with casualties. And the New 52 Superman, who has had an uneven four plus years, is one of those spots being expunged. I'll praise him in a bit. But right now my job is to bury him.

Superman #52 came out this week, the last issue of the Super-books pre-Rebirth. It is the end of The Final Days of Superman. It is the end of this Superman. And as such, we get to see this version of Superman say goodbye.

I have had my issues with this Superman. I have had a lot of issues with him. And yet, I was surprisingly moved by this issue. Writer Peter Tomasi has done a very good job in the post-Truth books to make this Clark much more likeable, much more heroic. So to see him settling his affairs was touching.

The art is done by Mikel Janin is fantastic. I love Janin's smooth work. It is stellar. And there are a lot of big splash pages, reminiscent of the all-splash page Superman #75, where Superman first died. But is is Janin and Jeremy Cox's colors are the real hero here. This book is soaked in oranges and reds. It feels like it is on fire.

For convenience sake, during this review I will use the following key:
Superman = New 52 Superman
PreFP-Superman = older pre-Flashpoint Superman
Fire-Superman =  Flame avatar Superman, Denny Swan

This is the end ... or is it. Prepare for me to blow your mind with a theory when this is over.

The issue starts in the middle of the battle between Superman and Fire-Superman. We have wondered where this Denny Swan came from, how he obtained his powers.

Here Superman gives a bit of an info-dump. Swan was hit by a 'bolt of sentient energy ... that was imbued with a mutated copy' of Superman's genome.

Is that a result of Dr. Omen's experiments in China? Or from somewhere else? I guess I have to go back and read the first appearance of Swan. Did we see the bolt hit him in the beginning?

At least we have an idea of his origin.

Now one of my issues with the New 52 has been the off-putting relationship between Clark and Diana. I have never felt that the two seem right together.

One of the interesting things about Fire-Superman has been the memories he has obtained and acted on. It seems like he doesn't have the nuance of the actual life. He says what is on his mind. He says what should be considered truth.

So when he talks of loving Diana and wanting to marry her, I have to believe that these are the thoughts of Superman. These aren't Fire-Superman's delusions.

I am a Lois guy. I thought the beginning of the Tomasi run was poised to push Lois back into the center of Superman's life. But instead, we get a double down on the Wonder Woman relationship.

Fire-Superman is out of control and incredibly powerful. He continues to believe that he is Superman and he will kill anyone who says differently. Superman is battered by Fire-Superman's growing energy blasts.

Luickily, Supergirl arrives to try to help her ailing cousin. It is a great splash page of Kara streaking in for the rescue.

And then Batman and Wonder Woman arrive to help as well.

But even all of them can't stop the Fire-Superman from raging. It is clear he is about to go critical mass and explode.

So Superman does the only thing he think he can do. He grabs Fire-Superman and heads into space. But his Kryptonite-poisoning is worsening. Superman is so weak that can't get out of the atmosphere.

Again, luckily, the PreFP-Superman returns to the scene after running away last issue. He says he is a friend, a very very classic Superman ting to say, and helps hoist everyone into space.

But Superman knows this is a one-way trip. He is near death. And the world will need the PreFP-Superman. Superman throws the PreFP-Superman back to the planet.

And then we hear of Superman's desperate plan. He knows Fire-Superman is about to detonate. And so he'll use his solar flare to negate it, and hope he can absorb all residual energy.

We see a massive explosion.

And then one body plummets to the ground. It's Superman. Fire-Superman has seemingly dissipated.

And then we have the tear soaked goodbyes.

He tells Lois to do what he has asked of her. No 'I love you'. No 'I care for you'. It is Lois who says she could never be separated from him. I was hoping for more. But I guess, in this universe, this is what we deserve.

Then he asks Kara to make him proud. And she vows to do so. At the very least, I get reconciliation between the cousins. This is wonderful.

We have seen in the last few issues how deep the Batman/Superman relationship is. We saw Batman angry about Superman's death. We see Alfred thank Superman for being in Bruce's life.

Here we see Batman say that Superman was the best of all of them.

Again, this was moving. After reading 5 years of these two bristling when near each other, it was good for things to end like this.

And then we get the death scene. His skin turning greener, he dies in Diana's arms. He talks about how lucky he has been to have been with her.

I haven't liked this relationship. But I thought the words and art were moving. Wonder Woman ... crying? Beautiful. And I have to admit it has been 3 years since this relationship started. To have it end without a scene like this would have been wrong.

And then, he dies.

His energy lashes out, striking Lois and Lana. Hello Superwoman? (Hat tip to Mart Gray)

And then Superman turns to ... sand???

Okay, here comes the big theory.
First off, the Fire-Superman's identity is Denny Swan, a clear call back to the Sand Superman storyline from the seventies. At first I thought it was because Fire-Superman absorbed super-energy. But what if it means more?

What if this dead body, this sand superman IS Denny Swan. We saw the explosion, the dual flares. And then we see one body ... one! And Swan had Superman's memories. He could have said all the goodbyes we just heard.

What if the flares happen and it is Swan who absorbed all the energy, even the Kryptonite energy? And what if it is Swan's body that falls to Earth. Having absorbed all the energy, he is more 'solid', more 'Superman'. Thus he has flesh. And then, overwhelmed by all the energy, he dies.

As for the 'real' Superman, maybe he was thrown forward in time? Or thrust into a new dimension? Or maybe, since energy can't be destroyed, he is reforming himself now that Swan is dead.

You heard it hear first. This body isn't Kal-El. It is the Sand Superman (formerly Fire-Superman) Denny Swan.

The book ends with the world dealing with the loss of Superman. PreFP-Superman says he will seek out the heroes when he is ready.

Overall, I thought this was a very good issue, ending one era while setting up the next. I thought the battle portion was of a large enough scope to bring suspense. I thought the goodbye scenes were poignant and perfect.

It isn't like I have always disliked this New 52 Superman. The Morrison run was wonderful. Most of the Pak/Kuder run was fantastic. The Jurgens issues were fine. But for the most part, this Superman have never clicked with me. These books have felt like a pair of shoes that were the wrong size. I could squeeze into them. They served a purpose. But it wasn't comfortable.

I hope #Rebirth brings us a Superman we can all love.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Great review, brilliant theory. superman is probably Erg-1ing around the planet! You'll get another Newsarama nod!

What might have been fun would be DC using this to being back the LSH - a time bible appears, Mon-El gets out a certain projector and Superman goes to the Phantom Zone until a cure is found - in 3016!

Oh, and the Superwoman theory isn't mine, someone came up with it on Twitter to me, but I can't find the ruddy notification. If you're out there,,,

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

How are they going to reconcile now having two Lois Lanes? Interesting theory, Anj. Mine is that, since the new52 Superman is much younger, he could easily end up in Legion of Super-Heroes as an analogue for Mon-El (which would be a little ironic).

Which leaves the older Pre-Flashpoint Superman as the oldest of the heroes, perhaps Batman's age.

If you haven't read REBIRTH#1, I won't give anything away. But you'll be happy with several one page "cameos".

Doug said...

Interesting theory, but what about the cape? It was red until the end, but "Superman" turned sandy.

And I'd like to echo Wayne's questions about the two Loises. (Losi?)

Whatever the case, I'm intrigued for certain, even if we never really got the Super League story that was originally teased out. Looking forward to the Superman books (and DC in general) now more than I have in a long, long time.

Jay said...

Very interesting theory. Personally I think he really did die, but that he'll resurrect, and that in fact he has to resurrect. I think he's part of the key to defeating the new threat that Rebirth introduced. I think Mr. Oz is someone in direct conflict with the new threat, in fact I'm pretty sure I know who he is now but that would get into Rebirth spoilers and I don't know if everyone's up to speed on that yet. But in any case I think New 52 Superman is the proper Superman of the "changed" Earth-0. Just as real as anyone else. Superdad on the other hand, is also quite real. He's also a version of Earth-0 Superman. He's just the version before the changes, and he remained preserved because he was bottled up by Brainiac. So they're both "proper" Supermen, just different. The current Superman, the one who just died, at some point in his life was taken by Mr. Oz (who can time travel, has access to outside the timestream, the Bleed, all that stuff), and "trained", as he alluded to while watching Superman in Johns' run. He was trained specifically to battle this new Rebirth threat. I'm guessing Mr. Oz flatout tells Superdad as much, and that's why he's so adamantly waiting for New 52 Superman to come back.

Anonymous said...

I like your theory, but I think it more likely (unfortunately?) that the one who died was indeed the New52perman, and that Denny Swan survived and will become the "new" Clark Kent they've been showing in the post-Rebirth solicits.

Gerry Beritela

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments. And love the other theories.

Whoever is right must come back and gloat!