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 #18 saw the light of day on Wednesday, beginning the highly anticipated Superman: Reborn crossover. The storyline’s first installment was written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, the latter of whom also pencilled the issue. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reporter, T. Kyle King, offers his thoughts on the start of what promises to be a game-changing arc.
Superman #18 Review:
In DC Universe: Rebirth #1, Mr. Oz cryptically remarked to the ostensible pre-Flashpoint Metropolis Marvel: “You and your family are not what you believe you are. And neither was the fallen Superman.” In Superman: Reborn — Part 1, the journey to learn the hidden truths underlying those worrisome words begins.
(MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!)
Superman #18 Synopsis:
In the mysterious prison where both Doomsday and Prophecy are confined, Tim Drake mockingly tells Mr. Oz that one of his other captives has escaped. The taciturn jailer goes to the missing prisoner’s cell to confirm Red Robin’s revelation, finding the chamber vacant but for numerous engravings about the Man of Tomorrow.
Clark Kent and Lois Lane commemorate their wedding anniversary with their son, Jonathan, at the family farm in Hamilton County. Their heartwarming celebration is interrupted by a visit from the revenge-minded duplicate Clark, who leaves an album filled with old photographs of the Kent family from an earlier era. Suddenly, their home catches fire… but the inexplicable and inextinguishable flames do not burn, produce no smoke, and appear merely to be erasing from existence the modern additions to Superman’s and Lois’s life together. The conflagration takes Jon with it, as the boy seemingly winks out of existence. After their child disappears, the Action Ace concludes that the impostor Clark took their son and swears to Lois that they will get him back.
Superman #18 Analysis:
Superman: Reborn was destined from the beginning to be a big deal, and the opening installment lived up to the lofty expectations confronting the crossover. The artwork of Superman #18 aided mightily in enabling the tale to satisfy the hype. Gleason’s pencils, brought fully to life by Mick Gray’s inks and John Kalisz’s colors, capably combine scene with style. Just in the issue’s first half-dozen pages, the graphics team delivers a John Byrne-like cosmic introduction, a Jorge Jimenez-style Tim Drake, and a John Romita, Jr.-esque Mr. Oz before returning to the familiar look they have lent to this book since Rebirth began. The visuals are magnificent, and the eerie luminescence Kalisz gives to the otherworldly flames dramatically emphasizes this installment’s moving conclusion.
Gleason, of course, did double duty on Superman: Reborn — Part 1, sharing the story credit with co-author Tomasi. Although the imagery was called upon to portray a great range of emotional reactions, from joy to bewilderment to fear to sorrow, the writing was the more challenging chore for Superman #18, yet it, too, excelled. Heightening the poignance of the coming calamity by hearkening back to Lois’s and Clark’s wedding was a sound strategy, which was executed effectively using sweetly sentimental tactics to highlight the genuine love among these characters. The tale’s opening act brought home why we care, in order to add momentum to the gut punch of its wrenching ending. Unlike in the Bronze Age, the tears shed by Superman in this adventure featuring a Clark Kent without superpowers are heartfelt, not forced.
Superman #18 feels clean and linear, clearly differentiating the good guys from their bad antagonists, but this issue is far from simple. In fact, every line and linkage feels significant. Adhering to the template established by Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, the first page consists of four panels and eight words. This time, though, the succinct start is confounding rather than clarifying. Superman: Reborn — the express intent of which is to address enduring inquiries — enigmatically begins with these words: “Time answers. Space questions. Matter questions. Energy answers.”
These baffling observations are superimposed over images of some seemingly violent interstellar event tellingly tinted blue. It is not the hue of the Big Blue Boy Scout, though; it is instead the azure of the flames that consume Jonathan… and of the Man of Steel’s handprint… and of his encounter with Swamp Thing… and of Dr. Manhattan, who was last seen leaving to create new life. If that connection seems like a stretch at first, it is fortified further on the following page, as the blue burst dissolves into the image of Dr. Oz, accompanied by these words: “Hollow spaces waiting to be filled… to be watched.” That last phrase — an unmistakeable allusion to the quotation from Juvenal from which Watchmen draws its title — appears alongside the gleaming eye of Mr. Oz, who has long been believed to be Ozymandias.
Irrespective of Mr. Oz’s true identity, however, Superman #18’s transition from literally universal questions concerning time and space to the mysterious observer recalls the moment, two issues earlier, at which he captured Prophecy. “I have to admire your persistence and conviction”, Mr. Oz told his ambitious prisoner, adding: “Not to mention your sensitive ear to the fabric of space and time.” Time answers. Space questions. Prophecy hears… and the architect of this grand design promptly takes the perceptive listener off the board before he can change whatever game Mr. Oz is playing.
We know from Superman #18 that Prophecy remains in custody, along with Doomsday and Red Robin, so who escaped? Presumably, it is the captive to whom Mr. Oz spoke through the door in Geoff Johns’s Superman #34, but the half-demolished obelisk in the midst of what appears to be a graveyard shown on the third page of Superman: Reborn — Part 1 bears no resemblance to what was shown in that earlier scene. Undoubtedly, a clue to the runaway’s identity is to be found in the inscriptions remaining in the empty cell. The engraved images depict Kal-El’s flight from Krypton, his discovery by the Kents, his colleagues at the Daily Planet, and multiple different iterations of the Man of Steel’s iconic S-shield, but all appear to be the handiwork of a child.
More notable still is the literal descent of the missing prisoner’s confidence in the Man of Tomorrow, reminiscent of a line (“We lost faith in tomorrow”) from the aforementioned Superman #34. “Superman will save me” appears high on the wall, with “Superman please save me” below it. In the end, on the floor, is inscribed the desperate query: “Superman where are you?” (Matter questions. Energy answers.) If a growing youngster wrote these things, it is odd that the earliest ideas were written above the later sentiments, and not the other way around… yet, when the fire comes for Superman’s son, the youth initially blinks downward to the basement before being transported upward to the attic.
Do these erratic movements by the disappearing Jonathan at the end of Superman #18 hint that the son of the Last Son of Krypton — who has seen what trapped combatants write on walls — has passed through questioning space and answering time to fill the hollow space of Mr. Oz’s now-empty cell? Is Superboy the prisoner whose capture we witnessed at the end of the selfsame issue that began with his escape? If the notion of Jon passing backward through time seems unduly trippy, remember that Johns wrote not only Superman #34, but also DC Universe: Rebirth #1 — in which the hands of a clock were seen moving backward, bidden by Dr. Manhattan, for whom time is not linear. Amid that epic’s revelation that time was lost during the New 52, at the start of the conversation that set this particular mystery into motion, Mr. Oz said to Superman: “Your boy is growing up fast. You and Lois must be proud.”
Tomasi and Gleason should be proud of Superman: Reborn — Part 1. The implications of Superman #18 are dizzying, and examining the nooks and crannies of this evocative issue is both intriguing and fun. What more do you want from a superhero comic book than that?
The space for questions and the time for answers both are available in the comments. ComiConverse with us there about Superman #18!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Source: DC Comics