DC Comics Afterbirth – A look at Superman in Transition
Last month, DC Comics launched Rebirth, an ambitious initiative to course-correct some of the perceived shortfalls of their company-wide relaunch in 2011, known as the New 52. Spearheaded by DC’s chief creative officer Geoff Johns, Rebirth’s focus is to restore much of the optimism and legacy that has been missing in their characters these past five years, and Johns himself penned the DC Universe: Rebirth special, which terrifically set the tone of things to come. One of the more radical changes is the handling of Superman. The New 52 Superman was met with a mixed reception (though I was rather fond of him, as stated here). With Rebirth came death of the New 52 Superman and the return of the character’s previous incarnation.
Superman and Lois Lane from the previous timeline (or continuity, for nerdspeak) survived their reality being erased. They went on to conceive a child (see the miniseries Convergence for details) and eventually found themselves on the Earth of the New 52 reality. There, they’ve raised their son Jonathan in hiding to avoid interacting with their doppelgangers. With the New 52 Superman dead, this other Superman has decided to come out of hiding and take up his old mantle once he observes Lex Luthor attempt to take the role. In the middle of their confrontation, another guy shows up claiming to be Clark Kent. But with the New 52 Superman dead, who can this stranger possibly be? And who is the mysterious Mr. Oz who seems to be observing the events as they unfold? And the New 52 Lois Lane will soon be Superwoman in her own series. How she and the other Lois Lane interact is still to be seen. The storyline is bombastic, and weird, and fun, and I’m in for the long haul. But I still have a bone to pick…
The purpose of Rebirth is to bring back lapsed readers as well as gain new ones. Other characters are benefiting from a back-to-basics approach, whereas this new Superman storyline is anything but simple. Reading it requires work. That isn’t a bad thing at all but, with so much in play, the storytelling needs to be airtight. So far it isn’t. Just one month into Rebirth, it’s hard to reconcile story points from one issue and series to the next. The disparities are minor, pertaining to who knows what happened to the death of the New 52 Superman, but they came off as glaring because of the attention that the storyline requires.
Let’s walk through the problems so far.
The DC Universe: Rebirth special shows the aftermath of the New 52 Superman’s death. Police, FBI, and paramedics are on the scene, along with the press.
There’s some ambiguity as the journalist Linda Park asks questions, and whether or not Superman is dead isn’t necessarily confirmed, but it’s safe to assume news of Superman’s possible death spread across the globe.
Then in the Superman: Rebirth special, the question is more or less put to rest. The city of Metropolis, Superman’s hometown, is building a freaking giant memorable, below which he is buried. It’s important to note the alternate Superman visiting the memorial site has yet to reveal himself to the world.
Next up comes the first new Action Comics following Rebirth, which features Lex Luthor proclaiming himself the city’s protector… and declaring that Superman is dead. Wait, what?
In the following pages, we see Jimmy Olsen’s reaction to Luthor’s declaration. He’s Superman’s best friend and photographer at the Daily Planet, and this is the first time he’s hearing Superman is dead. A nearby bystander comments that the news said Superman is only missing. If he was only missing, the whole memorial/burial site makes no sense.
And this event can’t take place before the Superman: Rebirth special, because it’s Luthor’s actions that bring the alternate Superman out of hiding…
But speaking of when things take place, this week’s issue of Justice League is clearly designated as being set before Action Comics.
In the issue, we have a reference to a planned citywide commemoration of Superman. This jives with the memorial being built, but not with Luthor’s imminent announcement.
More head-scratching comes from the fact that this scene is set at the Daily Planet, where Superman’s cape is on display in his memory. So unless Jimmy Olsen was skipping out of work and hiding under a rock, it’s pretty hard to buy that he wouldn’t have known about Superman’s death. Luthor’s announcement shouldn’t have come to a shock to anyone if the city was already building a memorial and planning an commemorative event.
Ultimately, this is nitpicking. None of these things affect the storyline as a whole and I’m excited to seeing how it develops. But I want to call attention to them because they speak to something important that shouldn’t be overlooked during this Rebirth initiative. If DC is going to win over Superman fans, I’m sorry to say they need to focus on the details in addition to the big picture. We’re a finicky bunch of readers with high expectations. The writing and art are superb, but a stronger editorial hand is needed to keep everything straight. If I’m noticing these things, others are too and they’ll be less forgiving. The lack of a consistency creates an easy target that the disgruntled and more vocal fanbase can point to and say, “Same old DC. They don’t care. Blah blah. Etc.” If Rebirth is to succeed where the New 52 fell short, the books have to be flawless. DC is close, but not quite there.