Superman hasn’t received much love lately. Over the last decade, the Last Son of Krypton has had very few appealing story lines. Certainly a hero who is invulnerable to all but a couple very specific weakness (Kryptonite, red sunlight, magic), creates a some hurdles to overcome. And as of DC Comics’ The New 52 in 2011, and Zack Snyder’s depiction in The Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the most recent writing and marketing tactic has been to turn Kal-El into a brooding, angsty type who has far more emotional similarities with Batman than he does with his earlier life-long, “boy scout” persona. Because folks weren’t buying the boy scout Kryptonian. He seemed too perfect. When his powers were consistent, he seemed boring and spent more time fighting other aliens than saving Metropolis. When his powers were less consistent to make a conflict more interesting, there were some serious continuity questions (and if you’re a nerd like me, that bothers you… a lot). And with the success of Batman, and especially Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2009, making Supes into an angsty hero who wrestles with his powers like a pubescent teen with a cracking voice seemed like a master plan.
Only it wasn’t.
That Superman, as well as most the New 52, were poorly received. Needless to say, an emo Superman was falling flat with readers. So much so that with the launch of DC Universe: Rebirth, Superman was killed off (rather anticlimactically I might add).
But good news everyone!
Superman is back in action and it is sweet!
Without getting into all of the continuity and back story, I’ll try to set it up best I can. The events of Flashpoint introduced the New 52 while also scrapping the prior DCU. However, amidst the heroes of the New 52, including N52 Superman, emerges the Superman from the previous continuity. But he appears with his wife Lois Lane and their son Jonathan Kent. And they basically hide out. But now with the New 52 Superman no longer with us, and the DC Universe: Rebirth in full swing, the boy scout Superman who know’s what he’s about and is comfortable in his own skin is back, baby! Out of hiding and taking up the red cape again to save Metropolis!
It may sound like cheesy comic book technicalities, and it is, but the Superman of Truth and Justice now has some responsibilities and roundedness of character that he didn’t before. The Action Comics and Superman titles are four issues deep as of the first week of August.
In Superman, we find a more personal story of Clark Kent trying to teach his son Jonathan what it means to have the powers he does. However, Jonathan’s abilities aren’t consistent with his father’s because he is half Kryptonian and half human, resulting in Superman and Lois Lane both having to walk along side their son as all three discover the complexities of Jonathan’s unique place in the world. The introduction of Superman as Super-Family Man gives Supes the chance to father rather than be fathered. He has stepped into the shoes of Jonathan Kent (Clark’s earth dad) and Jor-El. We’ve seen Kal-El be a mentor before to the likes of Supergirl, but this father and husband role adds new flavor to the Man of Steel.
If you’re looking for something on a broader Metropolis saving scope, Action Comics delivers. While Superman focuses on the Kent family, this title delves into a pre-Flashpoint Superman being immersed in a world that is oddly familiar but with some stark differences. (Spoiler Alert) By the second issue of the arc, Superman finds himself fighting Doomsday again (which doesn’t bode well if you know his history with this villain). However, he is also fighting along side a Lex Luthor who has taken it upon himself to be the successor to the deceased Superman. Lex even goes as far to wear the El family crest (the iconic S). Superman is perplexed and skeptical of this version of his arch-nemesis who appears to have the best interested of Metropolis in mind.
How will Superman defeat Doomsday? Will Lex prove to be a true ally? Can Supes make the paradigm shift and learn all the nuanced differences in this new universe?
So far, writers Dan Jurgens (Action Comics), and Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi (Superman) appear to have found what makes Kal-El unique among superheroes. Here is a hero who wants to inspire hope in those around him, and genuinely desires to be in community with others. While this desire has been neglected by the majority of the Superman story, in the name of “The people I love could get hurt if they were close to me,” we now get to read an older, wiser Superman who is willing to take that chance and, dare I say, balance the tension of “work” and family. The Superman of the New 52 proved (hopefully once and for all… Looking at you, Snyder) that the grimmer, broodier hero-character trait of Batman is not a success formula to be applied across every colorful panel. Rather, why that works for Batman is because Bruce Wayne lives with the tragedy of losing his family before his eyes and is reluctant to be close to even his first sidekick Dick Grayson, or his own son Damien Wayne (and now even the Dark Knight in DC Universe: Rebirth is actively embracing a familial life style for the first time since No Man’s Land). But Superman, despite having no home planet to return to, grew up in a loving household with Martha and Jonathan Kent from infancy. Clark Kent had loving parents and nurturing family life. With such fond memories of growing up, why wouldn’t a community-seeking Kal-El not let Lois Lane finally love him and subsequently start a family?
This return to Superman’s previous incarnation, and the new take on a Family-Man of Steel is a step in the right direction. It’s the Boy Scout in a new world with would-be villains he must revaluate and give the benefit of the doubt to. Can you teach an old Krypto new tricks?
So far, so good.
So grab a Little Caesar’s pizza, some Mountain Dew, and a few of the reprints at your local comic book store.
Forget the 2006 film. Now Superman has truly returned.