Best Shots Review: DC's SUPERMAN #1 'Feels Like a Truly Definitive Take' On the MAN OF STEEL

"Superman #1" preview
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Superman #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“The dead want to be us.”

It's hard to talk about Rebirth without talking about Convergence. It’s hard to talk about Convergence without talking about what was missing or wrong with the New 52. As much as DC has wanted to push forward, their publishing decisions force us to dwell on the past. But with Superman at least, one thing is clear: Superman is back. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, the team behind the New 52’s mostly brilliant Batman & Robin run, are together again to ground a character that has unfortunately been all over the map. If the route they take seems familiar, it should. They previously rooted their analysis of Bruce Wayne in his relationship with his son, and with Clark Kent, they attempt to do the same here to varying levels of success. What is clear, however, is this is a jumping-on point for the character that we haven’t seen before, and that is something that should excite fans of the Man of Steel.

When I say that Superman is back, I mean post-Crisis, pre-New 52 Superman, a character that might seem unrecognizable to those who have subsisted just on the last five years of DC storytelling. But even for those who are familiar with him, a lot has happened — in particular, the existence of his young son, Jonathan. Luckily for Tomasi and Gleason, Superman slides very easily into the father role, finding it a much more natural fit than even perpetual sidekick-raiser Bruce Wayne. The concept of this new Superman is a naturalistic one, built around Clark and Lois being able to do good, nurture their family and still have some semblance of a normal life. There’s something revolutionary about the notion that the whole family has these secrets. It binds them, but also creates a source of tension.

But it’s that tension where this issue also loses its way a little bit. Jonathan Kent is no Damian Wayne. He’s nowhere near as endearing — while Damian was like a tiny brooding adult, Jonathan Kent is actually a kid, and as a result, Tomasi just doesn’t quite have a handle on his voice yet. He’s plenty angsty, but in an awkward “this is how kids sound to adults” way. It’s not as natural as the other familial interactions that the Kents have, let alone the members of the firmly established Bat-family. But there’s a gruesome moment in this title involving the death of the family cat, and yet it’s one that I don’t think was included on a whim. It’s a jarring scene — and it’s supposed to be — but it’s hard not to feel like it’s foreshadowing something dark to come. Bruce Wayne was able to save his son from darkness. Maybe Clark won’t be able to do the same for his.

Patrick Gleason’s art is some of the best in comics, and he’s almost relentless in this debut here. The dark severity of the opening pages and the shadowy ending bookend this title in a way that makes it hard not to think about the themes and potential of this story. Mick Gray’s inks are as strong as ever and their contrast is essential to making John Laisz’s coloring work so well. At the heart of this story, there is a lot of hope and optimism, two words that that belong in just about any description of a Superman story, but as quickly as Tomasi and Gleason are able to take us out of darkness, we are thrust back into it. The first time we see Superman, it’s a huge double-page spread that covers recent history and shows Clark in all his heroic glory. But by the end of the issue, the tights and cape have taken on different significance. His face is obscured. The crest on his chest almost shines through. This Superman feels classic even though it’s a take we haven’t really seen before. Also, kudos to Gleason and the rest of the art team for being able to render children that actually look like kids. That’s almost every artist’s Achilles’ heel, and it’s especially frustrating when the child in question is central to the plot.

Superman #1 is head and shoulders above the rest of the Rebirth titles despite its flaws, because all of the awkward hoops that needed to be jumped through to get us here are in the past. Tomasi and Gleason get to actually dive into their concept rather than make excuses for it (a la Wonder Woman), and we start to see the true potential of the book. Add that to the fact that Gleason, Gray and Kalisz are such a cohesive artistic unit, and you’ve got something really special on your hands. This creative team might be going back to the well with a central idea but they’ve proven that they can twist that concept in the past to tell great stories. Their work here is no different. For the first time in a long time, we are getting what feels like a truly definitive take on Superman.

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