August 27, 2011: Don't Be Afraid of the Relaunch

By Tom Speelman.

Action Comics #1 So here we are, less than a few days away from the brand new DC Universe, or the DCnU, as Newsarama has been calling it. That's a name DC might welcome, because that's their whole point behind this thing: new stories for a new generation of readers.

New stories also mean that every character, big and small, is getting a new look and a new set of problems, but no one seems to be getting a bigger makeover than the Man of Steel. We've all seen the new Kryptonian battle suit and I, for one, think it looks good. Admittedly, the reasoning behind a man whose very skin is invulnerable to essentially everything needing a battle suit is kinda shaky, but I see the point they're trying to make.

Superman isn't just fighting random criminals, he's waging a war against evil. And in wars, you need gear like armor to provide protection. There's also the idea that several key DC employees have said, which is that Supes wants to feel closer to his Kryptonian heritage. Certainly the suit is alien-looking in two respects: 1. It doesn't jive with how the entire world, not to mention comic book fans, see Superman, and 2. It's different in a semi-futuristic way from our traditional conception of battle armor. The bright red is more subdued when compared to the overall blue, which is also a good thing. Too much red and Kal could be an easy target for, say, someone like Deadshot.

Aside from his look, Superman will also be having new stories thrown his way courtesy of Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Rick Bryant in Action Comics and George Perez and Jesus Merino in Superman.

Superman #1 Both of these teams are dynamite all the way around as far as I'm concerned. Let's start with the Superman guys first. George Perez, in a way that I'm sure veteran fans found great, has come full circle, having illustrated the first DCU do-over with Crisis on Infinite Earths and taken over duties as writer and illustrator on Wonder Woman. Now here he is, pulling double duty again on Superman, albeit in a somewhat diminished capacity (he will only be drawing page breakdowns and covers at the outset). Perez's writing is direct, fun, and good storytelling, and the preview scenes of Superman #1 that we've seen make me curious and eager for more, something any writer, in any medium, should strive to do. I look forward to seeing where he goes with things.

Merino, to me, is in the top tier of superhero artists. His inking work with Carlos Pacheco, particularly during the Camelot Falls storyline as well as in the Green Lantern title, was pleasing and enjoyable to look at. The interior artwork shown so far proves that Merino has a definite look down for Clark, Lois, Perry, and the rest. Yes, it can be argued to an extent that Merino is simply finishing up the breakdowns that George Pérez has already drawn, but I don't buy it. I think of it as Pérez laying the foundation and then Merino coming in to do all the brickwork. Jesus seems like a natural fit for George.

While Superman looks to be a solid title, it's Action Comics that everyone will have their eye on when it hits September 7. Grant Morrison is the writer responsible for the oft-lionized All-Star Superman which DC and many others have gone out of their way to praise for being one of the best Superman stories ever written. Mark Waid, in his introduction to Volume 2 of the series, said that he's "read every Superman story and never one better." I wouldn't go that far, but I will say that that miniseries is one of the best Superman stories I've ever read, and it's usually the one I recommend to my non-comic book reading friends.

Action Comics #1 Morrison has said that he won't try to repeat his best success; in fact, he's even said his Action run will be better! However, he's said his planned 16-issue run will touch upon some themes from All-Star. In a video posted on Newsarama, he hinted at one of those themes, saying that "in any given era, [Superman] represents the best of what we can be. He's always gonna represent what we could be at any given time." The idea of Superman embodying the best of humanity despite his outsider status as an alien was present in All-Star and I look forward to seeing how Morrison will further explore that.

Morrison also said that "if you have a comic called 'Action' it should have a lot of action in it. The idea is to keep Superman constantly moving in every single scene. You open the first page, and he starts running and doesn't stop until the end. That's a different style from "All-Star" which was a kind of static, 1950s style, Wayne Boring colossal Superman." That constant action will be interesting to see, particularly as Morrison, in his work on JLA and other comics like We3, can write some gonzo action scenes!

The other interesting thing about this run of Action is the fact that it's set five years in the past, making this a book about Superman's early days, hence, the blue jeans and work boots with the cape and T-shirt. I kinda like this Springsteen-ish look because it shows that this Superman is definitely a man of the people, a "champion of the oppressed" as it said in his initial introductory text. The look, particularly as glimpsed on that initial Action #1 cover by Morales, with bullets bouncing off of Clark as he leaps over cars, makes for a really dynamic and positive image of someone standing up for the downtrodden, which is something Superman has stood for since his beginnings in 1938.

Justice League #1 Action isn't the only DCU book set in the recent past; Justice League #1 has been revealed to be set a few months after the events in the inaugural issue of Action, something that establishes the idea that, from the very beginning, our favorite heroes were united, which is an image of inspiration that many could benefit from.

Morrison has also said to Newsarama that "We're trying to tie in to everything. I'm telling stories set five years prior to the stories, say, George Perez is telling in his "Superman" book. So we're kind of doing different parts of Superman's life, but there's definitely things that will tie in. I'll be setting up things in my book that will peel off into other books. The plan, of course, is quite big and always changing. We're introducing a lot of new characters and villains for Superman - new environments and new takes on some familiar stuff as well."

Of those new takes, he said "We're playing a very different take on the Lex Luthor/Superman relationship. It's quite flipped on its head. Luthor is almost the good guy to a certain extent. All of the relationships are going to be different. Superman's relationship with Jimmy Olsen is completely different, but it makes sense in a way that I'm surprised nobody has thought of before now. The same goes for Lois Lane. Things won't be quite the same for Superman and Lois, and we'll see how truly different their lives will be. I think it'll add some new tension and a new dynamic to it. It won't be predictable at all."

Morrison has also said he doesn't know how his run will end. But I have no problem with that, because, at least to this reader, organic storytelling that flows naturally is the best kind of storytelling.

Grant will be helped in his storytelling skills by the team of Rags Morales and Rick Bryant. Despite the fact that Morales illustrated the nadir of "grim 'n' gritty" storytelling, Identity Crisis, his poses are dynamic, his linework is clean, and his facial expressions are realistic. I also enjoyed the intricacies of his artwork on DC's First Wave book; they not only set the pulpish tone of that book but enhanced it. If I'd trust anyone to capture the uncertainty of Supes in his early days, it's Rags.

Action Comics #1 Bryant, on the other hand, I don't know much about. I've seen his work with Morales on First Wave though, and I've liked it. His inks don't get in the way, but instead flesh out and heighten the original artwork, which is what all inkers of other artists' work should try to do. I'm excited to see his skills at work here.

Now, a lot of people are nervous about where Morrison and co. are going to take things. After all, Morrison did write Final Crisis, which is, without question, the most confusing, new-reader unfriendly, and jarring event ever published by DC. But there's really not that much to worry about. Morrison may be telling the early days of Superman, but they're going to be with familiar villains, familiar cast members, and maybe some new additions on both sides. But every era of pop culture requires innovation, and comics are no exception. For better or worse, the bald man from Glasgow has made himself into one of comics' most preeminent innovators. So, I say, give Grant a chance. I think we'll all be surprised... one way or another!

Many people are also nervous because it's been told that Superman will be more alienated. However, as many have been quick to point out, Superman is not Batman and will not be a brooder. Morrison has said that Krypton's Last Son will only be darker and conflict with the law because he seeks justice. He also says he'll make Kal "a bit more brash, a bit more wild." As Tim Callahan, writing for Tor.com, pointed out, this is to address the issue that many readers think "Superman is boring." To quote Callahan:

    "Superman, with his invulnerability, his dignified approach to superheroics, and his god-like powers, is often seen more as an icon than as a character who can play a central role in a compelling drama. What's really at stake when a character basically has no weaknesses and can do anything? Kryptonite can only be used so often before it becomes a crutch."

This is a problem that many noble creators have tried to rectify in the past and hopefully, Morrison, Pérez, Merino, Morales and Bryant can join the ranks of those who were successful.

Supergirl Not only is the Man of Steel being reinvented, but so are the Kid of Steel and the Maid of Might.

First up, let's tackle Supergirl. Unlike her cousin, it seems she's being set up as a brooding teenager by writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson. The duo have also said that they want to do a few things with their run:

1. They want to establish who she is, and what her journey is on Earth.

2. They want it to be as new-reader friendly as possible.

3. There will be a mystery as to how Supergirl got to Earth in the first place.

4. They say Supergirl will have a life and friends but will struggle with others' assumptions and her life on Earth, as well as her rogues' gallery and the fact that the yellow sun will affect her differently than her male counterparts.

5. They've said that Kara has just lost her parents and now feels like an outsider.

Taken as a whole, these facts seem to lay out an interesting premise. The way the duo wants to tackle Supergirl seems to be like how the character would be written if she received the Smallville treatment instead of Kal, a stance that I think is refreshing. Admittedly, I don't know much about the various incarnations of Supergirl (especially the post-Crisis incarnation) but I still think this is a good move nonetheless. Supergirl needs to be seen as more than just "Superman if he was a girl" and this seems like a step in the right direction.

Mahmud A. Asrar's art also seems a leap forward. His Supergirl looks alien and foreign, someone that, you might think if you saw her at a party, had just arrived from out of town and didn't quite know her way around. The new costume emphasizes her alienness, perhaps in an even greater fashion than Superman's. While it reminds me somewhat of the costumes worn in the anime Kekkashi, it also suggests a regal bearing, particularly in the high cape and boots. Whatever status Zor-El and Alura are revealed to have had in the new version of Krypton, it's obviously an important one. I haven't read, to my knowledge, anything Asrar has drawn, but what I'm seeing, I'm liking. My best wishes go out to them.

Superboy #1 Last is Superboy. Right off the bat, the cover of his new number 1 had people concerned. Is he going to be angsty and extreme? they asked themselves. That isn't the Connor Kent I know! But remember, this isn't the Connor Kent anyone will have known.

Scott Lobdell has a huge legacy as a writer, particularly on the X-family of titles for Marvel. I haven't read any of that stuff, but Lobdell, from what I've read in interviews, seems like a nice, cool guy. He's also someone having a huge stake in the brand new DC, writing not only this title, but also Teen Titans and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Clearly, Dan Didio and others trust him to tell the right stories and he seems determined not to disappoint.

In an interview with Bleeding Cool, Lobdell revealed that Superboy will be interconnected with Teen Titans, although what that means time-wise is uncertain. He's also revealed that everything is the same: there's still Tactile Telekinesis, Conner still showed up after the death of Superman, and he is still a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor.

There are only 2 things I'm left wondering: Is Project N.O.W.H.E.R.E., something hinted in the first issue solicit, the same thing as Cadmus and will this Superboy experience the same levels of angst and existential self-doubt that the creators of the Young Justice cartoon have explored? The latter would be a good idea. Not only is Young Justice a huge hit with kids and adults, but this version of Superboy is emotionally affecting in a way that the other incarnations just haven't been for me. Hopefully, Lobdell will take some cues from Greg Weisman and his cohorts.

As far as artist R.B. Silva, again, I don't know him. Apparently his Jimmy Olsen co-feature with Nick Spencer is great; I don't know, I haven't read it. What I'm seeing though - tight artwork, nice angles - I'm liking and for now, I'm OK with that.

One more thing I forgot to mention. According to the DC: The New 52 promo magazine, the new Stormwatch book will take place after the events of Superman #1 and the new monster of that issue will also be encountered in some capacity by the Stormwatch team. If nothing else, this bit of info says that, unlike the last history-erasing relaunch, the Superman Family books will not be a tightly interconnected soap opera in and of themselves. They will freely tie into other books within the new DCU as a whole, which, in this age of every website linking to other sites, seems like the right call to make.

And there you have it, folks, my thoughts on the new Superman books and the new Superman looks. I hope you enjoyed this analysis and, if you did (or didn't, I can take criticism), please send me a PM here on the Homepage. Until next Wednesday where everything changes, let me just say, to steal a bit from J. David Weter at Superman Forever Radio, "Keep on Fighting the Never-Ending Battle!"

Tom Speelman



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