It’s been a rocky few years in comics for the Man of Steel. Every since DC orchestrated the 2011 reboot New 52 their pride and joy, Superman, has experienced some difficulty in drawing readers. Through multiple titles and creative teams the character never really hit his stride. In their attempt to modernize Superman for new readers by making him younger and edgier, DC may have alienated those that preferred the more classic interpretation of the character. The New 52 Superman wasn’t their Superman and that was a problem. With DC’s re-relaunch ‘Rebirth’, the publisher has sought to rectify Big Blues woes.
The Superman of New 52 universe died in the pages of Superman #52, now replaced by the Superman of the old universe, who just so happened to be hiding out in the new universe (it’s very confusing, just roll with it) along with his wife Lois Lane and their young son Jonathan. Their story kicked of with the all-new Superman #1 Vol. 4 from writer/artist combo of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. The team is breathing new life into Superman by blending old and new concepts together, making the title feel original yet completely familiar to long-time readers.
Now seven issues deep, it’s clear that Tomasi and Gleason’s run is a return to form for the character, as is Dan Jurgen’s new Action Comics run. But Tomasi’s story is more personal, largely dealing with Clark Kent’s family life and decision to become the new/old Superman. The story thus becomes smaller in a literal sense, mostly taking place in rural Hamilton County, Metropolis and much of the events seen through the eyes of Jonathan. He too must find his place in the world as his Kryptonian powers continue to manifest in unpredictable ways.
His inevitable debut as the new Superboy sees him treading the same path his father walked on the road to becoming a superhero — secret identities, otherworldly threats, awkward encounters with Batman. However, Jon’s perspective is unique as he’s a nine-year old boy who sometimes sees superheroes very differently and isn’t quite convinced of he should wear the “S” shield on his chest. In a way, the title is very much a spiritual successor to Tomasi and Gleason’s stellar run on Batman and Robin Vol. 2 that wrapped up last year.
Here the story is a contrast to the father/son dynamic of Bruce and Damian Wayne. Jonathan shows reluctance to embrace his powers and role as a hero where as Damian was all too eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. Likewise, we see the vastly different parenting styles of Clark and Bruce. Let’s just say it’s doubtful Bruce would have ever taken Damian to a carnival, let alone swear off fighting crime for a night to do so. The cape action is balanced with their quiet, rural family life. Surprisingly, those interactions are where the title truly shines.
We’re offered a more intimate view of Superman and his relationship with Lois and Jon. Seeing the character in the role of a father who must juggle being a hero, husband, and raising a child is compelling new territory. Unlike Bruce Wayne or other heroes who’ve had children, there’s something about Clark’s family that feels entirely genuine and natural. Jon feels like he’s every bit Clark’s child. Clark’s words spoken to his son sound exactly like things Pa Kent might have once said to him. Their home feels lived-in and Clark is undeniably the man we knew him as prior to New 52. For many fans, this is exactly what they asked for, while others whom may have preferred the more recent, now dead Superman might need to get adjusted.
“People don’t just need a Superman, they need this Superman…”
Tomasi seems keenly aware of this and the first arc feels like something of a commentary on it. Superman and his family are attacked by a new version of Eradicator, who seeks to “purge” Jon and have Superman fully embrace his Kryptonian heritage. We see Superman battling to save Jon and rejecting the notion of continuing Krypton’s legacy. While Eradicator literally houses the souls of dead Kryptonians, it is Superman that presents himself as the spiritual embodiment of Krypton’s ideals. The theme of family and legacy has been strong throughout the story thus far. It’s been an analysis on what exactly it means to be Superman, both in the eyes of the world and those closest to him. People don’t just need a Superman, they need this Superman – a hero that’s unbothered by posing in front of an American flag and having a flying dog.
Change is often necessary and that’s truer with comics than many other medium, but there’s something to be desired in the familiar. There’s a comfort in knowing some things are eternal; that truth and justice will always be worthy causes to fight for. Superman Vol. 4 reminds us of this, making it the essential Superman story to follow post-Rebirth. It’s not just that it brings our Superman back, it also brings with him the hope and optimism that made millions around the world fall in love with the character. Here we’re visiting an old friend for the first time years. It’s always best to spend a little time somewhere quiet to catch up. What DC offers here is a warm seat right next to the man that started it all. It couldn’t feel anymore like home.