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 #52 was released on Wednesday, bringing to a close not only Peter J. Tomasiâs Super League storyline, but also the New 52 and the post-Flashpoint incarnation of the Man of Steel. ComiConverseâs Superman reviewer, T. Kyle King, takes a look at Do or Die, the story that turned the Man of Tomorrow into yesterdayâs news.
Told in eight parts across four publications, The Final Days of Superman followed the Last Son of Krypton through his concluding earthly journey while paving the way for the debut of Rebirth that same day. Technically, spoilers follow, but, really, the title kind of gives away the ending.
Clark Kent, the New 52 Superman, is locked in a fierce battle with Denny Swan, who was transformed into the Solar Flare Superman âby a bolt of sentient energyâ carrying a mutated version of the genuine articleâs genome. The former is dying of kryptonite poisoning and related maladies, while the power contained within the latter is building to a critical mass. After Batman, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman come to his aid, Superman flies his overheated duplicate into orbit, where he cannot harm anyone on the planetâs surface.
As the Action Aceâs own abilities begin to fail him, he is helped by Clark White, the pre-Flashpoint Superman. The younger hero in blue sucker-punches the older hero in black, sending him back to Earth so only two of the three Supermen will be sacrificed. Using his own solar flare to counteract and contain his doppelgÃ¤ngerâs explosion, the New 52 Superman absorbs the blast and returns to Earth to bid farewell to his friends. As those who knew him mourn his death, Lois Lane makes good on her promise to share his story with the world.
The clean, sharply defined look of Superman #52 was largely the handiwork of Mikel Janin, who shared penciling and inking duties with Miguel Sepulveda while dividing the coloring chores with Jeromy Cox. Janinâs imagery crackles with energy, lending palpable momentum to the action. Together with subtle shadings, brilliant bursts, and Rob Leighâs dramatic lettering, Do or Die visually packs an enormous wallop. The outstanding artwork arguably is the best to appear in any installment of The Final Days of Superman.
Unfortunately, the writing fails to match the graphics. After getting off to a strong start, what originally was promoted as the Super League saga ultimately unraveled. Disparate story elements that appeared at first to be weaving their way together didnât just fail to unite cohesively; they so completely failed to have anything to do with one another that whole plotlines simply vanished.
The storyâs first installment, in Superman #51, boldly declared on the cover: âIn the Heart of the Sunâ¦ the Super League is Forged!â Seven issues later, the sun remains a bystander and it isnât clear what the Super League even is, much less when or if it was forged. Supergirl flies in and out as needed, having or lacking powers as the situation warrants; Kal-Elâs breakup with Diana sort of is undone; Lois is a confidante in the beginning, then again at the end, while being sidelined in the middle; Dr. Omenâs sinister secret laboratory on the Loess Plateau seems absolutely central until China disappears from the stage as completely as if Nixon never went there.
The movements Janin so elegantly depicted were scripted as the moment dictated, generating much forced exposition. In the midst of a fast-moving, high-powered fistfight, Clark Kent offered a hurried explanation of Denny Swanâs condition and the Solar Flare Superman expressed his desire to marry Wonder Woman. Both verbal outbursts came from nowhere, and neither appeared to be based on anything.
The members of Supermanâs supporting cast show up in succession, each taking a curtain call in a regimented progression. Supergirl arrives on cue after we saw her depart in the previous issue, then Batman and Wonder Woman enter the scene in tandem from the nearby White farm. Fresh from working through marital communication issues in his mountain fortress, the pre-Flashpoint Superman zooms into space at the perfect moment, then along come Lois in a helicopter and Lana Lang in an airplane. Wait, what? That happened how, exactly?
Well, anyway, however everyone got there, they got there, and then came the maudlin goodbyes, followed by the montage that bid farewell to the New 52 (Ulysses in his A.R.G.U.S. cell, Lee Lambert in the fire station, Jimmy Olsen smashing his camera into the flatscreen television on which he and Clark Kent played video games) and offered glimpses of Rebirth (bolts of energy from the dying Superman landing on Lois and Lana, Lex Luthor contemplating his armored super-suit, Dr. Omen reading the headlines).
The imagery is vibrant and impressive, but the story beats are too rushed and too pat. As the desiccated husk of the Man of Steelâs body degrades into dust in a manner so unfortunately symbolic it comes across almost as the confession of a guilty conscience, Batman offers another shorthand synopsis of what has happened, concluding with unselfconscious forthrightness: âHeâsâ¦ deadâ¦ Thereâs lots of questionsââ. The bearded surviving Superman curtly responds, âWhich Iâll answer at another time.â
Superman #52 must be evaluated not just in the context of the concluding New 52 or of the nascent Rebirth, but also in comparison to other comics in which the Man of Steel died or was believed to be dying. 1961âs Superman #149 is arguably the best âimaginary storyâ of the era that spawned that storytelling convention. 1962âs Superman #156 was called âthe single greatest Superman story ever writtenâ by the same commentator who judged 1992âs Superman #75 to be the biggest event comic of all time. 2006âs All-Star Superman tops many lists as the Man of Tomorrowâs finest hour.
No one will ever count 2016âs Superman #52 among such classics. The concluding installment of The Final Days of Superman lacked the emotional power of those other stories, partly because the anticlimactic passing didnât seem to matter, and partly because poor choices evidencing DC Comicsâ baffling attitude toward its flagship character made the New 52 Action Ace the iconic heroâs least appealing incarnation.
When Superman: Lois and Clark debuted, the popular (and proper) sentiment was that the real Man of Steel had returned, which inevitably cast the New 52 version of the character in the role of a wannabe or an understudy or an imposter. Far from undermining that perception, Superman #52 emphasized it. Young Clark Kent asks seasoned Clark White, âWho are you?â The bearded older man replies: âA friend.â Those lines, of course, come from 1978âs Superman: The Movie, underscoring the idea that the genuine Superman in this issue isnât the one in the red cape.
Tomasi did what he could with the materials before him, and Janin led an artistic team that made Superman #52 visually impressive, but the death of Clark Kentâs body can only matter if that physical form is home to Supermanâs soul. The New 52 sapped so much of the characterâs spirit that there was nothing left to lend meaningful weight to this death. Instead of posing the titular false dichotomy of Do or Die (it turned out to be an âandâ rather than an âorâ), the eighth installment of The Final Days of Superman ought to have been called They Shoot Horses, Donât They?
The least recognizable Superman also will be the least lamented. The New 52 is dead and another (hopefully better) day is dawning as the yellow sun rises on the genuine Man of Tomorrow.
Feel free to sign the guest book at the funeral home in the comments below, and, while youâre at it, ComiConverse with us about Superman #52!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Quality artwork was wasted on a story that was as doomed as its flawed hero.