Friday, April 20, 2018
Major Issues: Superman by Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Superman is, oddly enough, a controversial character. Some people see him as an icon, an ideal that most superheroes should attempt to reach. He symbolizes the best of humanity, he symbolizes what it means to be a superhero. For others, he's a boring overpowered alien that says witty things and isn't nearly as cool as other members of the DCU like Batman or Wonder Woman. Superman is the thing that binds the universe together, or he's the weakest link. But, regardless of your opinion on the Man of Steel, everyone can equally admit that he is certainly special, he's important. But, why is that? Why does Superman matter? I believe that's what Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason set out to explore in their most recent run of Superman in the "Rebirth" era, and, for my money, I think they answered that question: Superman matters because we matter.
The crux of this run of Superman, spanning 46 issues, an Annual, and a special "Rebirth" one-shot, focuses on the Kent family. Superman and Lois, having somehow arrived in this timeline from the Post-Crisis timeline, have moved outside of Metropolis to live on Kent farm to raise their young super-powered son, Jonathan, as he comes into his own. Along the way, Superman and Jon go on many an adventure, including a trip to an island of monsters, fighting Mr. Mxyzptlk, Manchester Black, and the mysterious Mr. Oz that has been following both the New 52 Superman and this Superman for years. Perhaps most important of all, though, is that Clark and Lois have to bear the responsibility of starting a family, and raising each other up.
While this comic certainly had a lot of action and adventure in it, this book definitely focused on the heart of it all. Many of the major story arcs featured the battle for Jon's soul; Mr. Mxyzptlk and Mr. Oz tried to bring Jon over to their side as a means of getting a sure-fire victory over Superman. Jon was also tempted by several other villains, and, since he's a child, he's quite easily influenced. This often put Lois and Clark in quite a bind.
Unfortunately, this also led to quite a few repetitive story beats. We covered a lot of the same ground over and over again and while many times it did feel like we were spinning our wheels, it was also progressing the relationship between Jon and Clark, which was the entire point of this book.
This was the story of the Kent Family, not of Superman. Almost every major story arc put the focus on Jon as much as it did Clark; heck, even Lois got a great moment to shine as a Fury in the "Imperius Lex" arc, which was a bit disappointing but did follow-up on things hinted at or prophecized in the "Darkseid War" arc from Justice League a couple years back. In fact, this comic had a lot of call-backs and follow-ups, which was good. We didn't have to wait long to see many stories get resolved, or to see many mysteries answered. Oftentimes, too, these mysteries were pretty satisfactory. The resolution with the mysterious two Supermen was pretty good, for what it's worth, and was the first major step in binding the Post-Crisis timeline with that of the New 52. But I digress.
Because so much of the emphasis was placed on Clark and Jon, we really got to see them flourish not just as heroes, but as people. That's what I took away from the book, and what'll really let it stand out for me in the years to come.
I didn't hop onto the book at the beginning of "Rebirth" because prior to this I wasn't all that interested in Superman. Not that I disliked him or anything, but I didn't see much merit in the character. Then I started getting into this and found that Clark Kent is one of the best characters in the DCU, and that putting him in situations that aren't dire in a physical sense but an emotional one will almost always make for an incredibly compelling story. I loved to see the struggles of Clark trying to wrestle with how he should help Jon or struggling with what Ma or Pa Kent would do. It made me wonder what I would do if I were a parent in that situation.
I fell in love with this book almost instantly. I jumped on with the "Multiplicity" arc because it was tying into stuff with my favorite comic of all time, The Multiversity, and stuck around because, yeah, I really wanted to see what was going to happen to the Kent family next. There wasn't a bad character in this book; while at times they may have been written poorly (though this was rarely at the fault of Tomasi or Gleason, usually a guest writer), they were still characters I came to love and care about. I wanted to see them grow not as individuals but as a family. Anytime Lois, Clark, Jon, and even Krypto were on the page together it was absolutely delightful. Some of my favorite sequences of the book are just of them being at the dinner table talking about things, and Lois and Clark using their innate abilities to try and control an adorably manic child.
The fact that this book pushed not just truth and justice, but also the idea of family really resonated with me. The final arc, where Bizarro's son Boyzarro came into contact with Jon, was an incredible way to end the series to show just how far Superman, Jon, and all of Hamilton County had come in the wake of Superman and his family moving back out to the farms. We got to see how strong of a family dynamic they'd developed, and that it was so strong it could resonate with someone as backward as a Bizarro-verse character.
Also, since I haven't read much Superman prior to this, save for some of the major stories like The Death of Superman, Kingdom Come (shut up, that's totally a Superman story), and several issues of Justice League where he's prominently featured, I now have Patrick Gleason's designs as the permanent image of the Kent family. His art never failed to be absolutely amazing; he drew everything well. I especially love his design for Lois Lane, it's probably my favorite today. She has a right enough amount of attitude to her at all times, but he still adds something that makes her stand out as a mother and a loving mother at that. Lois in this comic is the very definition of a cool mom, and Gleason's art really accentuates that, either through how he draws her facial expressions or how she composes herself in a shot.
I also like the way he gave life to Jonathan, a character that's pretty much brand new to the limelight. While the obvious missing elephant in the room is Connor Kent, Jon was a great supplement and Gleason always gave him a joyful, youthful air about him. Jon felt and acted like a real kid all the time; it was always great to see him interacting with Damian, since the two are even more opposites than Batman and Superman. Jon always looked like he had either something to say or had something on his mind, which is how kids are in real life.
It's hard to mess up the design for Superman, and Gleason does it quite well. While I think I'll always have the Dan Jurgens version of Superman as my go-to image of the Man of Steel, the look and feel that Gleason gave Superman definitely fit the tone more. He had a relaxed air to him unless it was a dire situation, in which case you could tell just by the art alone that playtime was over.
It may have been the art alone that sold me on the series, in fact. I loved what Gleason did with Hamilton and the Kent farm, especially in the quieter issues where it was just Jon and his friends playing around, or Jon, Clark, and Lois just hanging out for the day trying, so desperately, to lead a normal life.
Those were the best issues, the ones where the Kent family weren't Superman, Superboy, or an ace reporter, but when they were Clark, Jon, and Lois. This comic, if anyone ever says that Superman is nothing beyond his powers or his abilities, is exactly what you need to point that person towards.
Gleason and Tomasi showed that Superman is indeed the best of us, but he also isn't above standing with us as a guide to make us all better. Superman isn't some god or Titan that we all have to look up to and wonder "wow, I wish I could be just like him;" we already ARE Clark Kent or Lois Lane, we just don't realize it yet because of all the flashy powers or insane confidence. This comic, this run of Superman, isn't afraid to say that these characters are as plain-Jane as they come, but that also means they're as complex as you and I. They're first and foremost human, they're just people, and they're just doing what they want to do and they want to raise a family. Extraordinary things happen to them, but they hold true to themselves and don't back down because they're a strong family built on love and trust that can get through anything, even when times are tough.
So, why does Superman matter? Because he's just some person from Earth trying to make his way in the world, just like us, and we matter. We all matter.