The Man of Steel gets a new power and some new duds as Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr bring their first story-arc to a decent end in “Superman” #38.
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by John Romita Jr
A new year brings a new power and a new look from the epic team of Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson in the extra-sized conclusion of their first arc! The showdown between Superman and Ulysses will push the Man of Steel to new extremes and Supermans new look is revealed as Clark Kent tells his true identity to one of the cast. Plus a surprise guest-star!
The Superman of “Action Comics” #1 couldn’t see through walls, fire laser beams from his eyes, freeze a lake with his breath, or even fly. Far from being set in stone, his powers were in a state of flux over the first few years of the characters existence. Nevertheless, it’s been a while since Superman got show off a new power, and now that Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr are using this moment to punctuate the end of their solid, if slightly less than revolutionary, initial run on “Superman”.
Fresh off watching his adoptive home planet be destroyed, a grief-stricken Ulysses turns his wrath towards Earth. It’s hard to top the climax of total-planet obliteration, so this issue ends up feeling a bit like an epilogue to this initial run. Geoff Johns wraps up the loose ends, and reiterates that main points that he has been emphasizing over the previous six issues. His Superman is determined, and inspiring. As people are ripped away the promised utopia and returned to Earth, Superman’s refuses to let hem wallow. He launches into an impromptu speech about never giving up hope in the face of adversity. It’s a fairly predictable message from Superman, but that’s sort of the point. Johns is working to return the character to his traditional role of an inspiring protector, and his short message about hope feels very traditional in a good way.
This is an oversized issue, but Johns make the wise decision to use these extra pages to focus on smaller character moments. It would have been easy to include an extra five pages of Superman and Ulysses pummeling each other, but it probably would have been really boring. Instead we get to see Superman interact with Perry, Jimmy, and Batman, which grounds the story back in his traditional world after we’ve been watching him fly around with a new character for the past few issues.
The first time that I remember Superman getting a new superpower was in the second Christopher Reeve film, when the character suddenly manifested a new ability to kiss the memories right out of Lois Lane’s head. Thankfully, the new power which appears in this issue isn’t nearly that silly. When fighting Ulysses, Superman unleashes a classic blast of eye laser beams which his opponent quickly starts to absorb. Suddenly, Superman begins to glow bright and brighter until his bursts like a light bulb in a blown circuit. Superman wakes up two days later in the Batcave, with a burnt uniform and forced to deal with Batman’s bedside manner.
Superman’s power are solar based, as Earth’s yellow sun charges his cells to seemingly unlimited levels. Now, however, it appears that his cells have crossed a new threshold where they release their full charged in a devastating solar flare.
Similar to Geoff Johns’ instruction of a multi-colored Lantern Corp during his “Green Lantern” run, turning Superman into a giant solar flare emitter seems so obvious in retrospect that it’s a wonder it didn’t become part of mainstream canon decades ago. While it’s still undeniably a way to drum up attention and publicity, Johns manages to makes this feel like a natural growth of Superman’s existing powers, and not just a shallow stunt.
The New 52 is all about new status quos, and here the creative team have reset Superman’s once again with the side effect that his using his new solar flare renders him powerless, and essentially human, for a least a day. The ramifications of this are barely even touched upon in the issue, and are an easy a springboard for many new stories. The creative team is trying something different while still remaining true to the core of the character, and they certainly deserve some credit for,Continued below
John Romita Jr has used the previous six issues to make a big splash in the DCU after spending so many years at Marvel, and he has mostly succeeded. There has been some truly great art featured throughout this run, and Romita managed to fit nicely into the more realistic tone of DC while still maintaining his unique signature style.
The cracks do start to show, however, in this issue. While the majority is exciting and very kinetic looking, there are also a couple bizarre moments where Superman’s face and proportions seem out of whack and alternate from panel to panel. And while he is known to employ many lines in his art, there are instances where they have been so heavily inked that it appears that they are trying to overtake the image. Romita is still a great artist, it just feels slightly rushed here and there.
The reveal of Superman’s new costume is much less dramatic then when his new power explosively manifests itself. While the prospect of a new Superman wardrobe can easily conjure up images of a black and silver jumpsuit and an accompanying mullet, the final page reveals what amounts to a slight tweaking instead of a complete overhaul. The high collar is still here and the red underwear is still absent, but the suit-of-armour look has been greatly reduced. The suit appears much more cloth and material based then it has in years. And Superman now sports a pair of fingerless gloves that he can use to be an old-timey pickpocket if this whole superhero thing doesn’t pan out. The costume only appears on the literal last page of the issue, so Romita doesn’t get a chance to show it off in action. What we do see fits in with the style and look that Romita has already established. It might not live up to the hype, but it could have been much worse.
“Superman” #38 marks the end of an improved period for the series and the character. For a while it seemed like DC had no idea what to do with its flagship character, but by employing what is truly a star creative team it shows that they are finally addressing the problem. Geoff Johns knows Superman, and he has written the character in a way that long-time fans will finally recognize. He is inspiring, determined and hopeful, and Johns has done a lot to right the Superman ship. John Romita Jr is already a well-established artistic force in comics, and his work on “Superman” how allowed him to show off his talent in a completely new setting. The slightly rushed looks of few panels is hard to overlook, but it won’t erase all the good work Romita has already done on the series. This first story-arc isn’t perfect, but at least it feels like a true Superman story. This issue nicely wraps up this arc and sets the stage for more interesting things to come.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – A solid end to a decent arc. Johns and Romita has created a story that manages to shed most, but not all, of the New 52 baggage, and return to the roots of the character. And Superman’s new power is not remotely as silly as when he went electric.