Superman heads back to the office as John Romita Jr joins DC and Geoff Johns for a new, but familiar feeling, chapter in the Man Of Steel’s history.
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by John Romita Jr
“THE MAN OF TOMORROW” chapter 1! A NEW ERA for SUPERMAN begins as Geoff Johns takes the reigns – and he’s joined by the legendary super-talent of John Romita, Jr. in his first-ever work for DC Comics as they introduce Ulysses, the Man of Tomorrow, into the Man of Steel’s life. This strange visitor shares many of Kal-El’s experiences, including having been rocketed from a world with no future. Prepare yourself for a run full of new heroes, new villains and new mysteries! Plus, Perry White offers Clark a chance to return to The Daily Planet!
Considering that he is the most famous superhero ever and the crown jewel of DC comics, the New 52 reboot has mishandled Superman almost from the very start. While there have been bright spots, such as Grant Morrison’s divisive yet never boring run on “Action Comics” and Scott Snyder’s “Superman Unchained” which seems destined for the underrated-and-deserving-reappraisal pile, the main “Superman” title has been a very mixed bag for almost three years now. Frequent creative team changeover and conflicting characterization has left the comic book icon feeling strangely amiss in the New 52 DCU.
Seeing that a course correction is desperately needed, famed writer and DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has stepped in to script the series and break across company lines to recruit Marvel mainstay John Romita Jr to pencil the Man Of Steel. With a creative team of this high a pedigree, the pressure is on for “Superman” 32 to bring the character back to his proper place in the DCU.
The issue kicks off in the far distant past – the 1980’s – at an underground research station when an inter-dimensional rip starts to tear the facility. The building is quarantined, trapping a pair of scientists inside with the knowledge that the station will be momentarily destroyed to contain the rip. The scientists have an infant soon, who they save by launching into another dimension where the inhabitants are human-like, but the physiology of the baby might given him unique abilities once he’s grown. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Meanwhile in the present, Clark Kent gets an interesting offer from Perry White at the Daily Planet, and soon gets caught in the middle of classic bout of super-powered fisticuffs over the Metropolis skyline.
Geoff Johns is nothing if not a traditionalist when it comes to comics. He’s the guy who brought Silver Age heros Hal Jordan and Barry Allen back from the dead, and virtually displaced their fan favorite successors (welcome back, Wally!), but fortunately Johns has nothing quite so drastic in store for “Superman”. The much touted return to normalcy is Perry White offering Clark the chance to for a new job atvthe Daily Planet, and forgo his New 52 career as a blogger. While some will say that this is just an example of Johns shoving away a bit of unpopular continuity for the sake of the tradition, it actually speaks to his larger intent for Clark’s characterization.
One of the main criticisms of the New 52 Superman has been the seeming lack of humanity of the character, especially during the Scott Lobdell run. The distinction between blogger and reporter might seem a little arbitrary, as both involve sitting in front of computer typing things, but by sticking Clark alone in his apartment it removed the main source of his regular human interaction. One of the most humanizing things about Clark is that he has a potentially soul crushing office job, where he has to chat up people at the coffee maker and wonder who’s been stealing pudding cups from everyone’s lunches. It’s really the only time the reader sees the character actively behaving like a regular person, and by returning to that environment Johns has created a path for the rehumanization of Superman.
By opening the book with a pair of doomed scientists sending their child to an unknown world, it might seem like Johns is only to eager to regurgitate plot points from Superman’s past, but it should be noted that this is basically a new #1 issue. Johns has to make a mission statement for the character, and the homage to the famous Kryptonian origin highlights the writer’s commitment to a classic feeling Superman story, with new twists of course. It sets up this series as not just the next Superman arc, but something that will involve all facets of the character, including the increasingly muddled history. Johns maybe lets the sequence go on for just a tad too long, but the issue as a whole is very well paced and flows into the bookending scene quite well.Continued below
As much as this issue is about repositioning Superman in the New 52 DCU, it’s also about the heralded arrival of John Romita Jr into the universe. Despite the fact that he has never worked exclusively for DC before, Romita’s runs on Spider-Man and Avengers books (not to mention just about every other character at Marvel) prove that he excels at drawing big and bold superheroes. From the moment that Superman punches through a giant robot gorilla, it’s clear that Romita can handle just about anything thrown at the character and make it look awesome. His style is a little less photorealistic, more blocky with sharp angles and it’s impressive that the fights never look statuesque or pose-y. Even when Superman soars through the sky with his fist outstretched, a classic move, it really does seem kinetic and not just a cool looking soon-to-be-a-poster image.
The quieter moments also give Romita the chance to show off his talents. Clarks return to the Daily Planet offices is given just as much attention and detail as the big actions scenes, and the backgrounds are filled with neat elements like framed headlines referring to Superman’s past adventures. It might take a moment for readers to adjust to Romita’s face pencils, as they do change details depending on the distance, but this not to cut corners and is instead a consistent part of the style. One of the stand out sequences in the issue is Clark flipping through an old Kent family photo album after failing to get any of his super-friends to hang out with him. Just the seven panel sequence of Clark’s wistful expression as he thinks about the only people he knows who accept him followed by the hardening of his eyes as he hears someone calling for help speaks volumes about the character, and it’s all because of the art.
“Superman” #32 does not set out to reinvent the foundations of what a Superman comic should be; quite the opposite. Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr aim to reposition Superman as the all-powerful protector struggling with his own humanity, a classic interpretation of Clark Kent and his super alter ego. Johns crafts an interesting opening chapter that highlights archetypal components of the characters identity, and makes Clark’s return to the Daily Planet seem like smart characterization instead of retreading the past. John Romita Jr makes a big impression in his first DC work, and his art beautifully renders Superman’s big fights and Clark’s quiet emotional moments. The book overall is balanced and well-paced, and while it does not upend everything the reader knows about Superman, that’s actually the point.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A welcome return of a classic feeling Superman.