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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While first Truth and now Justice weave their way through DC Comics’ main titles starring the Man of Steel, Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks have been given the opportunity to tell a different sort of story in Superman: Lois and Clark, which debuted this week.
Emerging from Convergence and hiding out in the background of the modern mainstream New 52 DC Universe, Jurgens’s versions of Clark Kent and Lois Lane provide a more familiar feel for fans who prefer the traditional Superman, complete with a secret identity, a spit curl, and Lois as his lone love interest… yet nevertheless with a new twist.
Plucked from their own universe and imprisoned on Telos, Superman and Lois Lane made the best of their life together in their new surroundings. After Lois gave birth to their son, Jonathan, Brainiac offered to send the three of them to the universe of their choice. Clark, Lois, and newborn Jon ultimately were dropped into what readers recognize as the current DC Universe continuity. The couple elected to hide out in a farmhouse in California, adopt the surname White, and raise their son while Clark secretly performed superpowered good deeds and Lois wrote journalistic exposes under a pseudonym.
Years have passed since their arrival. Although they have settled into a normal family routine, their lives remain complex. Clark is experiencing power fluctuations. Jon is beginning to have suspicions about his parents’ unsatisfactory explanations. Lois is being watched as she concludes an investigative report on Intergang. In an effort to prevent the rise of a new Cyborg Superman, Clark rescues this world’s Hank Henshaw when his spacecraft returns to Earth. The issue ends on a distant planet, where a masked villain promises vengeance against anyone who stands between her and the missing Oblivion Stone.
Superman: Lois and Clark #1 is a busy issue. Much effort must be expended in negotiating a convoluted backstory that carries the pre-Flashpoint Lois and Clark, and the reader, from Convergence to Crisis on Infinite Earths to the debut of the New 52’s Justice League to the post-Truth present following the outing of the current iteration of Superman. There follows a significant amount of story set-up that gets the plotlines underway and foreshadows forthcoming events. Even the cover, which shows an astonished Jonathan discovering his father’s red cape, helps prepare the reader for what is to come.
Since so much space must be devoted to setting the stage for the series, it is impressive how much nuance Jurgens and Weeks manage to cram into Arrival – Part I. Most of the explication is rendered with considerable subtlety through Lois’s and Clark’s internal monologues and the couple’s private conversations, augmented by newscasters’ narrations delivered via radio, television, and mobile device.
Jurgens’s familiarity with these characters enables him to reveal them to the reader over the course of an issue without overburdening the audience or making the story seem forced or rushed. Space constraints alone would have given Jurgens justification for engaging in excessive telling, yet he succeeds in unspooling his tale with enough refinement simply to show us instead.
The gradual pacing of this eventful issue enables Jurgens to insert an abundance of subtle touches. Jonathan Samuel White bears the names of Clark’s adoptive father, Lois’s biological father, and the former Daily Planet reporters’ beloved editor in chief, who was a father figure to them both. Superman quite properly is with Lois rather than Diana, but the family’s horses are named Apollo and Zeus. Lois keeps a scrapbook of her husband’s exploits, just as John Byrne’s Martha Kent previously preserved clippings of her son’s good deeds in a similar setting.
The author is aided in his endeavor by Weeks’s pencils, which focus heavily on camera angles and facial features that keep even static scenes lively and riveting. Scott Hanna’s inks strongly emphasize the shadows in which our heroes hide, while Brad Anderson’s colors play artfully with the light that glows from within them both. The interplay between Hanna’s and Anderson’s efforts carries us from the red-hot glow of the action sequences to the backlit emergence of the solar-powered Superman of old, and from the sepia-toned nostalgia of family farm life to the dimly-lit gloom of clandestine back-alley meetings and surreptitious rescue missions in space.
Because the insertion of the historic Lois and Clark into the current canon cannot help but highlight the contrasts between the competing continuities, Arrival – Part I does not shy away from commenting on the distinctions. “This Earth,” thinks Lois to herself, “is so different from our own. Suspicious. Doubting. Edgy. Without faith.” Her husband concurs, wondering what Cyborg is doing with the Justice League instead of the Teen Titans but being grateful that his family remained off the radar even after “this world’s Kent was outed as Superman.”
Most notably, though, Jurgens and his colleagues offer an authentic alternative to the backbiting, bickering, and betrayal that typified the Lois and Clark of Truth. As Mr. and Mrs. Superman, this couple cooperates in a caring partnership. Their mutual respect for one another comes through clearly in their conversations, right down to the pet-names that provide insights into the depth of their shared affection. “You’re right, Lo, as always,” says Superman. “You’re catching on, Smallville,” Lois replies.
The genuineness of their devotion is underscored by their innermost thoughts, as well. “To this day,” Lois muses as she reflects upon their arrival, “I’m amazed he held back.” Casting his gaze upon a shelf filled with the books his wife anonymously has written, Clark observes, “She’s an amazing agent of change.” This self-restrained Superman and this public-spirited Lois have distinguished themselves from their New 52 counterparts and formed a loving couple who continue to amaze each other.
His full beard and her shorter haircut attest to their status as an older twosome, and, with the wisdom they have acquired from their long experience together, the pair have learned to treat one another as equals. This defining trait of their personal relationship forms the thematic foundation for Superman: Lois and Clark, which evenhandedly allows both its stars to take turns narrating the story. Each of them is a champion of justice defending the helpless against powerful wrongdoers; as “Author X”, Lois even has her own secret identity.
All of this would have been welcome, even if all Jurgens and Weeks were offering was a Silver Age-style imaginary story, a non-canonical Elseworlds tale, or an extended out-of-continuity series after the fashion of the short-lived yet much-lamented Adventures of Superman. However, to the credit of the creators for doing it and of DC Comics for letting them, Superman: Lois and Clark is being allowed to be to the post-Convergence New 52 what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was to Hamlet, what The Lion King 1 1/2 was to the original, and what Clara Oswald was revealed to be at the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor’. The vintage Superman is back, but in the background of the reality in which the modern Superman remains primary.
In the wake of Convergence, DC promised to deliver comics for every sort of fan of the superhero genre. The publisher’s decision to retain New Superman while reintroducing Superman Classic represents part of the fulfillment of that commitment, and Superman: Lois and Clark is presented with a deft enough touch to appeal even to those fans not necessarily disposed toward nostalgia.
Although I would like to see the more conventional Man of Tomorrow from yesteryear restored to center stage today, such a displacement is not the goal of this series. Jurgens’s script makes this explicit on the first issue’s first page, when Lois thinks of the latest update of the dude in the blue suit: “Not my Superman – but Superman nonetheless.” That he is, while the older version quickly ditches his red trunks and familiar gear for an understated black costume with no cape.
The overall effect of reading Superman: Lois and Clark #1 is a bit like climbing a mountain at a lofty altitude; reaching the end is likely to leave you both dizzy and exhilarated. The issue’s complicated course through historical stories and its culmination in the midst of multiple mysteries is a bit breathtaking, but at its core lies a simple premise with genuine heart. Much may be different, but Lois and Clark are still the greatest couple in comic book history, Superman still wears what looks like an S, and that chest emblem is still a symbol that, like this issue, reminds us to hope.
Were you excited to see the return of the “old school” versions of Lois and Clark?
How do you expect Intergang, Hank Henshaw, and the Oblivion Stone to factor into the plot of the series?
As always, we invite you to contribute to the ComiConversation in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Superman and Lois Lane do good in an issue that Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks did well.