After sampling the latest round of Superman comics, now post-Bendis, I found myself underwhelmed again, to say the least. Although intrigued by Tom Taylor’s Superman: Son of Kal-El, I haven’t managed to get absorbed into the current comics like I was just three years prior. We’ll see where everything ends up, but I thought this might be a good time to go back to the beginning of Jonathan Kent’s origins, with Superman Rebirth.
I recently dug out the few New 52 Superman stories I own and read those first as a primer- “What Price Tomorrow?,” “Justice League: Power and Glory,” and “Superman: The Men of Tomorrow”- more or less to understand why DC made a course correction to begin with. Although each of the stories had their moments, and were done by creators with extraordinary talent, I have to say I was reminded once again what most fans felt at the time.
Good enough, but just not Superman. There was just no heart. Superman’s adoptive parents are deceased, and he has no family. There is no relationship, or even an inkling of one, with Lois Lane despite fifteen years of marriage prior. For that matter, there wasn’t much of a relationship with anyone in his supporting cast. New 52 Superman was more or less a loner, doing his own thing, discovering his place in a city and world where he was slowly becoming the hero we all know and love.
Sounds good? Perhaps as a brief alternate reality story, but not my cup of tea for an ongoing Superman book.
A Man of Steel who smiles once in a while wouldn’t hurt anyone, either. I was thoroughly checked out of by 2015 when Convergence rolled around, so I couldn’t tell you what sales were like on any of the books, but by that time DC knew they were losing readers and that something needed to change.
Enter Lois and Clark.When proposing the story to Dan DiDio, Dan Jurgens said that he would write a miniseries about the pre-Flashpoint Superman’s new family. After that, the characters- and the fans- would let them know where they would go from there. Speaking for this fan, my attention was grabbed when I found out the new, between-the-panels story would take place with the true Superman, now a husband and a father. I picked up the first issue on a whim, not expecting much but definitely ready for any kind of change. I then picked up the second. Then the third.
After eight issues, I was hooked. And I was back.Lois and Clark worked for me on so many levels, that there’s just not enough space in one blog post to say even close to everything. The brilliance of having the pre-Flashpoint Superman not coming from another dimension, but existing the entire time in the shadows, gave fans a perspective on the universe that many could identify with- an observer watching from afar.
After all, isn’t that how most of us were feeling at the time, anyway? Far from making Superman go backwards, though, our Superman’s story had continued. Lois is still writing, albeit anonymously. Jonathan Kent, first introduced in a Convergence crossover issue by the same creative team, is now ten years old. The Kent family has been living on a farm together, engaged with the world but removed from it. Superman had moved forward, and we were now catching up with him.
The theme of the story, juggling family with responsibilities, was a relatable one as well. We had seen that this Superman was still a hero, but what would that look like now with a family? That formula served the story well, as Clark, Lois and Jonathan all began to grow as people and as heroes. Jurgens understood this tension perfectly and, as he has many times over the years, utilized it to create a great story.
Even in a different universe, the looming threats of Lex Luthor, Hank Henshaw, and Intergang, hearkened back to a familiar one, while Jurgens also wrote some new villains as well… and good ones! Superman’s power levels aren’t always easy to write into story with a credible threat, but Jurgens made it look easy, introducing Blanque, Shockwave and Hyathis. If the pre-Flashpoint Superman had stayed hidden in the New 52 universe, there was plenty of room for stories after this miniseries.
By focusing on the overall picture, I haven’t even touched yet on the phenomenal art of Lee Weeks, who had grown a lot as an artist since I myself had last seen him in the 90s. Weeks’ strengths were always well suited to more subtle, street level characters like Daredevil and Batman, and he is a perfect choice for drawing a “behind the scenes” Superman as well. His meticulous, highly detailed style is one I enjoy a great deal, as I tend to prefer artists in my books who are less cartoony and more photorealistic. His great work on this series is probably what got him the gig on Tom King’s Batman run, and part of the reason he enjoys a more superstar status today. Lois and Clark’s greatest strength for me, however, is not only that it righted the ship for Superman overall, but that it allowed the character to finally grow. As much as I have loved, do love and will always love the superheroes of Marvel and DC, a pet peeve of mine is that they are not allowed to grow much beyond the status quo. Spider-Man went to college, got a job, and eventually got married… and then was yanked back to single life in a massive reboot. Same with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and basically every other Marvel hero. DC, by virtue of the beloved Crisis reset button, has done similar things to their characters. But because Lois and Clark was a side story when it it was first conceived, it was afforded the wiggle room to have the characters’ lives change in ways we had not yet seen, and that was immensely refreshing. Having our favorite characters grow as the years go on, for me, makes them more interesting and gives readers an incentive to follow along for the long haul.I’m not sure if the restoration of Superman had already been planned before this series, or if its popularity propelled the character back to the spotlight, but either way, this was a welcome course correction that set the table for phenomenal stories that were to come. Superman was back.