When it comes to super heroes, there is no arguing: Superman is the granddaddy of them all.
In recent years though, the man of steel has fallen on hard times. Despite a strong start under manic mastermind Grant Morrison in the pages of Action Comics, the version of the character who has appeared in the pages of DC comics since being rebooted for the new 52 has appeared inconsistent, off-kilter, and has failed to capture the imaginations and dollars of the comic reading public. Even a strong showing at the box office was not enough to draw the faithful back to a character who has been a fixture of American popular culture for over seven decades. The lone bright spots have been the moderately successful Superman/Wonder Woman from Charles Soule and Greg Pak’s run on Batman/Superman.
So how do you solve a problem like Superman?
You call in the big guns.
Over the last fifteen years, there has been no one better at knocking the rust off of characters and putting their best shine on display than Geoff Johns. He transformed the Justice Society from a tepid collection of octogenarians to a team of battle-tested veterans educating the next generation. His run on Green Lantern raised the character to such heights that parent company Warner Brothers attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to make him the cornerstone of a relaunched cinematic universe. His take on Justice League is all-but certain to be what fans will see on the silver screen in 2017. You might as well call him “The Fixer”.
If the New 52 has been Kryptonite to the Last Son of Krypton, Geoff Johns is a ray of unfiltered sunshine. He has managed to capture the essence of Superman in a way that hearkens back to the classic stories of the golden and silver ages while still embracing the elements which have been added in this rebooted universe. While the story acknowledges these new facets, there is an implicit promise in Johns’ narrative that the parts of the mythos which are most familiar to fans: Perry White, the Daily Planet, the unabashed straightforwardness of Clark Kent, will be a much larger part of Superman’s future.
If this first issue is any indication, that future will be a bright one. DC hasn’t stopped at recruiting their heaviest hitter on the keyboard, but they have managed to lure second-generation superstar artist John Romita Jr., fresh off of his exclusive contract with competitor Marvel Comics, to bring his distinctive style to the most iconic character in the history of the medium. Romita displays an impressive amount of artistic range in his debut outing on Superman. The action sequences are furious in their kinetic energy.
His Man of Steel feels as if he is exploding off the page, and the almost Kirby-esque power of his poses and framing leaves the reader breathless. In contrast, the quiet moments of humanity when the story revolves around the day-to-day world of Clark Kent are endearing in their simplicity. They help tremendously in encapsulating the dichotomy of Superman’s existence: an impossibly fast world challenging a man who, at his heart, just enjoys a good home cooked meal and wants someone to connect with.
With Johns bringing an insight into the character that comes of a lifelong love for him and Romita drawing him as powerfully as anyone in recent memory, Superman is a title on the comeback trail. This team understand the iconic nature of the character and it shows. The New 52 Superman is finally growing up. With these two at the helm, it’s safe to say he’s about to become the inspirational force that true fans have always known he could be.
The book is not perfect, by any means. Romita admits that he has a way to go in learning how to handle Superman’s face, in particular, and there are a couple of instances where it shows. While I personally enjoyed the more personal moments, Johns does have an occasional tendency to lay on the after-school-special-style moments. These are nitpicks, to be sure, but its important to lay them out in advance of the final analysis.
While the book may not be impeccable, it is the best single issue of Superman in years. Johns and Romita pair the heart of the classics with the flash of modern style in a way that has the potential to be the definitive take on the character for this generation. This is a book that new fans can access and old fans will immediately recognize.
The Man of Tomorrow is back, boys and girls. The world had better be ready.