Sunday, January 15, 2017

Superman Gets a New Suit - State of the Comics with "Rebirth" and heading to "Reborn"

The past, oh, six years of reading Superman comics has not been the easiest of rides, and I'm not sure DC Comics is making any of this any easier to deal with in the long-run with the current convoluted decisions.  But, for the moment, I am very much enjoying both Superman and Action Comics as much or more than I have enjoyed the monthlies at any point since I became a regular reader (which is later in life than you'd think, but creeping up on twenty years now).

CanadianSimon hit me up to point me to an article featuring the new look for Superman that's coming soon in the comics.  Rather than overload his email with responses, he's getting a blog post as I think a bit about the past few years and DC's many attempts to land on a new suit.

Just to quickly catch you up:  in summer of 2016, DC Comics had a massive event called "Rebirth" that maintained continuity for the DC Universe of comics (which was the universe created for the New 52 reboot), but just prior to Rebirth, the Superman from the New 52 had died, and so the Superman you know and love from the Post-Crisis DCU (who had been living in secret in the New 52 Universe for a decade) put on the cape once more and became Superman.  So - Superman in the comics is a sort of refugee from a less grim'n'gritty DCU.

To circle us all back, way back in 2011, our New 52 Superman received an all-new costume courtesy Jim Lee in the pages of Justice League #1.

this is the first and last time we thought this suit might work out

This look was well-drawn by Jim Lee and, arguably, no one else.  It just never felt like Superman, and, weirdly, it translated very, very poorly to action figures and whatnot.  Arguably too busy, it just felt off to see Superman wearing "armor" and that uniform-type collar.

The New 52 Superman was given a flashback origin storyline in Action Comics where he had no super-suit, initially.  Just a cape and a t-shirt.

Written by Grant Morrison, the comic itself railed against what DC was trying to do with Superman.  Morrison understood the look of the common-man in a cape and a t-shirt was perhaps the way to modernize the notion of a Superman who was of and for the people, a modern myth of a super human who can fight for the underdog.  A champion of the oppressed.

The armor appeared soon enough even in that run, but the DC team never quite forgot that iconic look.

Driven by a storyline in which Superman's armor is blown to shreds, in Superman #38 we saw a rethinking of the outfit that was... well, I guess it wasn't armor.

why he suddenly had orangutan arms was never made clear
At least it was back to something artists could possibly draw consistently and he could put on under his clothes, maybe.

Almost immediately after this costume debuted, Geoff Johns stepped off the comic and a new team stepped on the two main Superman books.  Superman became deeply depowered, his secret identity revealed to the world.

I know.

Superman went back to the t-shirt and jeans look of the Grant Morrison Action Comics run, only with strips of his cape around his fists, because why the hell not.

In a mostly unreadable storyline, it seemed either DC was totally flailing (sales were plummeting line-wide and making Superman Not-Superman was just a weird way to go - but they seemed hellbent on going literally any direction but back) or they were planning an end to the New 52 DC Universe.*  It was a lot of change to the status quo and it just stopped being interesting enough to pay much attention to.

Meanwhile, DC had an absolutely terrible event called Convergence in which our post-COIE Superman escaped editorial dissolution by jumping to the New52 universe.  He lived and acted in secret, wearing a "stealth" costume when he went into action.  Also, he grew a beard.  Professor Superman.  And he and Lois had a child.

Apparently the experiment of that mini-series worked wonders, because then, much to my surprise, DC (at least for the moment) *killed* their New 52 Superman.

And, like, literally, nobody cared.  Maybe a couple of people - but it didn't even really cause a ripple in the comics world.  That's how much of a B-Lister New 52 Superman had become.

At the bottom of it - the New 52 Superman had never felt like Superman, and so it was always a bit like reading about a stranger wearing the cape and calling himself Clark Kent, but you never quite bought it was the real deal.

In the run up to to Rebirth, signs indicated that DC hadn't quite settled on the look for Superman as the Post-COIE Superman once again put on blue tights.  In all of those covers and the solicitation art for the Rebirth comics in month one, you didn't see Superman below the waist, and in one place you did, the boots were red, only to change to blue by the time comic hit the shelves.

I wasn't averse to what they eventually put out there.  It seemed inspired by the costume of the 2013 and 2016 films starring Henry Cavill, but I could never quite reconcile the blue boots with the blue costume.

More than anything -  what filled me with joy was that Superman was *acting* like Superman again thanks to writers on the main two titles such as veteran Superman scribe Dan Jurgens on Action and Peter Tomasi - a guy with a great head for the entire DCU - on Superman.

It's difficult to say exactly how or why New 52 Superman never seemed to many readers like a legitimate Superman.  While Batman and especially Wonder Woman saw large changes after Flashpoint/ into the New 52, DC didn't try to change the characters even if they were trying to change some of their status quo.  But clearly the powers that be at DC were trying to make Superman a "bad-ass", but had no real idea what that meant.  Across Action Comics, Superman and Justice League, we were getting three very different ideas about who the character should be.  Morrison was trying to revive the Golden Age spirit of Superman with a distinctly Morrisonian flavor.  Perez's attempts at world building were watered down and re-written to the point that he disowned his own stories, and Justice League made Superman a character we kept being told was noble and amazing, but seemed more like a multi-powered plot device.  Before the end of the the first year, they'd abandoned "bad-ass" for "sort of like Superman, but kind of more emo and everyone sort of yells at him all the time".

What I'll mostly remember about the New 52 Superman is a sort of colorless cipher that was buffeted by the winds of editorial edict as DC tried to figure out what Superman would become should the Siegel lawsuit take back Action Comics #1.  Superman dropped his role as a reporter for a major metropolitan paper to become a (sigh) blogger.  He wasn't tied to Lois Lane romantically and she all but disappeared from the comics.  They tried to force Wildstorm villains on him.  And, frankly, in not making Superman a total square, there really wasn't much left to work with.  Clark Kent and Superman became defined not by what they did and said - but by the inexplicable dialog put in the mouths of other characters and a lot of insisting that the wishy-washy Superman of these books was a noble and great hero.

It's also hard to convey how unreadable most of the Superman books were during the New 52.  Someone mistook breakneck pacing for excitement, and event after event turned into characters shouting plotpoints at each other with no build-up, character beats that feel like they're being read off a 5x7 card, and no investment.  The lack of Lois in the books opened up the possibility for a romance with Wonder Woman, and I am sure there are tumblrs out there still fuming that this ended.

Honestly, I stopped reading Superman all together during the Scott Lobdell era, so while I have trades (but not single issues) of the H'el on Earth stuff, all I ever did was flip through them to make sure I wasn't missing anything.  I wasn't.

I get why the fans who came in with the New 52 began insisting this was *their* Superman.  We all get proprietary over the version we came in with - and for a long time I was all about post-Crisis Superman, and tried to write off Silver Age Superman, but, people, this is a mistake.  Knowing and having some form of fondness for all of your eras of Superman is what makes the character ultimately most fun.

It does seem that whomever those new readers were, they must not have stuck around, which also tells you something about what DC was doing to get readers invested.

Again, I'm a fan of what they'e doing in the post Rebirth Super titles (although I haven't really been reading New Superman).  And I like the idea that Lois, herself, almost has a secret identity, posing as this Earth's Lois.

At this late stage in my life, I am totally down with a Lois as reporter, a mom and still totally and completely Lois Lane.  If we're going to see the Lane-Kent's as 40ish characters, this is a take that resonates and merges new and old.

I don't know what Superman Reborn holds as far as stories or where they're headed, but I am hoping it streamlines the huge issues created by making Superman a twice-over refugee.  I'll also admit - I've quite liked the notion of Superman as a family-man.  If he and Lois are together for this long, having a kid in the mix isn't the worst thing that could happen.

that's right.  We got ourselves Krypto, too.

They're working on backing Clark back into The Daily Planet, and that seems to be the culmination of all the work of the past six months or so when we hit Reborn.  Time to bring Perry, Jimmy and the rest of the Planet staff back into the mix.  And I think Jurgens and Tomasi can do it and do it well.

As per the new costime - I was missing the red boots.  So, useless belt aside - at least it's the right colors, and shapes (check out the shield-shaped buckle) - they're edging back to an iconic look, and if we can't have the trunks, I'll take this new look any day.

I can do without a lot more futzing, and sincerely hope this is it for a while.  And I'm more than happy with a Superman who has a wife, a child and even a family super-dog.  Here's to hoping that a costume more in line with the classic look is an indicator of how DC is feeling about their flagship character.

But I also would more than welcome a second line of DC Comics featuring an Earth with a Superman coming to The Daily Planet for the first time.   Maybe with red trunks.

*Over in Wonder Woman they were kind of ruining the one readable New 52 title and Commissioner Gordon was walking around in a Gundam suit being Batman in the Gotham-based titles.


Stuart said...

I don't know that no one cared. I still see comments sections dominated by New 52 fans asking DC when he's going to return. I have no interest in that story, but I'm certain it's coming.

Simon MacDonald said...

So the new 52 Superman and Lois Lane are gone and they've been replaced by themselves or the post Crisis versions of Superman and Lois Lane? Comics everybody!

That doesn't sound horrible as they are now able to start a romance between Clark and Lois again. I imagine there will be even a shocking admission to the Daily Planet staff that they've been together for awhile and have a 10 year old son. Speaking of is this a biological kid of theirs or the pre-52 kid that was hanging around with them who I feel like was Zod's son or something?

I suspect that in 6 months no one will ever mention the new 52 Superman ever again by editorial edict.

The League said...

@stuart - yeah, I am sure there are some folks out there who are pounding away on message boards, and I genuinely think there's a place for that character if he's not a 2-dimensional place holder for a better character. It was a HUGE risk to bring in this version of the character and eliminate the New 52 version. But what DC did was so drastic, I have to think that the numbers there may be passionate for New 52 Superman, but they're small. I can only imagine what sales on that Lois & Clark book must have been to make them make their decision. And over at the Superman Homepage, it seems like folks are really pretty zen about it, in comparison to, say, a discussion over the recent Snyder films.

@Simon & @Stuart - Yeah, it's way beyond "start a romance" - this is Post Crisis married Lois and Clark. I should have mentioned that New 52 Lois met the same "turn into dust" fate as New 52 Superman (it's complicated), so Post-COIE Lois is posing as her, despite the fact she knows she is and looks 10 years older. It's all very strange.

My assumption is that Reborn is going to settle this for at least a while, and we'll learn what happened to Superman and Lois.

It is not the same kid (Chris) who was Zod's son. I think he's no longer in existence. It's their own son who was born during "Convergence", which was sort of a reverse-Crisis, where we saw the multiverse and Superman and Lois wound up in the New52 U at the end of that run.

I have no idea what the hell is going to happen, which is part of what is making the fact they're baking these questions into the narrative as a mystery for Lois and Clark all the more interesting.

NONE of this should work, but it does. It's very odd.

The League said...

I haven't even gotten into the fact that it seems like the Watchmen characters are somehow involved and messing with reality, btw.

The League said...

I should also point out - in the wake of New52 Superman dying, a fully human Clark Kent has been working at the Daily Planet, and not our Superman or Lex or anyone seems to know anything about him. Needless to say, Superman and family are more than a little wigged out he's there. Our Superman is not working at the Planet yet, he's under the name Clark White and working a farm upstate. They've sort of gotten pulled back into Superman-ness against their wishes, although Lois is enjoying getting back to being Lois (although she was writing non-fiction expose books under a nom de plume and going by Lois White). All this has made everyone think the "Superman is Clark Kent" reveal was a ruse for Superman to assist Clark Kent when he was working on a story so no one would try to kill Clark Kent.

It is DEEPLY complicated, but it's also enjoyable. I just don't know if it's a great jumping on point if you're totally new to comics.