Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Superman 11, originally released November 16th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Superman 11 concludes the fantastic and fun “World’s Smallest” arc/prelude to the upcoming Super Sons series. Batman, Superman and Alfred have devised a series of tests for Jon and Damian to overcome by working as a team. With Robin: Son of Batman’s Maya Ducard and “not a man-bat” Goliath in on the fun, Superman 11 is a complete Patrick Gleason/Pete Tomasi partnership. With its classic approach of the character, Superman has consistently been one of the best Rebirth titles. But by throwing Damian Wayne into the equation Tomasi and Gleason up their game exponentially.
“Two heroes must overcome their differences and work together in order to win the day” is basically the story of all comic books – all popular fiction even. What I like about that premise in Superman 11 is that Tomasi and Gleason don’t play it up as some hokey lesson at the end of the book. Instead, it’s the goal from the outset: two dads telling their sons to play nice. If I had to guess, I’d say that Batman is the master planner behind these tests. The Dark Knight does so enjoy the power of symbols, as the boys start out without Robin insignia and Superboy jacket zipper; they must “earn their capes.”
This iteration of the Superman title has been a father/son story through and through. In Superman 11 we have three differing parenting styles from Superman, Batman and Alfred. Batman is the hardheaded father who thinks that his son needs to learn by doing it himself. In the last issue they referred to Batman’s training methods as “boot camp” because he’s not really the coddling type. Batman tries to anticipate every possible outcome, even (and especially) death. When it looks like the boys might fall to their deaths, Batman insists that they can handle it themselves – he wants them to brush up against failure (and death?) a little bit.
Alfred’s parenting technique has always been the counter balance to Batman’s. How many times in Batman’s publishing history has Alfred had an argument with Batman that boils down to “you’re being too hard on Robin”? We love Alfred because he’s such an encouraging and warm father figure to anyone and everyone who has ever entered the batcave. In this arc he’s stuck to that role, as he feels protective and fearful for the boys’ lives and encourages Batman to give them a break and be proud of them.
Superman sort of takes a back seat to the “Trials of the Super Sons” for the most part. Superman’s whole shtick as a hero is to lead by example and to inspire us to be better. The encouraging father figure to us all, Superman believes that we can do whatever we set our minds to; but he’s always ready to step in and help at a moment’s notice. Superman’s more in line with Alfred’s warm parenting technique, but he still goes along with Batman’s plan because he trusts him.
Gleason hasn’t done the art for Superman since the end of the Eradicator arc in Superman 6. No doubt he’s been taking the time in between working on Damian Wayne, a character near and dear to his heart. You can feel the energy and excitement in that opening sequence, as panels come crashing down on the page like the rocks on the mountain top. That first test is just energy in motion, moving from one set piece to another – a layout for a fast-paced action movie. Gleason emphasizes that point I made about Superman taking a back seat by providing a simple blue streak in the air as he prepares for the possibility that the boys might fail.
Superman 11 ends by reminding us that this is as much about Batman and Superman coming together as it is Damian and Jon. They’ve worked together on different occasions in numerous Rebirth titles but this Superman and Batman are still practically strangers to one another. There’s a nice transition from the two referring to one another a “Wayne” and “Kent” to “Bruce” and “Clark.” I’m a sucker for the times where Batman could easily be an asshole but chooses to be human instead – Tomasi and Gleason excel at those character beats.
Patrick! Did you dig this book as much as I did? Do you think Damian Wayne brings out the best in Tomasi and Gleason? And what’s up with “Mr. Squish?” I thought that was Clayface at first, but it turns out that Batman actually made a living amalgamation of his arch enemies? WTF?
Patrick: The fuck, as best I can tell, is that Mr. Squish lives and exhibits the abilities of Clayface, Freeze, Ivy, Joker, etc., but doesn’t actually have the consciousness of any of those characters — possibly no consciousness whatsoever. He’s a troubling creation if you take any of the incident of this issue literally, but I think Michael’s right to emphasize how much Gleason and Tomasi are focused on the symbolism of this friendship instead. I mean, if all of these tests and trials were actually happening, there are billions of dollars of collateral damage, and even if that train was empty (thanks for that info Damian), there’s no way that no one was seriously injured in this issue. Right? Superman starts a hurricane of the coast of Gotham for crying out loud!
I also think we need to remember that this isn’t a Batman comic, which should be hampered with the hows and whys of the incident of the issue. Superman is about making the reader experience something fun, fast and wondrous – if the logical pieces don’t totally line up, well that’s the kind of gosh-gee-willikers world we’re living in. We may be borrowing most of the characters (and the creative team) from Batman and Robin, but the tone is staunchly Superman-ic.
And I’m all for that lighter tone. It allows for some truly breathtaking images of the Super Sons in action. There’s a lot of chaos in this issue, as Michael demonstrated above, but for my money, Gleason shines brightest when he’s at his most presentational. The camera can get unruly in a high speed action sequence, but Gleason pulls out for a proscenium presentation that tells the story with diagram-like clarity.
Not only is this objectively awesome, the construction of this panel is immaculate. Superboy flies parallel to Goliath’s punching arm, while Damian takes a header and crumples like Goliath’s other claw. The smashed bike is at a 90 degree angle to Goliath’s arm (and Jon, and the surface of the train car), perfectly squaring off the action. The rest of the scene requires a little bit of imagination to meet Gleason and Tomasi in their vision — I feel like there could have been a few more panels setting up the whole “there’s a tanker full of fish that Damian discovered and convinces Jon to steer Goliath into” beat, but that lack of clarity there makes this panel sing all the prettier.
Of course, Gleason’s also a softie and can play the quiet moments with that same kind of clarity. Robin and Superboy are so interested in reclaiming the badges that assert their identities as defined by their fathers that they sorta miss the insignia they create together.
Letterer Rob Leigh even gets in on the balancing act, perfectly distributing the speech balloons here to reflect the yin-yang-y pattern created by our heroes bodies. Even the graphic X from Goliath’s harness plays into this image. This story might not make the best case for these kids as friends, but man, they do make a compelling team.
And I think that’s part of the point of this team up: Jon and Damian don’t necessarily need to be friends to be a team-up that I want to read. Bruce and Clark naturally become friends over time, and we can see history repeating itself as the newest version of that relationship softens to the casual use of first names. But Jon and Damian? They’re back to calling each other “alien” and “twerp” by the end of the issue. Last time, I mentioned that Damian calling Jon “hayseed” was the highlight of my week, and I stand by that. That’s the relationship I want to see between these kids, and it doesn’t matter how much Batman wants to model their relationship after the partnership between Bats and Sups. Kids gotta make their way.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?