Superman 32

Alternating Currents: Superman 32, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing Superman 32, originally released June 25th, 2014.

Drew: When I was five years old, I told my then four-year-old cousin that he was adopted. Nobody had told me that he was, and certainly nobody told me that I wasn’t supposed to tell him, but he was immediately distraught, running to his mother to assure him I was lying. A young kid’s relationship to his parents is his whole world, and the thought that there might be something unusual about it is understandably upsetting. Totally unintentionally, I put my aunt in an incredibly awkward position, forcing her to confront a truth outside of her terms, when her son was already distressed by the idea. Complicating the issue was that his brother is not adopted, which only creates more potential for feelings of alienation. Superman has long been the poster child for adoption, but what if his adopted home had its own “last son” that seemed to be every bit as “super” as he is? Might Clark grow a chip on his shoulder about being “the adopted one”? These are exactly the questions Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. set up in Superman 32, stopping just shy of showing us the answers.

The issue opens with a very familiar story of parents sending their infant son to another world to escape certain doom, only that certain doom is on Earth, and that other world is the mysterious “dimension four”. Only, you know, Earth didn’t die after all, so when the son returns 25 years later suped up on dimension four’s superpowers, he’s more than a little shocked to see it all in one piece. Oh, and now it has an alien protector that does all of the things he can do.

Come to think of it, this “Last Son of Earth”, Ulysses, has just as much reason to feel awkward as Clark does. Sure, he’s originally from Earth, but he hasn’t seen it since he was a baby. Indeed, he thought it was destroyed 25 years ago, so can’t have a great handle on its culture. Moreover, he has competition in the form of basically his polar opposite — a man who wasn’t born on Earth, but has called it home for the past 25 years. The source of conflict here is obvious — especially in light of Clark’s alienation throughout the issue. Johns takes special care to create a need for connection for Clark (delivered somewhat awkwardly by an overstepping Perry White), showing how hard it can be for him to form connections when everyone he knows is a superhero, then hitting us with the ol’ dead parents reminder.

SupersadAs much as Clark is the ideal power fantasy figure, he’s actually an incredibly isolated character. That runs the risk of turning him into yet another Batman clone, but Johns smartly reminds us that this isn’t Clark’s natural tendency. He needs those human connections more than any of his human colleagues, but the weight of maintaining a secret identity has kept his non-hero friends at arms’ length. The result is a man whose connection to Earth feels a tad strained — something that only gets worse when Earth’s own protector shows up.

Come to think of it, Clark has two reasons to be made uncomfortable by Ulysses’ presence: on the one hand, he might feel threatened by the presence of a doppelgänger who may have a stronger claim to Earth than he does, and on the other, he may simply develop feelings of jealousy seeing someone return to their lost homeworld. Superman has always been above these kinds of petty emotions, but, as Ulysses’ mother points out at the beginning of the issue, we haven’t learned anything about the fourth dimension. Maybe he’s like Superman in every way, and this story will be a bit of a parlor drama about their senses of identity, or maybe that “U” on his chest is meant to evoke the over-the-top villainy of Ultraman. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Speaking of waiting and seeing, I haven’t read Ulysses, so I don’t think I’m qualified to unpack Ulysses’ name here — can you provide any insights on that, Scott? I can note that Ulysses is actually the latinized name of Odysseus, and that this particular Ulysses’ journey back home may reflect that, but it’s too loaded a name to not be a reference. At the same time, Ulysses seems like an out-of-character work for Johns to allude to — he never struck me as much of a modernist. What do you think? Is this the most literate Superman story you’ve ever read, or is the name just window dressing?

Scott: A little bit of both? My guess is it’s an allusion to Odysseus, but I say this only because, as you pointed out, Ulysses has finally found his way back after many years away from home. The obvious difference, though, is that Ulysees, unlike Odysseus, wasn’t trying to get home — he has no family to return to and he also believed Earth had been destroyed. I think we’ll have to wait and see if any other connections emerge. Not to spoil anything, but Odysseus’ return to Ithaca didn’t turn out well for many of the island’s residents, which could be a bad omen for Clark. While we’re talking about name-references, I also like that Ulysses’ real given name is Neil, possibly a nod to Neil Armstrong, another human who was the first to step out into a new frontier. Or Neil Diamond, the first man to venture into The 4th Dimension Of Rock.

I’m definitely intrigued by the potential psychological effects Ulysses’ arrival on Earth might have on Clark. I could see him feeling jealous or even feeling like he’s no longer needed now that a native Earthling with powers equal to his own is around. Maybe Clark is in for some intergalactic soul searching, trying to find his place in the universe. Johns is clearly giving Superman — and Clark Kent — an opportunity to contemplate his role on Earth. Rather than rehash the origin story we all know, he’s created a mirror image of it. Through our surrogate-Clark we get to see how Clark might react if he were able to return to his home planet, while also getting his first impression of Earth. Romita’s art reinforces the mirror-image theme between Clark and Ulysses (they even punch with the opposite arm!)

Bizarre reflectionIt’s interesting that this issue presents Clark with an offer to rejoin the Daily Planet. It seems Johns may be eager to revert Clark back to a more familiar life. His phone calls to Wonder Woman and Batman don’t seem to go anywhere, while more available friends like Lois and Jimmy are sitting there waiting to take on bigger roles. Maybe, more than anything, Ulysses’ arrival will allow Clark an opportunity to discover who he wants to be when he’s not wearing a cape. Ulysses is, after all, a human, and he might rely on Clark to show him what being a human on Earth is all about. It would be ironic, given the characters’ origins, but Clark is perfect guy for the job. If it means creating more interesting storylines for the familiar faces around Metropolis, that can only be good for this title.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

14 comments on “Superman 32

  1. It is remarkable how quickly Johns and Romita are making moves back towards the platonic Superman, both in trying to get Clark back at the Daily Planet and putting a wrench in Jimmy Olsen’s fortune. I like it, but it does make me wonder why the Chief Creative Office would need to course correct the second biggest character in the publisher’s stable. If he wasn’t into those changes in the first place, it wouldn’t take ACTUALLY WRITING THE SERIES to change it back, right?

    • I think we all (myself included for quite a while) completely misunderstand what Johns job actually is. Despite the deliberately misleading title of “Chief Creative Officer”, Johns job responsibilities almost entirely seem to involve helping to develop and maintain DC’s properties as they enter other media (TV, movies, video games, etc.).

      I’m sure Johns opinion has a lot of pull around the DC office, but I don’t think he’s as involved in the day-to-day affairs and creative direction of the New 52 as we think he is.

      • I’d love to sit down and have a talk with him about it, but the New 52 definitely feels like it’s his baby. He wrote the story that got us into it (Flashpoint) and the first issue of N52 (Justice League 1). Do you think he’s more the Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment as a whole than for the comic publisher? He obviously has a lot of sway there too.

        (New goal, get Johns in for an interview.)

        • Good goal. And I’m with Spencer on Johns’ role as it’s the only way I’ve ever heard it described. He’s not a co-publisher so if I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that the N52 is his baby in as much capacity as Didio and Lee have let it be his baby. There’s no doubt that he has steered the course of some major characters, and that he has helped to define the “spine” of the DCU with his JL work. That said, I don’t think he’s been in charge of or has signed off on every character-specific storyline. I mean, look at Wonder Woman. She’s a Leaguer, but you wouldn’t know that from reading her solo book.

          That said, I think that a part of what we’ll be seeing in his series is not only a course correct back to a platonic Superman, but a synthesis of everything that has worked for New 52 Supes so far as well. In his Reddit AMA, Johns said this specifically, including how much he liked Morison’s contributions, but you didn’t have to read that to know that Johns has spent his entire career with DC course correcting characters while adding to their mythos.

        • Right, but every writer must pitch their stories to DC editorial, and then get notes and/or approval on what they want to write. It doesn’t surprise me that Azz’ pitch gets a green light – it’s a compelling premise and Azz has the skill to pull it off. Plus, it has the power to be one of those pillars around which other mythology revolves. (No one has really embraced that, except maybe Soule in Supes/Wondy.)

          Like I think any of the Didio/Lee/Johns trinity understands that you have to give storytellers space to actually tell a story. It’s just funny to see these recently-altered elements of Clark’s identity changed back.

        • I’m curious to see what elements Johns keeps. Like, is the stuff that he’s ignoring all Lobdell? I’m pretty sure Clark leaving the Planet and Jimmy getting rich was both Lobdell. Also, I wonder if Johns will give Supes Ma Kent back. Morisson left it open for a return of Ma and Pa in Action, so I wonder if Johns will do it.

      • …Superman orders a glass of milk, Wraith orders a cup of black coffee, and Ulysses orders a glass of orange juice (why any of them chose to acquire these drinks at a bar is beyond me). They sit, converse, and ruminate on what being a “hero” actually entails. After a couple of hours of discussion (and many glasses, mugs, and cups later), the conversation turns into a debate.

        Enter Lex Luthor, General Lane, and Pizza Dog (hey, hawk guy’s real master!)…

  2. Yeah, I’m tempted to believe that Ulysses is a reference to the Odyssey, and not the Joyce novel. As much fun as it would be to see someone explore Superman through that lens, it makes much more sense that Supes’ would be compared to the archetypical Homeric hero. Like, I don’t expect to see drinkin’, fuckin’, and steam-of-consciousness self-doubt from this series.

  3. Well, I have been absolutely loving Johns and JRJr on Superman, and am super excited to see what the new powerset they’re allegedly unveiling in the coming months. Did you guys stop doing A/C’s for Superman, or have they just not been liked on on the main Superman Pull List page.

    • MOGO! Long time, no see! You haven’t missed any Superman</em? ACs — we slimmed down our pull a ton over the summer. Since then, we've been working to add them back, but Superman hasn’t been on our radar. If you say it’s worth checking out, we’ll give it another whirl.

      • Yeah, man! They unblocked me from work again. I was so happy to get that e-mail. We’ll see how it goes. I work long days, and unfortunately, don’t have much computer time at home as a married man.

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