It’s fair to say there is a lot riding on Superman #32, which is serving as a mini-relaunch of the character for DC Comics. Since the New 52 initiative started back in 2011, it is perhaps the Man of Steel who has suffered the most slings and arrows critically and commercially; Batman has the dream team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Wonder Woman has received tons of critical acclaim under Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, but despite launching with Grant Morrison in Action Comics, this newer version of Superman just never really caught on. Outside of the Scott Snyder/Jim Lee Superman: Unchained title, Superman’s sales have been middling at best. Morrison decided to go back to Kal-El’s 1930s roots by making him more of an urban crusader for social change, and in doing so removed a lot of the more Silver Age elements that Geoff Johns worked back into the Superman mythology just a few short years prior to the reboot. Sadly, a lot of those elements are some of the things that make Superman the most fun.
There is a sense of “let’s get back to basics” with this issue of Superman. One of the more wrong-headed moves has had to be removing Clark Kent from the Daily Planet to make him a “blogger” of some sort. Geoff Johns realizes that Superman and the Daily Planet go hand in hand, and in this first issue has Perry White persuade Clark to return home. Perry says to Clark, “Everyone needs someone to talk to, Kent”, not so subtly inferring that the Daily Planet staff really existed to give Superman a group of people to care about and connect with, and taking Clark away from them was a dumb idea. Superman needs people in his life to care about more than ever, and not just other super-people. It’ll be interesting to see what other classic Superman elements Johns attempts to sneak back into the mythology.
The biggest change in Superman’s new status quo has been the death of both of his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent before really becoming a superhero. This (along with removing Lois Lane as Superman’s love interest and replacing her with Wonder Woman) has to be one of the biggest boner moves DC has made in regards to the Superman mythos; having at least one of the major elements of his life growing up in Smallville still play a major factor in his life has been a big part of the Superman mythology for the past thirty years. I can understand having Jonathan Kent die, but having both of them go away seems a huge waste. Can Geoff Johns somehow bring them back? If there is a writer I don’t put something like that past, it is probably Johns.
Of course, even more than the return of Geoff Johns to Superman, the real big to-do about issue #32 is the arrival of John Romita Jr. not only to Superman, but to DC Comics, period. In many ways, John Romita Jr. IS Marvel Comics, and has been for the better part of three decades. To have him leave Marvel to work on their number one rival’s number one character is something of a big deal. So does Romita deliver the goods? For the most, he does. Romita is particularly good at drawing huge, barrel-chested heroes like Thor, Cap, and the Thing at Marvel, and was lest convincing drawing characters like Spider-Man, in my opinion. Well, who is brawnier and chestier than Superman? So in the big flying and fighting scenes, Romita pulls all that off fairly spectacularly. I still hate all the damn piping and whatnot in Superman’s costume, and you can tell Romita hates it too, because in some panels you see he barely bothers drawing them. But aside from that detail, his Superman looks how Superman should. And he looks especially awesome punching a giant robot gorilla. (Less so wearing a backwards baseball cap. Let’s not have Clark get all frat-bro on us please.)
Unfortunately, over the past several years, John Romita Jr. has, for some reason, started drawing the exact same face on all of his characters, meaning his female characters look almost exactly like his male ones, and it makes for some very off putting and, frankly, ugly looking women. Romita didn’t always have this problem-if you look at the women in his old issues of Uncanny X-Men everyone doesn’t go around sporting the same face. Considering this is something he’s been doing now for the past several years, I doubt it is going to go away any time soon, so a Lois Lane with a boxy, masculine face is just something we are all going to have to get used to.
As for the story this issue, Johns and Romita use the opening prologue to set up what seems to be another addition (possibly a villain) to Superman‘s cast. The first five pages introduce us to scientists Peter and Bridget, a married couple working in the remote and mysterious Ulysses Labs some twenty-five years ago. The facility’s main focus seems to be on opening rifts and exploring other dimensions, and when an accident causes the lab to initiate self destruct, the scientists send their infant son in a capsule into another dimension where he will grow up with powers, thinking he is the only survivor of his doomed planet. (Although, why did these scientists have their infant boy with them at work when the accident happened? Was it “Bring Your Child to Your Top Secret Underground Facility Job” Day? Maybe best not to ask these questions.) Of course, he shows up as an adult in the climax of the issue, arriving on Earth, giving Supes a hand and seemingly a good guy, but who’s to say he’ll remain friendly? Some of Superman’s most memorable villains have been darker versions of himself-Bizarro, the zombie Superman, Ultraman and Cyborg, both the “evil” Superman… is there room for one more? Or what if he really is a good guy? These questions are enough to get me to stick around and see what happens next.
Both of these creators are consistently good, even great, although an argument can be made that there best work is behind them. Johns, a lover of old stories and continuity, has had the hardest time delivering his best work since the old DCU continuity was thrown out the window. And with Superman being one of the characters with his old history the most altered, it will be very interesting to see what he pulls out of his magician’s hate to make Superman relevant again. Romita is another creator who is popular, but who best work is (arguably) behind him. Nevertheless, both of these gentlemen should not be counted out, and are both primed for a comeback, and Superman could be their ticket. If anyone can get Superman working again, Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. are maybe as safe a bet as you can make.
Are you on board with Johns’ and Romita Jr.’s version of Superman or did you prefer the old New 52 version? Let us know in the comments below.