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 #19 hit the stands on Wednesday, bringing fans the third installment of the Superman: Reborn crossover. The follow-up to Action Comics #975 began at the point at which Superman #18 ended and intersected with the events of Superwoman #8. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer, T. Kyle King, is here to examine Peter J. Tomasi’s and Patrick Gleason’s latest effort.
(Warning: Spoilers and speculation follow!)
Superman #19 Review:
Jonathan Kent has been kidnapped by Mr. Mxyzptlk. Lois Lane’s memory of her missing son has been erased. Will the pre-Flashpoint Action Ace’s rescue mission to the Fifth Dimension succeed… and is Rebirth on the verge of resurrecting Superman Red and Superman Blue?
Superman #19 Synopsis:
Angered by his inability to find his son and his wife’s inability even to recall that Jon exists, the Metropolis Marvel calls out to the Zrfffian imp to return. Mxyzptlk brings Superman and Lois to the “personal dimensional playground” where he has hidden Superboy within his “Infinite Planet” replica of the Daily Planet building. Jon’s parents must make it to the top of the structure before their fading familial recollections vanish altogether.
As he floats with the drifting old photographs in the empty ether inside the globe atop the Infinite Planet, Superboy is visited by a pair of red energy orbs. Jonathan quickly discerns that these are Superman and Lois Lane… only they are not his pre-Flashpoint parents; rather, they are the New 52 versions of the Last Son of Krypton and the First Lady of Superhero Comics. The youngster hears his mother and father outside as they near the top, but the couple cannot quite reach the summit ere their memories fade. With Mr. Mxyzptlk on the verge of winning, Superboy breaks free with the aid of the twin glowing energy spheres. The son appears to have been reunited with his parents… but exactly which Superman and Lois Lane does he encounter?
Superman #19 Analysis:
Gleason, who shared the story credit for Superman: Reborn — Part 3 with Tomasi, also provided the pencils for Mick Gray to ink and John Kalisz to color. The inking arguably looks a little rough at times, but the graphics largely succeed in depicting the exaggerated funhouse-mirror absurdity of the antagonist and his mind-bending, rule-breaking dreamscape. (At one point in Superman #19, Mr. Mxyzptlk’s facial features contort into what can only be described as the Grinch’s grin.) The outsized expressiveness of the characters’ countenances extends to everyone, occasionally excessively so, yet most often to good effect, and the floating photos surrounding Superboy are an exquisitely eerie touch.
The co-authors’ writing typically is equally adept. The opening of Superman: Reborn — Part 3 pulls the audience right back into the story, movingly replaying the closing moments of Superman #18 from Jonathan’s point of view before recreating Lois’s final line from Action Comics #975. Seven panels into Superman #19, we are all caught up, narratively and emotionally, with minimal exposition. The tale also contains some clever comments from Mr. Mxyzptlk, who hilariously refers to Lois as “Yoko” and concludes the issue by exclaiming: “Deja-New-52!” The Fifth Dimensional imp’s disgust at Lane’s and the Action Ace’s “cosmic PDA” keeps the moment from being saccharine, but Mxy’s paean to the twosome’s ability “to find each other” in the midst even of “fractured quantum space-time” nicely summarized the permanence of the medium’s most enduring pairing.
In spite of the inclusion of such enriching snippets, Superman: Reborn — Part 3 could have used the additional room provided to Action Comics #975. Tomasi and Gleason made good use of the space available to establish the tone, set the stage, and offer explanations economically. Nevertheless, a tight 20-page issue with rapid pacing and big imagery left much of Superman’s and Lois’s journey to the top of the Infinite Planet in the realm of implication and imagination. Likewise, the seeming seamlessness between Jonathan’s vanishing in Superman #18 and his escape in Superman #19 produces some brow-furrowing confusion over how exactly the backup adventure of Action Comics #975 fits into the larger Superman: Reborn narrative.
At the end of the day, however, this edition is about the big picture, and the fact that issues are dispensed with swiftly does not mean they are given short shrift. When Kal-El asks Mr. Mxyzptlk about the recurring blue energy motif, the imp’s attitude is dismissive, but the substance of his response — “It’s your inner essence that makes you… you” — is significant, particularly in the context of the panel in which the sentence appears. The blue may not all come back to Dr. Manhattan the way some of us supposed, but surely there must be something to the fact that the revelation is made while Superman and Lois pass by a pair of half-submerged boats as they walk through an omega-shaped arch toward a mystic figure that is half-magic eight ball and half-Intellectron with a sideways infinity symbol in the middle of his eye, especially since the cover of Superman #19 portrayed Mr. Oz with a gleaming right eye and a left foot facing backward like Janus the Everyway Man from the issue that introduced us to Algorithm 8.
Of course, the most immediate importance of Mxyzptlk’s aside about the pre-Flashpoint Superman’s definitive hue being blue is made plain by the Zrfffian trickster’s subsequent ramblings, which obliquely reveal that the Man of Tomorrow “was split in two”, with the New 52 Metropolis Marvel being imbued with red energy. This unmistakably alludes to Superman Red and Superman Blue, as they existed in the Silver Age, as they were revived in the 1990s, and as they recurred as recently as Superwoman. The implication is that the impulsive, undisciplined emo Superman Red of the New 52 and the rational, reserved staid Superman Blue from the period between Crisis on Infinite Earths and Flashpoint are two halves of the same whole. Any doubt that this was the storytellers’ point was dispelled by the fact that Jonathan, his mother, and his father all were limned in blue throughout Superman #19.
As solutions to such problems go, that one certainly is inventive and arguably is ingenious. Superman: Reborn — Part 3 carefully littered the issue with drifting images, from floating photographs to a scene-strewn game board reminiscent of the scribbles on the wall of Mxy’s former cell. These continuous callbacks, coupled with the overt recurrence of the oft-repeated Superman Red/Superman Blue plot device, culminated in a climax that was not subtle, but which needed saying straightforwardly: Superman and Lois Lane, together at the Daily Planet, found themselves forgetting their recent past, then the day was saved by their son — notably named for the grandfathers he never knew, but whom the readers did — with the aid of the silent shapeless spirits of the New 52 Supes and Lois who died heroically. What lingered from the New 52 was stripped to its essence and put to redemptive use, in order to restore what is most important, reunite those who belonged together all along, and allow the discarded refuse to be forgotten.
Admittedly, the final stanza of Superman #19 was a little on the nose, but, for Superman fans who slogged through the dishonesty of Truth, DC Comics’ direct approach during Rebirth has been most welcome. Superman: Reborn continues to make good on the promise of its title.
Let your red and blue energies combine in the comments and ComiConverse with us about Superman #19!
Source: DC Comics
Although the story could have used a little more space, this effective installment advanced the story in a compelling and convincing way.