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 #50 was released this week, marking a major milestone for the Man of Steel. The 50th issue of the New 52 Superman’s eponymous publication featured the final chapter of the Savage Dawn saga, bringing to culmination both the long-running Truth story arc and writer Gene Luen Yang’s time on the title. ComiConverse’s Superman reporter, T. Kyle King, brings you his review of this 40-page spectacular.
Yang teamed up with artists Howard Porter, Ardian Syaf, and Patrick Zircher and special guest artist Jon Bogdanove for What Could Have Been, What Can Still Be, and What Is. In bringing Truth, Justice, and Savage Dawn to a close, were the creators able to take the Man of Tomorrow full circle? (WARNING: Spoilers follow)
Superman and Vandal Savage clash by the comet. Aided by the Puzzlerbot and strengthened by the celestial source of his immortal powers, Savage takes the Action Ace through a series of virtual simulations. The cosmic caveman shows Superman what Krypton could have been like if Im-El had not deflected the comet toward Earth and what Earth will be like if the Man of Steel joins Savage’s ruling clan.
Left to reflect while Vandal and the Puzzlerbot fly upward to bring the comet down to the ground, Clark remembers his Smallville upbringing under Jonathan Kent. Superman is reminded of who he truly is, and he confronts Savage in the sky, persuading the Puzzlerbot to aid him in battling Vandal. The comet is destroyed, the day is saved, and Clark’s relationship with his friends is restored.
Anytime multiple artists combine to draw a single story, there is a risk that their divergent styles will clash instead of mesh. Fortunately, the transitions in this tale allow the shifts in pencillers to work together effectively, as the thematic unity of Superman #50 permits its differing graphic signatures to complement one another. The angular, hard-edged look of Porter’s images has become a familiar element of the book, and it works particularly well here when forming the framework of flights, fights, tights, and wandering interstellar balls of ice.
As usual, Yang’s writing is understated yet powerful, subtly setting the stage with illuminating excerpts of internal monologue to establish motifs that are hidden in plain sight in the midst of the bold graphics that grab the audience’s attention. In space above Earth’s atmosphere, Superman must hold his breath, so he cannot tell Savage what he is thinking, leading him to muse as he punches the villain squarely in the jaw: “So I show him instead.”
It is a good opening line in context, but it serves a greater purpose. Superman #50 is all about showing rather than telling. Savage does not provide stilted exposition by delivering a scenery-chewing monologue; instead, he illustrates his point by guiding the hero through a metahuman retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. This produces revelations rather than explanations, which makes for a much more compelling read. Lois Lane underscores the point at the moment of her reconciliation with the Metropolis Marvel: “You don’t have to say it. I know, Clark.” That succinctly demonstrates the strength of Yang’s writing.
In retracing Superman’s steps, both along his familiar path and on the road not taken, Yang interweaves the traditional with the modern. We see a Krypton that was spared from destruction, where High Chief Vandal Savage has replaced Rao, yet the Jor-El we meet is straight out of the Silver Age, complete with a band around his forehead and a planet emblazoned on his chest like a futuristic figure from a Flash Gordon serial.
By contrast, Savage’s adages about the consequences of choices and the responsibilities that accompany abilities cause Clark to think back to his Kansas boyhood. The Jonathan Kent we hear in our heads speaks with the voice of Kevin Costner from Man of Steel. With the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice mere days away, Yang makes the cinematic connection explicit on the following page, when Kal-El takes flight with one fist down on the trembling ground.
By uniting time-tested and newly-minted elements of the Man of Steel in Superman #50, Yang cuts to the core of the character in closing the loop on a storyline that has changed much yet ultimately retained or redeemed everything that matters. “My father taught me a truth long ago,” the hero recalls, emphasizing the titular verities of the transformative arc before acknowledging his occasional “need to be reminded” both of “who we are” and of who “I am not”. Yang gets it right, because he gets it, period.
As a result, Superman shines through in the end, winning not because his solar-charged strength is superior to Savage’s comet-powered might, but because he can touch even the soul of a robot and inspire “a collection of data” to be “something more”. Recognizing the importance of that power to choose, he makes peace with Lois for her choice to save him by disclosing his secret. Superman #50 ends as it should, with Clark, Lois, and Jimmy sharing a meal at the World’s Finest Cafe, where the sullen hero once shamefully evaded his former Daily Planet colleague.
The final two pages are perfect. Perry White has rehired Jimmy Olsen. Lois Lane demonstrates that she can flirtatiously make the Man of Steel blush. Super-hearing detects a cry for help, requiring the hero to pull open his shirt and become Metropolis’s costumed champion. Now knowing his secret identity, his friends understand, telling him to “text us when you’re done.”
“Now go!” Lois tells him. “Go be Superman!” Jimmy says. Lane corrects Olsen: “Go be Clark.” Wordlessly, the caped Action Ace flies into the skies above Metropolis, left arm extended, with a dove alongside him in the clouds. Long-suffering fans have endured much to reach this moment, but Gene Luen Yang, Howard Porter, and their creative colleagues stuck the landing and made it worth the wait.
What was your reaction to What Could Have Been, What Can Still Be, and What Is? Share your thoughts on Superman #50 in the comments and join in the ComiConversation!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Gene Luen Yang makes an important issue appropriately large, iconic, and restorative for the Man of Steel.