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 #20 offered readers the first glimpse of the new status quo for Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jonathan Kent in the aftermath of Superman: Reborn. Peter J. Tomasi shared the story credit with Patrick Gleason, who also provided the pencils. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King is here to offer his thoughts on Black Dawn — Chapter 1.
Superman #20 Review:
The pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane who re-emerged from Convergence have combined with the spirits of their late New 52 counterparts to create a unified Rebirth timeline existing continuously since Crisis on Infinite Earths. That can’t possibly complicate matters, can it?
Superman #20 Synopsis:
Adjusting to life after the restoration of the reunited continuity, Clark, Lois, and Jonathan — now living in Hamilton County under their familiar family name of Kent — are happy and content, yet still attempting to sort out everything that has happened. The trio is warned of a coming storm by their nearby neighbor, dairy farmer Cobb Branden, and the Kents take refuge in their basement.
The family is summoned from its shelter by the clandestine arrival of Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight is concerned by the results of tests he has performed on Superboy, which show that Jon’s powers should be fully developed. Bruce Wayne believes the youth’s limited metahuman abilities are being constrained artificially by environmental factors, and he targets the locally produced milk from Cobb’s Dairy. The Caped Crusader pays a stealthy visit to the Brandens’ barn, where he finds a surprise awaiting him.
Superman #20 Analysis:
Although the tale that begins with Black Dawn — Chapter 1 is not without its sinister underpinnings, the story opens with a tone of celebratory contentment following the clarifying course correction represented by Superman: Reborn. Gleason’s clean lines and uncluttered iconography are ideally suited to the restorative mode of the issue’s initial pages. Mick Gray’s inks keep the images sharp, while John Kalisz’s colors maintain the mood of each scene, from the youthful Superboy’s pastoral greens and golds to the soaring Superman’s bold blues and reds to the skulking Batman’s foreboding blacks and greys. From the lantern-jawed heroes and the flying fauna who accompany them to the accidental bat signal projected when Lane’s flashlight passes over Wayne’s costume, the graphics of Superman #20 offer an unvarnished authenticity marred only by the occasional panel in which Lois’s lips look like she’s been getting collagen injections on her visits to Metropolis.
The sunny look of the book is offset somewhat by the increasingly ominous undertones of the story as it progresses. As authors, Gleason and Tomasi have been playing the long game with Cobb Branden, introducing him innocuously in the background before inserting wordless Easter eggs that were easy to overlook until the audience was given cause to wonder openly over his motives. Rebirth has been a period of carefully crafted buildups to satisfying payoffs for the Man of Steel and those closest to him, and Superman #20 promises to be another such issue initiating an intriguing endgame for a recurring plot point that has been kept simmering for an extended period.
In the midst of this, Gleason and Tomasi continue to write with a nuanced ear for sensing when they have hit pitch-perfect notes. Brief exchanges of dialogue between Lois and Clark, Batman and Superman, and Superboy and Robin keep the characters rooted to their essential selves in this season of dizzying change. Black Dawn — Chapter 1 features just three pages on which more than one line of dialogue is uttered by anyone other than Batman, Lois Lane, Robin, Superboy, or Superman, so it is critical that the members of the starring quintet all speak with their respective individual voices. In Superman #20, each of them does.
The image-driven slow burn of Black Dawn — Chapter 1 heightens the drama with misdirection, sending the Kents into the basement after Cobb offers an ostensibly innocent bit of neighborly advice. This single-page sequence seems like a sweet slice of life for the Superman Family, but the scene is weighty with significance. Looming over everything is an enormous eight ball reminiscent of the most portentous panel from the preceding issue. As the static camera on the graphics pans out to show the Kents playing pool, Clark overtly makes reference to The Hustler, a classic motion picture praised by film critic Roger Ebert as “one of the few American movies in which the hero wins by surrendering, by accepting reality instead of his dreams.” Given the cliffhanger ending of Superman #20, that explicit allusion almost certainly is foreshadowing, and the net effect is to leave the audience anxious yet enthusiastic for whatever is next.
Offer your thoughts on the Dark Knight at the end of the start of Black Dawn as you ComiConverse with us about Superman #20 in the comments!
Now that the Superman Family has been restored, there are new avenues to explore, and Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason continue to do so effectively.