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: Rebirth #1 was released last Wednesday, marking the ascension of the pre-Flashpoint Last Son of Krypton as the official Man of Steel of the ongoing New 52 continuity. Storytellers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason teamed up to pen an important introductory tale, which ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, is here to review.
Penciller Doug Mahnke, inker Jaime Mendoza, colorist Wil Quintana, and letterer Rob Leigh combined to provide the visuals for Tomasi’s and Gleason’s straightforward story, but has the stage adequately been set for the dramatic changes to the Man of Tomorrow?
Shortly after the death of Clark Kent, Clark White pays a late-night visit to Metropolis, where this Earth’s Superman has been buried. While there, he discovers Lana Lang attempting to gain entry to the crypt so she can make good on her promise to bury her old friend in Smallville. Telling Lana of his own death and subsequent resurrection, Superman lets her know that he believes this world’s Action Ace could be brought back to life, as well.
Lana guides the bearded hero to the Fortress of Solitude, where his search for a Kryptonian regeneration matrix proves fruitless. Unable to aid in restoring Kent, White takes Lang to the cemetery in her Kansas hometown. While Lana sets about digging a grave for the Metropolis Marvel she knew, the once and future Superman returns to the Arctic to pay his own tribute to the fallen champion.
Some of the best Superman stories also are some of the most simple. The Last Days of Superman and All-Star Superman both attempt to answer the question, “What would the Man of Steel do if he knew he had only a short time left to live?” Dear Superman and Fortress from Adventures of Superman cut right to the heart of the character. In its best moments, Superman: Rebirth #1 is like that.
Under the circumstances, this is a bit of a challenge. At one point, Lana asks Superman, “You’re about to say something that’s going to make my head hurt, aren’t you?” This issue necessarily is unusually heavy on the backstory, recapping both Tomasi’s The Final Days of Superman and Dan Jurgens’s The Death of Superman in overlapping fashion. Intricate exposition was inherent in the essence of Superman: Rebirth #1.
Nevertheless, Tomasi and Gleason succeeded in cutting through the complexities to get at the fundamentals that united the two Supermen to have served as the DC Universe’s flagship hero in the 30 years since Crisis on Infinite Earths. The writers succeeded in this endeavor partly because the determined but deeply conflicted Lana Lang was well suited to the task of easing readers through the transition.
Lana’s emotional devotion is exposed when she sees Clark White in the shadows and happily mistakes him for Clark Kent. She is not so impassioned that it makes her irrational, however; only two pages after exclaiming, “Clark! You’re alive!”, she declares with certainty that “Clark is dead.” Indeed, the initial presentation of Lana as a scientifically minded adventurer skulking about in the darkness casts her in a Dana Scully-like role, positioning her perfectly to give the “Mulder, you can’t be serious”-style responses Superman’s revelations apparently deserve.
There is, of course, a longstanding tension between Lana Lang and Lois Lane, one that Tomasi infamously was at fault for exacerbating, so the authors’ selection of Lana could be misconstrued as a jab at Lois, given DC Comics’ unfortunate recent treatment of the literal first lady of superhero comics. Superman: Rebirth #1 does no disservice to Lois, though, as it highlights specifically and favorably her crucial role in the Man of Steel’s last clash with Doomsday. Since Lana is being billed as the “friend and confidant” to Lois in her starring role in Superwoman, this issue served the salutary purpose of dialing down the unproductive animosity between Clark Kent’s Smallville friend and his Daily Planet colleague.
What really was required to make this story work, though, were a pair of sympathetic Supermen, one living and one dead. The first page of Superman: Rebirth #1 neatly summarizes recent developments in arcs spread across five different books, and it opens with three sentences that unite the hero Jurgens resurrected and the hero Tomasi sacrificed: “‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ I live and breathe that quote with all my heart. I bet you did, too.”
Those are the words of the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel, directed to the New 52 successor he never truly knew, but his introspection is interrupted when he hears footsteps in the underground access tunnel leading to the burial vault. Although the need to protect the safety of his wife and son dictates that he speak cryptically to Lana, Clark speaks resolutely with the voice of the Superman we know, communicating with confidence, compassion, conviction, and caring.
More than the ordinary suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the notion that the older Superman has been lurking in the background all this time, but, given the requisite stretching, Clark White’s rationale for respecting the privacy of Clark Kent’s Fortress of Solitude is convincing. He enters the Arctic hideaway at Lana’s urging — after she declares, a la Marion Ravenwood, that now they are partners — and, after noticing a subtle difference, he commemorates the passing of this Earth’s Superman with a suitable tribute and ends the issue with the words that leave us ready for him to don the cape once more.
While the visuals in Superman: Rebirth #1 are solid rather than superb, the artistic team credibly recreated the genuinely iconic images of Superman’s epic clash with Doomsday and effectively portrayed present events in multiple settings involving minimal action. Mahnke’s facial expressions were sometimes wooden and Mendoza’s inks occasionally were heavy, but, overall, the graphics were good, even if they fell a little short of outstanding.
Superman: Rebirth #1 may have been based on a convoluted history, but it conveyed a simple premise, and it did so with a fair degree of eloquence and even elegance. Getting from one Superman to another without a true reboot is no easy task, but this issue did it well. Although this story is not apt to become an all-time classic, it accomplished its goal and established a proper tone.
Let us know what you thought of Superman: Rebirth #1 by adding your voice to the ComiConversation in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
This DC Comics one-shot summarized a complex past and conveyed a simple and essential premise.