Comic book fans often cite muddled or 'confusing continuity' as a reason for reboots, but as DC heads into its Rebirth event this summer, streamlining its universe doesn't seem to be a concern — especially not with Superman.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Rebirth approach to Superman and his supporting cast, complete with multiple versions of Super-characters showing up in multiple titles. From a Chinese Superman starring in one title to the pre-New 52 (and married) Superman starring in another with New 52 Clark Kent appearing to still be part of the story, DC is taking a more-is-more approach to Superman. And there's also a new, mysterious Superwoman in the mix (who appears to be some version of Lois Lane), as well as the return of Supergirl, the addition of a new pre-Flashpoint Super-Son, and the introduction of a Super-suit for Lex Luthor.
For long-time DC fans, adding more iterations of characters — along with their varying continuities — seems like a strange approach. After all, those fans who lived through the 1985 mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths remember that DC purposely eliminated the DC Multiverse in an effort to simplify the company's continuity.
The Infinite Earths event gave DC the chance to remake Superman when they launched the John Byrne series Man of Steel, retelling Superman's origin and revamping many of the events from his history. The character became the only "Last Son of Krypton," and DC did away with supporting characters like Supergirl, Krypto and Superwoman.
By paring down the infinite Earths and making just one Superman and one version of each other character (and no version of others), DC was hoping to clean up continuity and make its comics more new reader friendly.
However, this is not the case at DC anymore. Not only did DC bring back the idea of a Multiverse in the weekly series 52, but the company completely retconned Crisis on Infinite Earths out of existence at the end of last year's Convergence event. But even before that, the company had been adding alternate earth Supermen to the company's roster. From Val-Zod, the Earth 2 Superman that replaced another Superman that died, to the evil Earth 3 Ultraman that's currently on the main DC Earth, there are already several versions of Superman in the DC Universe.
It's what Grant Morrison, the writer of DC's even-more-alternate-characters-adding mini-series Multiversity, called the "Prismatic" age, a title that's been floating around the blogosphere since a post on the Mindless Ones website suggested it.
And it doesn't appear that the "Prismatic Age" of DC is ending with Rebirth. Instead, the Geoff Johns-driven event seems to be embracing the concept, particularly in the world of Superman.
One of the more interesting elements of Rebirth is the fact that DC is embracing the older, married version of Superman — a version that DC readers had thought was rebooted out of existence.
It all started with the DC New 52 relaunch in September 2011, when the aged Superman was rebooted and replaced with a younger, single version. Morrison himself was behind the introduction of the new iteration of Superman, turning him into a brash young blogger who targeted bullies and represented a modern cynicism. The new Lois Lane wasn't his wife (in fact, she was dating someone else), and the character even started dating Wonder Woman instead.
The former version of Superman was gone.
For a while, anyway.
But with the 2015 DC event Convergence, the pre-Flashpoint Superman was returned to DC continuity. In a story that plucked him and his pregnant wife out of the pre-New 52 universe and put them (and their young son) squarely into modern continuity.
Currently, the older versions of Superman, Lois and their now-nine-year-old son Jon have been hiding for years on the New 52 earth without anyone realizing they were there. Writer Dan Jurgens brought the older, married, pre-reboot versions of Clark and Lois onto DC's Prime Earth in the ongoing, Superman: Lois & Clark, which just launched in October. Lois has been writing books under another name, and Clark's been quietly preventing disasters while hunting down some of his former enemies to possibly prevent their villainy in this new, alternate world.
This month, writer Peter Tomasi has introduced the possibility that the New 52 Superman is going to die, and readers have already been told that, this month, the New 52 Superman will meet the older version of himself.
How Many Supermen?
If those two Supermen sounds like too much for readers to understand — wait! There's more! Rebirth will also feature a new title by writer Gene Luen Yang called New Superman, which stars a young Chinese man named Kenji Kong who gets infused with Superman's powers.
And then there's the September-launching title Super Sons that will show the son of Batman meeting the son of Superman — presumably the Jonathan Kent whose parents are the pre-New 52 versions. And of course, as Newsarama reported earlier today, it looks like the new character Superwoman is actually a version of Lois Lane.
That's a lot of Supermen and Super-characters, meaning DC is embracing all the possibilities for its characters in the post-Rebirth world. DC is betting that readers will not only accept the multiple versions of Superman that will populate this new world, but will embrace them a few times a month.