The New Superman Family

DC’s Rebirth has been an overwhelming success, from a creative standpoint if not always from a sales one. (And I understand it has been largely successful sales-wise as well) While there were plenty of changes, no character underwent a bigger change during this realignment than Superman.  After DC threw the baby out with the bathwater during the New 52, Superman had a handful of rough years. Now his books, especially Superman by Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke, are as strong as they have been in years.

Those rough New 52 years weren’t all bad.  Grant Morrison kicked it off with an excellent, chronologically fractured run on Action Comics and Greg Pak had a solid run with the character.  There was always a problem, though, in that the books focused almost exclusively on the “Super” and kind of forgot about the ‘man.’ Even the good books didn’t manage to make Superman feel like Superman as he has existed for more than 30 years now.  It made sense in Action Comics, with Morrison purposefully doing a riff on early Superman books with a brasher take on the character that eventually grew into the Superman we knew, but everywhere else there seemed to be an overriding attempt to make Superman seem cool by making him quicker to spring into action. Trying to make Superman cool is a fool’s gambit. Superman hasn’t been cool in decades.  He is still an interesting and compelling character, but trying to make him cool invariably costs him his earnest goodness, making it pointless.

That is why Rebirth Superman is so very good; there are no attempts to make him cool.  In fact, the book mostly leans into his uncoolness. Superman is not only older and more responsible, but he is also married (again) and is a dad.  Not at all what one thinks of when it comes to cool, but it is a great place for the character to be.  Superman is the responsible one, the Justice League works best with Superman as the team dad. See Morrison’s JLA, which featured a younger Flash and Green Lantern alongside older stalwarts led primarily by Superman.  With Rebirth, Superman is finally back in a role that fits his strengths as a character.

The current run on Superman is in my mind one of the best the character has had in a couple decades.  I guess it is premature to say that when the run is, hopefully, far from finished, but I have loved what this team has done so far.  Shipping twice a month, they are more than 20 issues in and have blown through a number of excellent stories in less than a year. It has done action stories, family stories, a takeoff of Morrison’s Multiversity (I know I keep referencing Morrison here; that is because he is the most important writer at DC in the last 30 years. He has done excellent work on the big guns, with JLA, Batman and Action Comics, and several excellent crossovers, like DC One Million and Final Crisis.  He also wrote the single best Superman story in All-Star Superman) and a big status quo redefining crossover.

Peter Tomasi has been at DC comics for about 20 years now.  He was a longtime editor, but like Mark Waid before him, he moved into writing about a decade ago.  He quickly solidified himself as a glue guy writing for DC. He wasn’t the star, but he was the guy writing the good books that helped prop up the massive hits.  While Geoff Johns headlined on Green Lantern, Tomasi – working with Superman collaborator Gleason – helped turn Green Lantern Corps into the perfect complement.  While Scott Snyder was being celebrated for his hit run on Batman, Tomasi, again with Gleason on art, was writing the frequently excellent Batman & Robin.  For most of the last 10 years he has been the king of DCs mid-tier.  It is more than time for him to take the spotlight like he has with Superman.

Superman post-Rebirth focuses on the Kent family, with Superman again married to Lois Lane and now they have a child, Jon, who is roughly ten years old.  They have started a life in Hamilton County, a ways away from Metropolis and are living the country life.  This setup lets the creative team move Superman forward in a significant way without losing the heart of the character. Superman is there to show us the way, and he gets to do that in a very literal way with his son Jon. It not only lets us see why Superman is so great, it also gives him a challenge he can’t completely conquer.  Plus, him leading Jon, as Superboy, out on his first steps as a superhero lets the reader experience the adventure through fresh eyes. Tomasi, Gleason and the rest manage a wide array of tones, from pastoral comforts to wide-screen action to spooky campfire horror. It it just a satisfying read twice a month.

It really nails a something than many comics seem to have abandoned recently, and that is the building subplot. With series that rarely run more than a dozen or so issues, the team here is leveraging the absolutely ongoing nature of Superman (they might get removed from the book, but Superman won’t get cancelled) and the blistering release schedule to tell some slower burning stories.  There are several underlying mysteries running at once.  They don’t distract from the main plot, but the build with each issue. Several of these mysteries are shared across Superman and Action Comics, as well as with the DC Universe as a whole, but they all build within the pages of Superman.  There is the mystery of Mr. Oz, a still ongoing background plot about somebody powerful trying to remove certain characters from play.  There was the Action Comics mystery of the fake Clark Kent, which built for 20 issues and was resolved in the Reborn crossover.  There are mysteries about the Kent’s new home Hamilton and their suspicious neighbors the Cobbs, which seem to finally be resolving over the next couple of months.

Tomasi has added writing duties on Super Sons to this, a team up book featuring Superman’s son Jon as Superboy and Damian Wayne Robin. It is a continuation of a story that played out in Superman that thrust the two youngsters together and while the focus of the book is the two kids, their fathers can’t help but play a part. It is only three issues in, but so far it is in line with Tomasi’s excellent work on Superman and his underrated work on Batman & Robin at the start of the New 52, showing how the children of DC two biggest heros reflect the natures of their parents.

I don’t know that Superman and Super Sons are the best books I get every month, even if I exclude The Flintstones, but there aren’t any that I anticipate more.

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