Having read comics for over a decade now, I can tell you one thing that comic book publishers hate: staleness. It’s why (seemingly) every time you turn around there’s a new mega-crossover happening that will “irrevocably change the fate of the [comic book publisher’s] universe FOREVER.”
Until the next one resets everything again.
In many ways, a lot of the changes that get made feel like a quick gimmick to get people to buy a book that’s lagging. Spider-Man’s sales are low? Have him reveal his secret identity to the world. The Teen Titans aren’t selling well? Kill off one of the heroes and change the roster. It’s all been done before.
So when I say that Superman now has a son with Lois Lane, it would seem that DC is just doing the same old thing in order to get people to buy into a book that hasn’t done all that well. But ever since the launch of the DC: Rebirth banner, DC has put out one of their best books in this latest volume of Superman, co-written by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, both known for their stellar run on DC’s other father-son comic, Batman and Robin. Luckily enough, the first collection is out this week for new readers to pick up and jump on board.
Superman sees the return of the “classic” Superman to the DC universe, with his wife Lois lane and son Jon in tow. Living in seclusion in Kansas after the death of the “New 52” Superman, Clark must not only wrestle with living a simple life as a farmer, but also having to train his son on how to properly use his powers. When the new monster The Eradicator arrives, however, the pair must put aside the differences they have to not only save their farm and the world, but also Jon’s humanity.
What makes Superman such a compelling read is the great character work on display between Clark and his family. Unlike past stories that challenge Clark to overcome impossible odds by using his powers, this new series sees him tackling his biggest challenge: fatherhood. In many ways he now fills the Pa Kent role in the series, offering sage advice to his adolescent son. It’s a new challenge for him to wrestle with, as this isn’t the kind of problem he can just muscle away. Luckily he has Lois by his side, now working as both a stay-at-home mother, farmer, and fledgling novelist. Her sardonic wit and level-headedness are there to help Clark when things between father and son get heated. Tomasi and Gleason have found a new vein of stories to tap into for this series with a new dynamic that will hopefully provide enough compelling drama to keep readers interested in the long haul.
That’s to say nothing about how both writers handle young Jon Kent. It’s challenging for many writers to capture the voice of young kids. Many children seem either too unfocused or too scripted to seem like actual characters. Yet Tomasi, mining his own experiences as a father, has captured lightning twice now with presenting a young boy that feels just as real as any adult character.
Perhaps one of the best scenes in the collection is a small moment where Jon watches in silence from his room as Clark meets with Batman and Wonder Woman in the front yard. The staging and script make the sequence feel like just the kind of thing a young boy would do to learn more about what being an adult is like. It is these smaller moments that really make this book sing above other traditional superhero fare.
In many ways, this series is a grand companion piece to Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin book. While that book had its moments trying to find itself – the opening arcs struggle at times to find themselves before Robin’s untimely death – this new series immediately jumps out knowing what it is. The opening arc tackles an important theme of balancing work and family, seeing Clark both try to keep his son safe and resist being recruited to fight crime once more. It’s an idea that’s prevalent in this age of working parents and kids with access to more information (or power, if you’d like) than ever before.
That’s not to say there isn’t any action at all. This opening story arc features The Eradicator as a powerful adversary to both Clark and Jon, and it’s here that Gleason, the main penciller of the book, shows why he and Tomasi have been one of the best unsung duos in comics the past few years. Not only does he draw expressive characters that radiate emotions from admiration to fear (his drawings featuring a terrified Jon after using his powers uncontrollably are quite moving), but his action sequences are remarkable to behold. There is plenty of creepiness and terror lurking in the depiction of The Eradicator that Gleason excels at to balance the majesty of seeing Superman flying through the sky.
Since this book ships bi-weekly, Gleason can’t draw every single issue. Joining him in this collection is Doug Mahnke and Jorge Jimenez for a handful of issues to round out this arc. Both bring a terrific superhero sensibility to their artwork. Power practically radiates off the pages of each issue. But despite how great the book looks issue to issue, when taken as a full story the series sags from the changing art styles.
The biggest downside to this book is the amount of backstory new readers will have to work through in order to fully understand the status quo as the series begins. That includes some of the “New 52” Superman books to acquaint readers with the younger Superman; the Convergence and Superman: Lois and Clark miniseries to show that the pre-“New 52” Superman is still alive and well, as well as to see the early days of Jon; Superman: The Final Days of Superman collection to see the death of the “New 52” Superman; and DC Universe: Rebirth to understand the basics of the Rebirth landscape and showcasing Clark begin to step closer towards his new life in the main DC Universe (as well as getting hints at what the mysterious Mr. Oz is up to, who may come into play later on in this series).
Like I said, it’s a lot. It might be too much for some people to want to read through. Like a lot of “jumping on points,” this collection does include the Superman: Rebirth one-shot that’s meant to catch up new readers on what’s come before. But to fully appreciate the context of this series it might behoove new readers to at least familiarize themselves with these books beforehand.
Superman has been plagued by a lack of interest for the past few years compared to other heroes like Batman and Green Lantern. After all, how can readers be interested in a hero that’s so powerful he’s almost godlike? The answer, it seems, it to make him a father. With this latest collection, DC has managed to breathe new life into Superman. New readers would do well by picking up a copy for themselves to see what Tomasi and Gleason have created this time.
Superman, volume 1: Son of Superman is available now in comic book shops everywhere. Issue fourteen, the latest issue of the series which kicks off the new story arc “Multiplicity”, is also available now.