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A Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman Review – A Family Affair

TITLE: Superman, Vol. 1: Son of Superman
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLERS: Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke
COLLECTS: Superman: Rebirth #1, Superman #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the first ongoing Superman book in a long time that actually feels happy to be a Superman book.

This topic has been beaten to death, but let’s touch on it quickly: It’s time to stop trying to modernize, freshen up, or worst of all, “darken” Superman. It’s been done time and time again, and it never clicks. They’ve changed his costume. They’ve made him moody and broody. One time they even de-powered him and put him on a damn motorcycle. No more. It’s time to stop being ashamed of Superman. Let the character be who and what he’s always been at his core: A champion of values. Truth, justice, hope. and yes, the American way. Let the guy smile. Embrace the character’s legacy instead of hiding from it. Let him be the hero we need in these trying times.

Son of Superman does all of that, while still carving out a new direction for the Man of Steel. Simply put, it’s the best Superman book in years. Almost a decade, perhaps.

The DC Rebirth incarnation of Superman puts the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the character back in the cape and boots. He’d been brought back for Convergence, and eventually became an ongoing character again in the pages of a new book, Lois and Clark. With him was his timeline’s incarnation of Lois Lane, and their young son Jonathan. As Clark Kent finds a balance between protecting the Earth and raising his son, Jonathan must learn to manage his emerging superpowers. With those powers come responsibility, risk, and a legacy…

Instead of focusing on Superman facing a threat, we spend most of this book learning about Jonathan. We see his response to living with a secret identity, how he reacts to challenges, and how Clark and Lois are raising him. They’ve accepted that he’ll one day inherit the Superman legacy, and are gently preparing him for the role. In theory, Superman works on two levels. Youngsters can identify with Jonathan, while older parent-aged readers connect with Clark and Lois. It’s by no means a sexy approach. But artistically, it’s true to the soul of the Superman character. His adopted parents instilled him with a set of principles. Now he has to pass those principles on to his son. But the dynamic is tweaked, because he’s able to relate to what Jonathan is going through. It’s a premise that lends itself to heart-felt storytelling, not unlike what we saw from Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s work in Batman & Robin.

We kick things off with Superman: Rebirth #1, which establishes our “new” hero, with some nice fan service thrown in. The New 52 Superman was killed off, and as the post-Crisis Superman is the one who famously died and returned, he sets about bringing his counterpart back in a similar fashion. Te issue is highlighted by artists Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Will Quintana giving us their take on the iconic Superman/Doomsday battle. It was out of continuity for so long, and it’s brought back in what I’ll call a “wide screen” sequence that plays out over about seven pages. Mendoza’s inks compliment Mahnke’s richly detailed pencils, and Quintana’s color make it every bit the glorious and epic scene it needs to be. The same applies to when they return for issue #5. We’ve got Superman talking to ghosts, we’ve got the Eradicator trying to eradicate things, we’ve got a big Batman robot straight out of a Snyder/Capullo comic…

Actually, I don’t mind the “Hellbat” returning from the Tomasi/Gleason Batman & Robin book. Maybe it’s because Lois Lane is the one using it, as opposed to Batman. It makes for a fun holdover.

But artistically, this book belongs to Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray, and colorist John Kalisz. Obviously, as a co-writer Gleason has the advantage of molding the story to fit his strengths. But just from a basic figure rendering perspective, it’s so amazing to see Superman look like Superman again. Even the classic spit curl, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, is a breath of fresh air. These pages are bright, flamboyant, and unabashedly sentimental. Gleason’s slightly exaggerated, animated style is a perfect fit for a story about a pre-teen learning to be a superhero. There’s a lot of fun on these pages.

Gleason also has an amazing knack for classic Superman iconography. The page at left comes to mind, with our hero in the classic pose as an American flag waves in the background. For obvious reasons, he lays it on a little stronger in issue #1. We’ve got a two-page spread that simply shows him opening his shirt to reveal the “S” insignia. That’s followed up immediately with another two-page spread giving us snapshots from Superman’s history. This is who Superman is, and who he’s always been. To see it all reemphasized is borderline beautiful.

The biggest obstacle this book faces is establishing that this is a “new” Superman from another timeline. They obviously devote a good amount of time to it. But it’s still a lot to wrap your head around, and has the potential to be really confusing for someone jumping on. This book is about a family trying to figure out how they fit into a new world. But that runs counterintuitive to how the average reader sees Superman, as he’s so ingrained in the fabric of the DC Universe. By the time we close the book, most of that awkwardness has subsided. But to say the least, this hasn’t been the smoothest Superman relaunch we’ve ever seen.

But it’s worth it in about every possible way. It’s been far too long since a Superman book has been this good. While this is obviously a new direction for the Man of Steel, in many ways it feels like he’s finally gotten back to his roots. That’s the Superman we need right now. That’s the Superman we’ve always needed.

Welcome back, Big Blue. We’ve missed you.

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A Superman #6 Review – Like Father, Like Son

Superman #6, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #6
AUTHOR: Peter Tomasi
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason. Cover by Doug Mahnke.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a page in Superman #6 that I absolutely adore (shown below). It’s a callback to the cover of the original Superman #6 from 1939, with our hero striking the classic hands-on-hips pose. We’ve even got the American flag in the background for good measure. I will neither confirm nor deny swooning upon seeing that page for the first time.

For yours truly, the best Superman writers and artists don’t shy away from the character’s status as a symbol for hope and idealism. They don’t try to modernize him, or God forbid darken him. They embrace who and what he is, which naturally leads to good storytelling. That’s mostly what we’ve gotten from Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and team on Superman these last few months. No more stupid armor, no more bare-knuckle fighting. Just Superman doing what Superman does. We didn’t need to give him a son to create good stories. It just so happens that parenting brings out the best in Big Blue.

Superman continues to battle the Eradicator in a bunker on the moon, as Lois and Jon look on. The Eradicator, who holds the life force of so many deceased Kryptonians within him, is determined to kill the half-human Jon and “purify” the House of El. But as the Man of Steel tirelessly fights to save his family, Earth may come to a shocking realization: One way or another, Superman is back.

Superman #6, callback, Patrick GleasonThe Superman books are in a complex spot right now. We’ve got the pre-New 52 Superman, Lois Lane, and their son Jon as our lead characters in Superman. Then we’ve got a Clark Kent doppleganger in Action Comics, and the New 52 Lois over in Superwoman. But as complex as things have become, most of the books have surged upward in terms of quality. Look no further than this book as an example. This is the best Superman has been in at least five years.

One of the keys to that is this book’s heart. It’s not afraid to be a little sappy as it shows us the love shared by the Kent family. It’s also not afraid of embracing some of the corny, but feel-good and classic elements of the Superman legend. Not just the pose and the American flag, but the glasses, the superpowered dog, the adoration of Metropolis. The issue also bucks the isolated, lonely, brooding Superman trope we’re often subjected to. In one glorious, yet understated panel, Superman looks up at the reader and says: “I’ve never felt alone.”

Can I get an amen?

We’ve heard a lot of talk lately about DC restoring hope and positivity to its books and movies. The DC Universe’s first stop for both those things should be Superman. For some, that’s a turn off, which is fair enough. But if you’re looking for the brooding, isolated superhero, they’ve got a guy for that. Actually, they’ve got a few guys for that. So lets stop trying to make this character something he’s not. These attempts to darken Superman always end up fizzling out anyway.

Superman #6, 2016I understand the notion of comics not being for kids anymore. But I’d be curious to see what would happen if I gave these Superman issues to a young reader. If they kept coming back, would it be for Superman? Would it be for Jon? Perhaps both? Either way, Jon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As indicated by the end of this issue, he’ll have an even bigger role going forward. And for the time being at least, that’s a good thing.

We bordered on the edge of Over-Baturation in this story with the climactic battle taking place in Batman’s moon bunker (Yeah, he has one. Don’t you?), and the inclusion of the Hellbat, a carry over from Tomasi and Gleason’s run on Batman & Robin. But I’m giving this book a pass, as we see very little of Batman himself. It’s even established that Superman followed the Dark Knight without him knowing, which was a nice touch. Also, Lois using the Hellcat to protect Jon managed to be pretty cool.

This is an exciting time to be a Superman fan. Given the relaunch, Superman has more readers now than in quite awhile, and DC is making the most of those new eyes. Quite honestly, there’s no one I’d rather see on this title right now than Tomasi, Gleason, and their crew. I’m hopeful they’re only beginning to take flight.

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A Superman #2 Review – Superman Smiles

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonTITLE: Superman #2
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
PENCILLER: Gleason
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 6, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m aware this series doesn’t mark the first time Superman has smiled in the last five years. But it sure feels like it. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s effort to inject optimism back into the character makes for a refreshing departure from recent attempts to darken him. Truth, justice, hope. Dare I say, love? These are the things we need from Superman in 2016.

The Superman of the pre-New 52 Earth has finally put the cape on again in this new universe. At the same time, his young son Jon is discovering super powers of his own. When we open this issue, the Man of Steel has taken his son to observe him on a routine rescue. But when things go awry, Jon is pulled into the action. Will this new “Superboy” see his run tragically cut short?

In working on Superman, Peter Tomasi has two tremendous advantages over many of his peers. First, he’s inherently good at writing heart-felt stories that highlight the humanity of these iconic, often god-like heroes. As evidence, I direct you to yet another of father and son story by he and Gleason, Batman & Robin: Born to Kill.

Superman #2, Patrick Gleason, family shot, 2016Second, and more importantly, he understands Superman. (I assume Gleason does too. I speak of Tomasi because we’ve obviously seen more of his writing. Gleason has mainly been an artist.) Case in point, our hero saying the following to his son: “It’s not about our powers, or strength, or heat vision. It’s about character. It means doing the right thing when no one else will, even when you’re scared…even when you think no one is looking.”

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

What so many people either don’t understand or don’t appreciate about Superman is the importance of what he stands for. He’s not a boy scout. He’s not a sell out. He’s not an outdated product of a bygone era. It’s not as simple as that. He’s a man with a set of principles, and he acts on those principles in the hopes of making the world a better place. Tomasi understands all of this, and knows it’s critical that Clark and Lois raise Jon with these same principles. As Clark himself says in this issue, Jon may be need to wear the iconic S symbol sooner than later.

It’s very fitting that we’ve re-emphazied these elements in a story that has brought back a previous version of Clark. In a very real sense, this feels like Superman is back.

From an artistic stance, the colors are on point. In particular, John Kalisz’s reds and oranges really pop. Superman’s cape looks fantastic, which makes me miss his red boots even more. There’s also a sequence where Jon is trying to hone his heat vision, and the scene becomes engulfed in an intense red that really brings you into the moment.

Superman #2, 2016, Patrick GleasonIn interviews, I seem to recall Tomasi and Gleason talking about being fathers themselves. In Gleason’s case, that would explain why much of the body language in Superman, as well as Batman & Robin, seems very natural. Not always real, per se. But natural within the context of this world. The panel to the right is my favorite in the issue. That face says a lot. We’ve got patience, compassion, reassurance, protectiveness, and of course, love. Where has this Superman been?

Obviously this new Superman series is meant to be a starting point for new readers. But I maintain that the replacement of the New 52 Superman with the post-Crisis Superman from another universe makes things confusing for new readers. Especially once you get to the end of the issue, where a villain from the post-Crisis era seems to resurface. Mind you, this isn’t Tomasi or Gleason’s fault. And for the record, I’m in favor of this new direction for the Superman books. But this shake-up has come at a price. Picture yourself as a newbie picking up this series. You’d have all kinds of questions about where this Superman came from, what that other universe was like, and where it went. The upside is that might entice one to buy trade paperbacks. But someone on the fence might simply drop the book.

Either way, once you get past the confusion, this is good stuff. Tomasi and Gleason did about 40 issues on Batman & Robin. Obviously Gleason can’t be expected to do that many consecutive issues on a bi-weekly series. But if this team sticks with Superman for the foreseeable future, the smart bet is they’ll deliver quality comics. More often than not, that’s what they do.

Images from readcomics.net.

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