Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Superman Annual 1, originally released November 30th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: I harp on Annuals a lot because in short, they’re weird. Typically they exist outside of the main ongoing story and sometimes are not even written or drawn by the title’s current creative team. Rebirth is not immune to the pitfalls of Annuals, as Drew and I pointed out in our discussion of Batman Annual 1. The consistently strong Superman title, however, follows through with Superman Annual 1. Pete Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Jorge Jimenez provide us with a story that compliments the main narrative and encapsulates the same joy that has made Superman one of the stand-out Rebirth titles.
From the announcement of Rebirth’s new Superman title, premise, and creative team it was clear that this book was for fans like me. Classic Superman is back? The coolest, most sincere superhero “dad” is back and this time he’s actually a dad? Sign me up! Since the return of the classic Man of Steel, DC has been establishing his place in the modern DCU while simultaneously dredging up Superman continuity. Both of the opening arcs of Superman and Action Comics featured characters closely linked to pre-Flashpoint continuity – specifically ‘90s continuity – in The Eradicator and Doomsday. I don’t know if this is “one step forward, two steps backward” or “two steps forward, one step backward” storytelling. What I’m saying is that it’s possible that there are steps that are being stepped on in the wrong step direction.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of Superman thus far. I’d go so far as saying that I’d be ok with them giving him a ‘90s mullet again, so long as the series maintains the same heart. I only bring this up because the theme of Superman Annual 1 is letting go of the past and embracing the future. Clark realizes that’s something’s wrong with his crops – good farmer that he is – and ends up meeting with Swamp Thing to discuss an imbalance that is causing a disturbance in the Green — the imbalance in question being Superman himself.
Tomasi and Gleason don’t go into painstaking detail explaining why Superman is throwing the Green out of whack other than that he’s a “vibrational aberration,” but I don’t think they need to. Sometimes I think comic book creators get so caught up in the pseudo-science that the greater meaning gets lost in it all. Bottom line: Superman is not of this Earth and his being here is causing a disturbance in the natural order of things. Superman and Swampy proceed to do a version of the typical “classic misunderstanding fight,” except they’re both trying to help one another in their own way.
Jorge Jimenez is tapping into some classic Swamp Thing lore in Superman Annual 1. Jimenez adopts a style that is very reminiscent of Yannick Paquette’s from the Swamp Thing series written by Scott Snyder. As soon as Swamp Thing enters the story the layouts switch from the initial, rectangular panels and pages to the more “organic”, amorphous panels that sprawl and grow across the page. This style is very Swampy in nature, but it also illustrates the point that Swamp Thing is trying to make: Superman’s aberrational presence is connected to the rest of the world.
Another fun bit of Swamp Thing lore is how Superman’s touch turns Swamp Thing blue – a nod to the latter part of Alan Moore’s work on the character. Swampy starts speaking Kryptonian and it’s become clear to Superman that there might be some validity to Swamp Thing’s claims. They trade blows and get a little annoyed with each other’s “help” until they bond and Superman enters the Green. This is where we get to the heady crux of the issue. Swamp Thing and Superman become one in the same and they finally find a way to communicate and understand one another, resulting in my favorite image of the book:
Would ya look at that? Jimenez even gave Swamp the damn spit curl! Swamp Thing provides Superman with a lesson that I know I have had personal trouble with: leaving the past behind. I don’t have any idea how Superman’s nostalgia for the good ‘ol days has an effect on the Earth’s plant life but I do not care one bit because the message is so relevant and relatable. Even though I may categorize Superman as the ultimate dad, he can still (re)learn a thing or two every once in a while.
I thought that this was a very worthy addition to the Superman series that we’ve seen thus far. It took the time to address Superman’s oddball status and perhaps allowed the character, the creators, and the audience to be at peace with the stories of yesterday and make way for what’s to come.
What do you think Mark? Was this a worthy Annual in your eyes? Did you buy into the feel-good premise and forego any “logical” explanation like I did? Do you think that this character/title will ever truly be able to leave the past behind, or is that an inherent part of his character?
Mark: Removed from all context and as a standalone Superman story, I think Superman Annual 1 works well. The story told here is a classic exploration of Superman’s struggle to find where he fits on his adopted world, and I think you did a great job of highlighting the issue’s strong points, Michael. Still, viewed in the broader context of DC’s current Superman line, I’m conflicted.
It’s fascinating how much time has been spent trying to justify the “changes” various heroes have experienced since Rebirth. One of the main marketing points of Rebirth was that it wasn’t a reboot or massive realignment of DC’s universe, and I assumed that after the one-shots that kicked off each new title we’d pretty much be done with the justifications and move right along. Instead, heroes trying to come to terms with their pasts has become a recurring storyline in a remarkable number of Rebirth titles. This exploration feels redundant, given the very premise of Rebirth, but it is interesting to watch as each title’s new creative team seemingly tries to come to terms with their character’s recent past.
Superman has been the point man for the growing pains of Rebirth, as he is now a fish-out-of-water twice over. Not only is he a Kryptonian living among men, he is also an interloper from another dimension taking over the role/life of his doppelgänger. And even though I’m not the biggest fan of New 52 Superman, it feels a little bit cruel to completely write him out of existence so the fan preferred flavor can take his place, especially when no other New 52 iteration was dispatched so unceremoniously.
I’ve also discussed in the past my concerns with both Batman and Superman’s stories being continually reduced to trauma surrounding their origins. As much as I’ve enjoyed Gleason and Tomasi’s run on Superman, one of their earliest stories revolved around Superman feeling a sense of guilt about the people of Krypton. And while I won’t rehash the entire argument here, suffice it to say that I feel that the destruction of Krypton can be a part of who Superman is without it being the whole of his motivation.
For these reasons, I find Superman Annual 1 to be satisfying on a micro level, while remaining skeptical that the lesson of the issue is reverberating at an editorial level.
My hope is that this annual will act like a sort of Batgirl 40, an issue that acknowledges the past but is truly a dividing point between what the character was and what they are. My worry is that Superman will remain in the same narrative loops forever because it’s safe and familiar, and Rebirth is built around the safe and familiar.
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