Today, Shane and Michael are discussing Superman Rebirth 1, originally released June 1st, 2015.
Shane: It can be incredibly difficult to lose a hero. This year has seen a lot of notable role models pass — David Bowie, Prince, Mohammed Ali, and others. To be entirely honest, though? I know that they meant a lot to a lot of people — many close friends were crushed with Bowie’s passing, as an example — but although I appreciate them all, they weren’t as influential to my own life. In fact, I have a hard time thinking of any real-life famous figure who notably inspired me…but Superman? He was my hero. Reading his adventures during my formative years genuinely helped impart a true sense of right and wrong, to try to not just take the easy route, to genuinely do better and make a difference if possible.
And a little under five years ago, I lost my hero. He didn’t die — fictional characters can’t truly die, so long as you can read or see their old stories — but rather, he was written out by Flashpoint, replaced by a younger, alternate version of himself in the New 52. Perhaps intentionally written as “edgier” and more “in-touch” with modern concerns, this new Superman had perhaps moments of greatness, but as a whole felt less than the Superman I’d grown up admiring. But, you know, maybe it isn’t all about me. Maybe others identified with this Superman the same way I’d identified with mine — maybe to some, he was their hero.
And then he, too, died, and in his place is my Superman, remnant of a lost and forgotten world, left to carry his torch. Maybe I’m happy — but others aren’t, key among them Superman himself. We’ve seen many stories in comics about characters coming in from another reality to take over the lives of the characters we know, but here, we’re faced with something different: a character who resists that trope, wanting the universe he’s in to return to the status quo. And it’s not impossible…because he’s been through it himself.
To Lana, the notion of Clark’s return from death is inconceivable, but our Superman died and returned, and through a series of double-paged spreads, Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke not only pull the twenty-year old mega-event into the current story, but also showcase how much more this new/old Superman has been through, compared to the New 52 version. It’s a fantastic (re)introduction, but these panels speak not just to the story, but to its innate problems. Although DC Rebirth has provided new in-story reasons for the New 52’s existence, the line still exists solely in the new reality, and yet this Superman — arguably the company’s flagship hero — is the product of a previous time. He doesn’t fit in, and to move forward, writers will have to jump through all kinds of convoluted hoops to bring him into anything resembling an iconic status quo. He was casually written out of continuity in a series that wasn’t even about him, but to bring him back? He’s right — being reborn is hard.
Superman: Rebirth works hard to answer some of those questions, putting the old Superman to rest (both literally and figuratively, as the notion of his own rebirth is firmly nixed) and setting the pre-Flashpoint Clark Kent to take up his old role as the Man of Steel. It’s not something he wanted, but this issue helps get him to that destination in an emotional journey told more by art than words. Mahnke has had a few notable runs with Superman before, from an old Man of Steel run in the early 2000’s to his recent run on Superman/Wonder Woman, and I’m thrilled to see him back, with this issue a great example of why.
Mahnke is skilled at many things, including some exceptional facial expressions that show how Clark goes from sadness at the loss of the New 52 Superman, to being resolute that he’ll return one day, to the realization he’s gone for good, and — finally — to accepting what comes next. And it’s something that he can’t help but be happy for. The smile and sheer sense of childlike joy in the last panel really helps set up Superman for what I believe will be a hopeful and inspirational run, and it starts here.
It’s not a perfect issue, of course. Although Tomasi does a pretty solid job of explaining why this old Superman is going to star in the titles from now on, and why the New 52 Superman can’t just come back like he did, it feels a bit too much like a chore — like the team realized how difficult it was going to be to transition into this new status quo, and decided they needed to devote a lot of time to explain everything. And that’s fine, and probably necessary — but for Superman: Rebirth, the issue that’s supposed to launch DC Rebirth’s entire Superman line, I’m worried that it might not make for the most exciting jumping-on point. The issue is essentially an epilogue to The Last Days of Superman crossover of the past couple months, which in turn spun out of the “Truth” storyline, Justice League‘s “The Darkseid War”, and Bryan Hitch’s still-unfinished Justice League of America. And that’s just to explain away what happened to the New 52 Superman, let alone why the pre-Flashpoint Superman is here (which is at least two other story arcs on its own.) So, sure, this may have consolidated all of the necessary information into one issue…but the excitement lags a bit as a result. Far too much talking, and — double page spread flashbacks notwithstanding — not enough showing.
For me, it worked, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m predisposed to like the return of this Superman. How about you, Michael? Are you like me in that regard, or do you perhaps fall on the newer reader spectrum? Does this issue make you want to read the upcoming line?
Michael: Shane, to be honest, I was never that much of a fan of New 52 Superman. The only reason I followed Action Comics at the start of the relaunch was because Grant Morrison was behind it. Following the end of Morrison’s run on Action, Superman was tossed around and mishandled been too many writers, a few of which I am not crazy about. I am excited about Pete Tomasi’s Superman explicitly because it stars the old Superman that I knew and loved. Dan Jurgens has been shepherding Clark has his family in Superman: Lois and Clark, but DC Rebirth finally presents us the classic Superman working in public and interacting with the characters of the current continuity.
Shane is right in saying that Superman Rebirth 1 functions as more of an epilogue to “The Last Days of Superman” than as a prologue to the new Superman ongoing. The bulk of the issue is Clark dealing with the fact that New 52 Superman is truly dead and that he must rise to the occasion as Metropolis’ “new” Superman. Because I wasn’t particularly fond of New 52 Superman I initially rolled my eyes a bit at Superman’s respect for the fallen hero and patience for his return — I wanted MY Superman back already, dammit! Tomasi leans in hard on how Superman sees the best in all of us — including New 52 Superman — so I buy into his mourning the death of the other Superman. Superman is wise enough to know that he can learn from the legacy of other heroes, even alternate versions of himself.
In Superman: Rebirth 1 Clark visits the New 52 Fortress of Solitude, and realizes how beautifully simple and obvious it was for him to honor his Earth parents as well as his Kryptonian parents. I might argue that classic Supes never built a memorial to Ma and Pa Kent because they were still alive but the point is that Superman can see the value in a different perspective. One silly argument I will make, however, is that there is no way that Superman could add a New 52 Superman ice sculpture to the mix without starting on an entirely different block of ice. So there’s that.
Similar to my personal views on New 52 Superman, I liked Superman; Rebirth 1 a lot better the more that I thought about it. It’s on record how much I loved DC Universe Rebirth 1 — it was an editorial mission statement wrapped in an engaging and emotional narrative. Superman: Rebirth 1 doesn’t exactly reach the same heights that DC Universe Rebirth 1 did but I think that it accomplishes the “Rebirth” angle better than Batman: Rebirth 1 did.
While we might be a rather vocal majority, there are plenty of DC readers who don’t know much beyond The New 52. In regards to them and continuity at large, Pete Tomasi and Doug Mahnke are trying to stitch classic Superman into the fabric of modern DC continuity. As completely stupid as it sounds/is, I cannot tell you how excited I was to see Mahnke draw Superman in his classic red trunks.
More to the point — in DC Universe Rebirth 1 Geoff Johns gave us the abridged story of Wally West and here Pete Tomasi is giving us a little glimpse of Superman’s history, in light of New 52 Superman’s demise. It’s important to note that while this is the classic Superman that fans like Shane and I love, that doesn’t mean that everything’s gonna go “back to normal.” Tomasi is crafting a new Superman built from parts of classic and modern continuity. Superman’s origin fundamentally stays the same: born on Krypton, raised in Smallville. But now he is coming out of “retirement” with a new raison d’être: to honor the Superman of his new Earth home and to protect his people. Like the man said: “Being reborn is hard.”
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