Superman: Rebirth #1
Written by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
“You all did love him once, not without cause.”
Was five years long enough to get to know the "New 52" Superman — the Superman of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales, of Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder, of Geoff Johns and of Peter Tomasi? Even if it wasn’t enough time, he’s dead now and all that is left to do is mourn him. For all of the hoopla around DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and the start of some brand new age for DC, Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Doug Mahnke perform the ceremony of burying the last five years of DC’s publishing history, literally as well as metaphorically. Following the death of Superman in Superman #52, DC is left in a slightly uncomfortable area of having to bury one Superman while getting us excited for the new Superman (which is really just the old Superman), leading to a fairly convoluted and even confusing primer of DC Comics history.
In Superman: Rebirth #1, Tomasi, Gleason and Mahnke tell us how great these two different versions of Superman are. The post-Crisis Superman is summed up in his death and resurrection. For a character who had over 25 years of stories published across multiple titles, it seems like the only thing that post-Crisis Superman was known for was dying in battle with Doomsday, and that’s the story that gets dredged up again here. Mahnke gets to draw Superman and Doomsday duking it out, but the images are presented with all of the grace and style of two dolls posed in play. And through the goodness of the post-Crisis Superman, we’re supposed to feel something for the "New 52" Superman that they never really verbalize.
While post-Crisis Superman gets all of the action (even if it’s all told through flashback), "New 52" Superman is shown through the eyes of Lana Lang, his best friend who is trying to fulfill a promise to him. Contrasted against the story of a Superman who was resurrected, Tomasi and Gleason have to bury the latest Superman and make sure that everyone (including readers and characters) know that this Superman is dead, buried and best left forgotten.
While "New 52" Superman is eulogized through the actions of post-Crisis Superman and Lana Lang, there is nothing in this issue that defines that version of the character. So of the two Supermen highlighted in Superman: Rebirth #1, one is noteworthy because he’s dead and the other is noteworthy because he was resurrected once upon a time. There is nothing about what makes either man super. There’s no tales of heroism and no tales of humanity that make either of these characters Superman. There’s only the living and the dead.
With this shifting focus between post-Crisis Superman and "New 52" Superman, there are some things that are just lost in this comic book. This issue suffers from thematic whiplash, because Tomasi and Gleason are unable to stick with any plot point long enough to create any cohesion to the overarching story. As they transition from the old to the new again, this largely expository issue lives in this odd area that it’s about nothing significant to the past or to the future — it spends pages just reshuffling which Superman is which, and why DC hopes you notice the difference. Tomasi and Gleason want to mourn one hero even as it spends a great chunk of time showing how meaningless superhero death is because resurrection has become the norm for these characters.
Attempting to tell a cohesive story of the once, current and future Supermen, Superman: Rebirth #1 really doesn’t get to say anything other than, “Hey, it’s Superman.” There’s no great revelation about the "New 52" Superman and everything it has to say about post-Crisis Superman just repeats old Dan Jurgen stories. This issue lives in the space between yesterday and tomorrow as it closes out one chapter of Superman before beginning another, but there’s no story in it about today, or what either version of the character should mean to readers.