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 #14, which arrived last Wednesday, opened the Multiplicity arc for the Man of Steel. Artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado joined storytellers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason for a multiverse-spanning adventure, and ComiConverse’s Clark Kent correspondent, T. Kyle King, brings you this review of the blockbuster debut.
(MAJOR SPOILERS INEVITABLY FOLLOW!)
Superman #14 Review:
In the New 52 universe, the pre-Flashpoint Man of Tomorrow teams up with the Soviet Superman from Red Son and Earth-23 Action Ace Calvin Ellis to rescue Captain Carrot and Chinese Super-Man Kenan Kong from an interdimensional collector. So, you know, no big deal.
Superman #14 Synopsis:
Clark Kent is driving home to his family’s Hamilton County farm when he happens upon the injured Soviet Superman of Earth-30, who warns his post-Crisis counterpart that the Supermen of many universes are being targeted by a villain named Prophecy and captured by the mastermind’s henchmen. Those minions — called the Gatherers — soon arrive, searching for the Soviet Superman and for the Shanghai Super-Man, Kenan Kong.
Once the Russian and Hamilton County Supermen beat back the Gatherers, they are joined by the Justice League Incarnate, whom Earth-23’s President Superman has led to “New Earth” through a trans-matter web rift from the House of Heroes. Calvin Ellis informs Clark Kent of the threat Prophecy poses to the multiverse, but they arrive in China too late to save Kenan Kong from being captured. Somewhere outside the multiverse map, several Supermen are caged… and Captain Carrot is subjected to an energy extraction process that produces stunning results.
Superman #14 Analysis:
I have to give credit where credit is due: Tomasi authored probably my least favorite chapter of the highly regrettable Truth storyline, but, in collaboration with Gleason, he has scripted what so far has been a phenomenal run on the main Superman title. Multiplicity — Part 1 is no exception to this rule, as it brings in themes that largely have lain dormant since their introduction in Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity.
Superman #14 capably carries forward the epic sweep of Morrison’s earlier multiverse-spanning endeavors, and, in doing so, Tomasi and Gleason subtly demonstrate the centrality of the Man of Steel to those previous event comics. A proper reading of The Multiversity — and, before it, Final Crisis, with its Superman Beyond interlude — is as part of an interlinking chain of Morrison’s Superman stories, combining his New 52 Action Comics run with his thematically unified DC One Million and All-Star Superman. Attempting to tie into a tale of such duration and scope is a major undertaking, but Multiplicity — Part 1 is a promising beginning.
Tomasi and Gleason are aided considerably in their ambitious mission by the work of their graphic arts collaborators. Reis and Prado are credited with the layouts and the finishes, respectively, to which Marcelo Maiolo contributed the colors. Collectively, they managed to keep pace visually with a script that called upon them to portray many moods in Superman #14, an urgent issue that nevertheless takes time for wry asides, dry observations, and straightforward explanations of complex concepts.
On the surface, the artwork combines the fairly classic look of a Clark-Kent-to-Superman quick-change with a sometimes sly style that lends to the intensity of Kenan Kong’s kidnapping imagery reminiscent of Syndrome’s capture of his nemesis in The Incredibles. This multilayered look to Superman #14 is suited to the story shifts of Multiplicity — Part 1, though. For instance, when the singleminded Gatherers announce their determination to collect the “commodities” — the Earth-30 Superman and the Super-Man of China — who are “on the lyst”, the pre-Flashpoint Superman declares: “Around here the only one making lists is Santa Claus!” (That clever Christmas allusion may have a deeper meaning, as we shall see anon, but, for now, it works well enough just as a seasonally appropriate joke.)
Once the first, and most forthright, fight is won, the Justice League Incarnate arrives, and things get real in a hurry. President Superman mentions the multiverse, and a stone-faced post-Crisis Kal-El replies: “I’m a little familiar with it.” Ellis then follows up his “concise and clear” summation of the situation with a page’s worth of introductions, identifying superheroes from half a dozen parallel Earths arrayed across a layout arranged around the standard nine-panel grid, which was put to such inventive and iconic use in Alan Moore’s Watchmen before being riffed on so effectively by Morrison using the equally thematically significant eight-panel arrangement of Pax Americana in (you guessed it) The Multiversity.
Rebirth — which really has been a restoration — explicitly exists, in part, as an answer to Watchmen, which naturally links The Multiversity (in which Morrison also offered a retort to Moore) to the post-New 52 DC Universe continuity. These literal and symbolic connections are put shrewdly to nuanced use in Superman #14. Combining Kenan Kong with his multidimensional Kryptonian antecedents was a masterstroke, and the writers skillfully and subtly strengthen these bonds by noting in passing that the Red Son Superman was drawn to Hamilton County by the blue light that lurked in the background from the beginning before being assigned more otherworldly significance in a later tale.
Since Rebirth dawned, offering the promise of a renewed multiverse, the Man of Steel, in particular, has seen his share of interdimensional bleed-throughs. This is only fitting, as the Last Son of Krypton is not just the first caped superhero; he is also (as Calvin Ellis characterizes Clark Kent) “a bit of an anomaly”. Hence, the pre-Flashpoint Action Ace recalls Silver Age encounters with Batman and with Lex Luthor that antedate his post-Crisis reboot, and his current continuity now clearly connects both to Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier and to Morrison’s The Multiversity. Even the aforementioned, and ostensibly innocuous, Santa Claus joke is a callback to decades’ worth of team-ups between Superman and St. Nicholas… including one in which Kal-El questioned Kris Kringle’s existence because, if there was a workshop at the North Pole housing hardworking elves and flying reindeer, surely the Metropolis Marvel would have spotted it at some point while flying to the nearby Fortress of Solitude.
The implications of Superman #14, therefore, almost literally are endless, yet, for all the foreshadowing and world-building of Multiplicity — Part 1, it holds together for 20 pages as a tight superhero adventure that makes internal sense as an individual story while rewarding (without requiring) the background knowledge familiar to longstanding fans. Almost a year ago, I opined that 2016 would be for Kryptonians what 1401 was for Italians: the beginning of their Renaissance (which, incidentally, is French for Rebirth). Thanks to Multiplicity — Part 1, 2017 also is off to a solid start in that regard.
Were you wowed by the multitude of Men of Steel on display in Superman #14?
Take off your glasses, put on your cape, and ComiConverse about the latest issue in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Superman’s new story arc is off to a strong start that works on many levels and ties into Rebirth’s biggest and boldest themes.