When Mark Waid left DC in the mid-2000s, one of the stated reasons was because he was told he would “never” write the “Superman” title by then editor-in-chief Dan DiDio. While this new miniseries isn’t the same as him taking over that book, it represents the first time that Waid has tackled a solo Superman story since his return to the company. If after reading this book you think that DiDio was correct in his assessment of Waid on “Superman,” I think you may need to sit down and seriously re-evaluate your life choices.
Written by Mark Waid
Penciled by Bryan Hitch
Inked by Kevin Nowlan
Colored by David Baron
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Tyler Smith
Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch reunite to tell a tale centered on their favorite superhero. Superman learns Lex Luthor is dying, and he wants the Man of Steel to help him find the cure for whatever is causing his rapid decline. While the world wants to say good riddance to Luthor, Superman will go to the ends of the universe, through different dimensions, and across time to save his foe. But just why does he want to save the person who’s spent his life trying to destroy him? And will he even be able to find the solution?
From the first page, this book has the feel of a timeless, classic Superman story. A huge part of that falls at the feet of Bryan Hitch, whose cinematic approach to comic book art fits this story perfectly. As the book begins, we see Clark Kent writing a story called ‘The Last Days of Lex Luthor,’ and Hitch’s art in the early part of the issue very much feels like snapshots that would accompany this story in the Daily Planet Sunday Magazine.
A valid criticism of Hitch’s work is that it can sometimes be a bit too static and posed, lacking some of the implied movement that defines the best comic art. And while some of these scenes suffer a little from that, because of the structure of the issue, it mostly works. Once the narration switches from the article to an interior monologue, the art does loosen up a little bit. Most importantly, when the story switches to full flashback, the art gets ratcheted down from the widescreen vistas to a much more intimate style, with tighter panels and almost total focus on character emotions. When a panel breaks free of that – such as a young Clark moving a comet to have something to bond with Lex over – Hitch extends the frame and gives it a majesty that helps contextualize it perfectly.
The scene with Clark, Lex, and the comet is a perfect microcosm of the first issue’s writing as well. Waid writes Lex as a dick, but one that isn’t really trying. He writes Clark as someone who is trying very hard. To try to get Lex to be his friend, he’s willing to go to space and push a comet around, for Rao’s sake. This try-hard Clark is a perfect approach, and reveals that even though Superman has more powers than anyone else in the DC Universe, he still is pushing himself to be better.
That is the spirit that the entire issue highlights, and Waid frames it perfectly. Because, even though Lex doesn’t know that his teenage pal Clark Kent is Superman, he knows that Superman, like Clark, is a try-hard and will do anything for anyone, even if it is clear that it is a futile exercise. Lex both challenges Superman to save his life and puts him in a precarious situation with the public despite Lex knowing full well that Superman doesn’t need to be blackmailed. This is Waid showing his perfect understanding of Lex, too. Superman was going to help no matter what, but Lex is gonna Lex, and so sets up another obstacle for his nemesis, mostly because he can.
Waid also gets to dig into the Superman well a little deeper, by writing some Zod, some Phantom Zone, and some Kandor, and all of that radiates the pure joy of playing in that sandbox. The scene in the Phantom Zone is one of the best Zod appearances of all time, and its brevity makes the reader want more. Colorist David Baron really shines in the Phantom Zone scenes, too, setting a color palette that is instantly distinguishable from the rest of the issue. The grey tone makes Zod seem even more ominous and Lex’s situation more dire.Continued below
Another reason that Hitch’s art is so effective here is that he is being inked by Kevin Nowlan. Nowlan is such a sympathetic collaborator who really uses his inks to accentuate what Hitch does so well and, importantly, brings some of his own strengths to the table. Nowlan really helps Hitch’s expressions which, on occasion, can get lost in his more expansive work. Nowlan’s ability to both add that touch to Hitch’s work without limiting or detracting from his more action-based moments truly elevates the book.
This first issue is the most effective argument for what DC’s Black Label can and should be. Much like the “Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons,” this is shaping up to be a definitive story told by the best in the business, given the time, collaborators, and space to tell stories that might’ve been unfairly compromised in a ‘standard’ format. I’ll always be a weekly reading kind of guy, but this is a book built to live on a shelf, read by generations of fans, regardless of continuity or current status quo.
Final Verdict: 8.8 – A truly great debut issue, and a promise for what this series can be.