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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Neal Adams is back, and he’s bringing Superman with him! The iconic comic book creator is providing both the story and the artwork for DC Comics’ six-issue limited series, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen. The first issue of Adams’s throwback title was released last week, and ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer, T. Kyle King, has taken a look at the debut edition.
Tony Bedard co-authored the script, Alex Sinclair supplied the colors, and Saida Temofonte handled the lettering. All three did solid jobs, but the main name on the masthead unmistakably is Adams’s.
After so much publicity preceded the arrival of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1, can the anticipated adventure possibly live up to the hype?
Lois Lane has the scoop on a busy news day in Metropolis. The decorated journalist reports live from WGBS News on the arrival of a trio of aliens clad in Superman costumes, an assault against Lexcorp Tower by Darkseid’s son Kalibak and the Parademons of Apokolips, and the confrontation between both sets of newcomers from other worlds.
The real Superman is away in the Middle East, where he rescues an orphaned boy, Rafi, and his dog, Isa. A horned, winged, nameless messenger appears and tells the Man of Tomorrow to take the child with him to Metropolis. Confused, the hero obeys, leaving Rafi and Isa in the care of Jimmy Olsen while he sends the invaders fleeing back through their Boom Tube. The messenger appears again, taking Superman 10,000 years back in time to Egypt, where he offers only enigmatic clues that the Action Ace must either decipher “or fail and lose everything.”
Few superhero comic book creators defined the look and feel of their eras as fully as Adams did in his heyday. What Jack Kirby was to the 1960s and John Byrne was to the 1980s, Neal Adams was to the 1970s (even though Adams, unlike Kirby and Byrne, doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his run on X-Men). Adams provided definition to Deadman, gave cosmic scale to the Kree-Skrull War, shaped the Batman imagery of the decade, and expanded the scope of the medium through the photorealistic depictions and socially relevant stories in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
Adams’s breakthrough in superhero comics came as a cover artist. His earliest efforts included a pair of November 1967 releases, Action Comics #356 (shown above) and Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #79, and he would go on to provide cover art for Jack Kirby’s epochal run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Adams still claims special affinity for his work on 1978’s Superman v. Muhammad Ali. Away from the drawing board, Adams’s activism aided Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s efforts to obtain both credit and compensation for their creation of Superman.
The artist continues to pay homage to the two young men from Cleveland who gave the world the Man of Tomorrow, promising that the hero of his new series “is Jerry and Joe’s, and I feel that I’m in that tradition.” Be that as it may, the sense readers get immediately upon opening Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 is that we are back in the era Adams helped define, the Bronze Age. (It is hardly coincidental that many of the most prized issues from that period feature cover art by his hand.)
There are, of course, deliberate 21st-century touches to the debut issue. By the story’s second page, the mystery of the arrival of the Supermen has been leavened by the protestations of the Iowa farmer who witnessed their landing as he upbraids his wife for downgrading their plan to cellphones without cameras so they could avoid “all that Tweetie-Instasnap-hashtag crap”. When first we see Kal-El, he is in the Middle East protecting fleeing Muslims from mortar fire and speaking Arabic to Rafi ere he discovers that the youngster speaks English.
Although Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 grounds itself in the present day, this incorporation of contemporary themes is itself a callback to a time when mature issues, moral ambiguities, and the graphic novel equivalent of television’s very special episode trope changed the face of the medium. Hence, we find ourselves emphatically anchored in the 1970s. Adams’s trademark hyperextended fingers break the plane of the printed page and threaten to poke the reader in the eye. A compassionate smiling Superman clad in red trunks rescues boys and their dogs in ways that highlight current political controversies. Back in Metropolis, the news is delivered not through the Daily Planet, but by way of Galaxy Communications.
Adams wisely makes no effort to deny these obvious truths, instead embracing the inevitable association. Lois Lane narrates the proceedings from behind the WGBS news desk as the hirsute supervillain who snarls, “Victory for Darkseid! Victory for Kalibak!” emerges from the Boom Tube that runs between the splash page of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 at one end and the drafting table in the center of Jack Kirby’s soul at the other. To the extent this issue may be said to have an edge, it would have to be Morgan Edge.
After three decades of gritty antiheroism grimly presented from the recesses of the all-encompassing shadows cast by Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (and by John Byrne’s botched Superman reboot), Adams has dived headfirst into the twin fountainheads of earlier eras’ cosmic sweep, Kirby’s New Gods and Siegel’s and Shuster’s Superman. The creator unapologetically serves up big ideas boldly and with gusto, rolling out unexplained aliens in Superman suits, shock troops from Apokolips, a hooved emissary with a demonic appearance and a cryptic message, and an unexpected cameo in ancient Egypt in swift succession without batting an eye. It may be weirder than we expected, but in the most wonderful way imaginable.
2016 is shaping up to be for Kryptonians what 1401 was for Italians, the beginning of their Renaissance (which, by the way, is French for Rebirth). Supergirl is soaring on the small screen, Superman soon will be back on the big screen, and the Action Ace is getting back on track in the comic books. In his natural medium, the Man of Steel is mending fences with Lois Lane in time for Action Comics to resume its original numbering, while inventive takes on the Last Son of Krypton are being offered in ongoing series by Dan Jurgens and Max Landis.
Add Neal Adams’s name to that list. His brash junket back to the Bronze Age is more than just a contribution to the Seventies Preservation Society Collection; Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 is a timely reminder that the Man of Steel can be relevant without being brooding, contemporary without sacrificing tradition, and epic without being unapproachable. Fans need to buckle their seatbelts and hang on for the ride.
Alas, not everyone loved Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1, but, either way, feel free to let us know what you thought and ComiConverse with us in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Neal Adams plays to his strengths with an epic adventure possessing the look and feel of the best of the Bronze Age.