The State of the Supermen (and Girl) – Winter 2010/2011

Posted by under *mixed, Comics |

It really feels like ever since playing a crucial role in ending the Final Crisis, Superman has basically been missing from the DC Universe. He spent a year away from the Earth on New Krypton amongst 10,000 other Kryptonian supermen including General Zod. During this storyline, Superman did not star in either Action Comics or Superman as those books highlighted a series of replacement heroes operating in and around Metropolis. The New Krypton storyline climaxed with the destruction of New Krypton and an extremely short but brutal war between the surviving Kryptonians led by General Zod and what I guess amounted to the American military lead by General Lane (Lois’ father). Upon the conclusion of the World of New Krypton series, Superman returned not just to Earth but also to his namesake comic, Superman, as superstar writer J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) took the book’s reigns amidst much fanfare. Things, however, have not worked out quite as DC Comics may have planned.

Superman: Earth One
This fall JMS not only wrote Superman in his self-titled book, but also in the first volume of what was planned as a series of original graphic novels titled Superman: Earth One. The first volume of Superman: Earth One depicted a young adult Clark Kent struggling to decide what to do with his life. The whole book plays out almost like Superman reimagined for a modern movie audience. Some of the strongest moments in the book focus on Clark Kent exploring the other ways he could use his abilities to change the world for the better including pursuing a career in science. Another strong choice was for Superman: Earth One to feature a new original alien villain that Superman could battle (unlike Superman Returns). Overall, Superman: Earth One was a nice first attempt at an ongoing series of original graphic novels, but the pacing felt a little rushed to me. The book was drawn by Shane Davis who utilized a new style to his artwork that seemed more rooted in the real world than some of his previous work. The biggest impact the series has had at DC to date is that its immense sales success led to JMS quitting both the Superman and Wonder Woman montly titles to write Superman: Earth One vol. 2.

JMS taking over Superman was supposed to result in a major rejuvenation of the character as it was suggested that this was the character that JMS was born to write (maybe it still is… just not on a monthly basis?!?!). Unfortunately, the entire experiment has proven to be a disaster. The title has focused on Superman’s decision to walk across the country based on a dubious catalyst and has proven to be anything but exciting. Couple the lack of action with the book’s struggles to maintain anything resembling a monthly schedule and you’d have a recipe for trouble, but adding in the fact that JMS has abandoned the title mid-story to focus on Superman: Earth One and you get what can only be seen as an embarrassment for DC. In an effort to save face, DC is pledging to stay the course with Chris Roberson being brought on to finish the story JMS started. In spite of all of these problems, the book has definitely been readable including the fill-in issues written by G. Willow Wilson. My advice? Finish the Superman walks across America story as soon as possible and get back to telling exciting stories with the character in his rightful place near the center of the DC Universe.

With Superman doing nothing but walking across the country, there was clearly no need for DC to devote two titles to the trip. As a result, Lex Luthor has taken over Action Comics. With Luthor having spent a short time as an Orange Lantern during Blackest Night, British writer Paul Cornell writes the character as changed by the experience. He’s on a quest to control remnant pockets of the black energy tied to the Black Lanterns that have turned up all over the world. In the process, Luthor has battled some of DC’s biggest villains including Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, and Vandal Savage. Luthor is written as brilliant, obsessed and a little twisted. His constant companion on this quest is a robot designed to look like Lois Lane, which makes me wonder how the real Lois could not be aware of its existence yet. It seems like there’s destined to be some sort of fallout down the line. Peter Wood’s art has been strong throughout the series. This is one of the best comics DC is publishing month in and out. Even the Jimmy Olsen backup stories have been worth reading. This is the jewel of the Superman line even though he is yet to appear during Cornell’s as far as I can remember and is almost never even mentioned.

The modern Superboy, Conner Kent, was killed off during Infinite Crisis and returned to life during the Final Crisis spinoff series, Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, along with Kid Flash. Shortly, after his return he was given his own monthly title in Adventure Comics by the current Flash creative team of Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul. This was a strong relaunch but it was cut short after just six issues when that title became a full-time Legion of Superheroes title. This fall DC launched a new Superboy title from Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo. This series had a lot to live up to after the creative success of the early Adventure Comics issues. Thankfully Lemire’s quirky style has so far translated well to tales of life in Smallville and Gallo’s art has been pretty sharp, at least through the first two issues. Hopefully, this title will continue to be impressive moving forward.

Supergirl is coming off a period of approximately two years during which her adventures were crafted by writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle. This team brought the character a much needed era of consistency after what I would characterize as a troubled launch. The modern version of Kara launched early on in Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman title in a story of questionable quality. This came after a new version of Kara had just appeared in the final arc of Peter David’s previous volume of Supergirl and an additional new Supergirl from the future had appeared during Steve Seagle and Scott McDaniel’s run on Superman. This latest volume of Supergirl featured 8 writers during the first 35 issues which as you can imagine led to a lack of cohesive vision for the young character prior to Gates’ debut with issue 34. Unfortunately for readers who were enjoying his work, Gates’ last issue on the title shipped in December. Nick Spencer (writer of Image’s Morning Glories and the Jimmy Olsen backups in Action Comics) was solicited as the book’s new writer with issue 60, but it has since come to light that he will only be co-writing issue 60 before moving on to other work. So it seems like Supergirl’s future may have a lot in common with its past, which is too bad because Spencer was scheduled to write a Supergirl team up with the new Robin and Batgirl in issue 61. That’s something I might have bought.

Overall, the Superman titles are readable with Action Comics and Superboy as the standout titles. The Uncertainty concerning Supergirl and Superman are concerns for DC, but their biggest issue is the fact that it seems like Superman has been missing in action as far as the DC Universe has been concerned for the last few years. The character certainly doesn’t have nearly the heat that Green Lantern and the Flash have been getting the last few years. I guess you could say this is due to DC putting the focus on those characters, but the success of the Batman Family of titles shows that this focus on Green Lantern and Flash does not have to come at the expense of the company’s traditional headliners. I think if the DC Universe had a real Justice League right now, some of these issues would work themselves out.
UPDATE: DC’s official blog, The Source, has indicated that Superman will appear in Action #900 this April (also featuring a pretty cool David Finch cover). Some other comic sites are writing as if this means his return to the title is permanent. While I do want to see Superman return to prominence in the DC Universe, Action Comics starring Luthor is not what is broken about his family of titles. While I would miss reading about Luthor’s ongoing adventures, I’m not opposed to seeing what Paul Cornell can do with the big blue boy scout.

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