T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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Superman #1 was released this week, continuing the Rebirth reset of the Man of Steel. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason made their debut as the creative tandem at the helm with a tale focused on the home life of the pre-Flashpoint Clark Kent and Lois Lane. ComiConverse’s Kal-El correspondent, T. Kyle King, has a review of the latest issue.
The New 52 Metropolis Marvel is dead, but he has been replaced by the Action Ace who wore the cape for the quarter-century following Crisis on Infinite Earths. As the classic Man of Tomorrow resumes center stage in the DC Universe, how will it affect Clark’s and Lois’s offspring in Son of Superman? (Spoilers ensue!)
In Smallville, Clark visits the unmarked grave in which Lana Lang buried her childhood friend, where he is surprised by the glowing imprint his hand makes on the ground. He then returns to rustic Hamilton County, 300 miles north of Metropolis, where he, Lois, and their son, Jonathan, have taken up residence as the Smith family.
After promising his father not to use his superpowers outside his parents’ presence, Jon goes off with his cat, Goldie. However, the boy breaks his word when a bird of prey swoops down and snatches the family tabby, prompting him to unleash a burst of heat vision that incinerates both animals and is witnessed by Kathy Branden, a new neighbor girl Jonathan’s age. Once he has been paid a nighttime visit by Batman and Wonder Woman, Superman enters his son’s room in costume and tells the boy to come with him.
Tomasi’s recent runs on Superman/Wonder Woman and The Final Days of Superman were long on straightforward action-adventure yet short on subtlety. Superman #1, therefore, represented a fresh start not just for the Man of Steel, but also for its author, who penned a much more understated tale. The story offered a callback to Mr. Oz and foreshadowed future developments, but, at its core, Son of Superman was a character study unencumbered even by a villain.
Consequently, Tomasi is able to ease into this issue at an unhurried pace, tracing the inner thoughts of the surviving Superman as they slowly unfold. This subdued opening even includes an allusion to the Clique song remade by R.E.M. in the same year John Byrne’s Man of Steel was released, as Clark thinks to himself: “I’m Superman. And I can do almost anything.”
The impact of Tomasi’s writing is augmented effectively by Mick Gray’s inks and John Kalisz’s colors. The initial pages of Superman #1 are steeped in fog and shadow, bathed in greys that lend the illustrations a washed out appearance and give the scene a funereal feel. As Clark’s thoughts and eyes are adjusted upward, though, a page-turn reveal displays the iconic image of the hero opening his shirt to expose the primary-colored costume underneath.
From there, the look of the book is bright and bold, all highlighted heroics, flames lighting up the night sky, and idyllic open spaces as an American lad traipses through bucolic fields. When darkness again falls, the shadows cast upon the countenances of the Justice Leaguers give them an ominous look in the eyes of a frightened child. Superman #1 concludes with its titular hero entering a darkened room while backlit from the hall, allowing illumination to penetrate the penumbras. Kalisz’s tints literally as well as figuratively set the tone for every scene in Son of Superman.
Gleason, a longtime collaborator of Tomasi’s, is a highly stylized graphic artist. His visual portrayals do justice to classic characters in an unusual way, producing verisimilitude through revealing exaggeration rather than through rigid photorealism. His Man of Steel is outsized for emphasis, broad-shouldered, lantern-jawed, and Herculean to a degree that stops short of being cartoonish: Gleason tiptoes along the edge of veering into Mr. Incredible territory but reins it in enough to keep it closer to Tim Sale’s Superman For All Seasons.
Given a domestic setting with limited superheroics in Superman #1, Gleason uses clean lines and compelling layouts to convey a wide range of emotional reactions. Part of the challenge faced by the penciller is the uneven, but not inequitable, distribution of dialogue: Tomasi overloads some pages with heaping helpings of words while letting the pictures do almost all of the talking on others. This creates a nice contrast and allows each member of the creative team to contribute to the overall enterprise.
The explosive outburst of Jonathan’s superpowers sparked strong reactions — at least two reviewers described the scene as jarring, and another couple of commentators characterized it as horrifying — by causing the death of the family pet (or, as it was most cleverly phrased, “Cats in Refrigerators”). Granted, I’m a dog person, not a cat person, but the sequence struck me as grisly yet not gratuitous. Showing the unrestrained expression of the boy’s passion and power heightened the creators’ capacity to demonstrate the depth of his confusion and shame, and it is to the storytellers’ credit that they managed to work an American Alien-style moment into a Lois and Clark-like story so credibly.
Superman #1 was a strong start to the new series. True to their titles, Action Comics looks like it will be the book that features fisticuffs and a fast pace, while Tomasi’s and Gleason’s endeavor will focus more patiently on the Man of Steel and those closest to him. So far, Rebirth has been a revitalization for the characters who created superhero comics as a genre in Action Comics #1.
What did you think of Son of Superman? Join us in the comments and ComiConverse with us there!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason started strong as the new creative team for the Rebirth restoration of the Man of Steel.