By Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
While Superman’s abilities to punch hard, fly fast, and jump high are the sizzle to his steak, the real meat (pardon the tortured metaphor) of Clark Kent as a character is his strong moral center. Comic books are lousy with characters possessing superpowers, but only a precious few represent truth and goodness like the man from Krypton. That’s why the Superman stories that really stick with us are the ones that find ways to challenge his moral certitude — and by challenging it, ultimately end up amplifying it even more. At multiple points, James Robinson and Doug Mahnke’s Superman 40 is on the precipice of testing the Man of Steel’s philosophical strength in interesting ways, but never shows any interest in doing so.
For instance, there’s the seed of an idea in Superman watching a one hour long holographic simulation of Krypton’s destruction as a way of marking the anniversary and honoring his home planet. It’s an act of self-flagellation unmoored from Superman’s generally upbeat attitude, and asking why Superman needs this moment of bleak rememberance once a year seems worthwhile. Does it act as the yin that centers him and balances out his sunnier yang? But Superman 40 isn’t interested in asking why. Instead, the fact that Superman would subject him and his son to such a display is taken for granted, and the issue quickly shifts focus to Galymayne — another planet on the brink of destruction — as Superman and Superboy rush to save it from the same fate as Krypton.
Here, again, is another missed opportunity to challenge Superman. When he and Superboy arrive on Galymayne they’re shocked to find that the High Priest and his followers don’t want to be saved. They consider their planet’s destruction to be the will of their god, and if the citizens of Galymayne genuinely want to die with their planet, who is Superman to tell them they can’t? Unfortunately, the morality of this choice is never truly considered since the High Priest is portrayed as malicious from the get-go, and the story quickly devolves into a chase sequence that ends with the Kent boys being saved by Klain, a scientist determined to save his world. This conflict between faith and science is ripe for exploration (see also: many episodes of many Star Trek shows), but is weighted so heavily from the get go that this arc’s destination seems obvious.
Any Superman story that primarily challenges Superman’s physical strength has a high bar to jump over; Superman is so OP and has been around for so long that it takes a great deal of originality to create a challenge that doesn’t feel rote. Superman 40 relies on the least interesting elements of its story, but the germ for something unique is there.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?