Superman has had a bit of a rough time in the New 52 so far, but lately changes have been made by DC by putting the right creative team on the right book, and things have finally started looking up for the Man of Steel. I’ve spoken before about the wonderful work being done by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder on Action Comics, as well as Charles Soule’s and Tony S. Daniel’s Superman/Wonder Woman, which surprised me with how good it was.
However, Superman’s flagship title has unfortunately floundered, both in terms of professional comics criticism as well as from everyday readers. The folks at DC seem to be trying to remedy this by putting one of the best writers in the business, Geoff Johns, on the title starting with issue #32, along with a real surprise to everyone: John Romita, Jr., previously known almost exclusively for his work at Marvel. Johns will be bringing his own unique style to Superman, and hopefully helping to break the “DC house style” that has infected most of the other books in the New 52.
Johns is a great choice for a job like this, as he has described himself as a “continuity guy.” And continuity is one thing that this character could use. After all of the changes made for the sake of the New 52 as well as different stamps put on the character by a series of writers across both Superman and Action Comics, as a fan it’s difficult to know “what’s canon” any longer. Johns begins his work by subtly working in a variety of plot points for the character, some of which harken back to pre-New 52 continuity, while others allude to plot points from other titles, such as his current romance with Wonder Woman. Johns also deals with Clark having left the Daily Planet, which makes sense considering there are probably more than just a few people picking up this issue who might not realize that Clark has left the paper, since Clark working at the Planet is one of the iconic parts of the character.
Speaking of iconic elements of Superman, one of my favorite touches in this issue is a scene with very minimal dialogue. Clark Kent is sitting alone in his apartment, looking at a photo album of family pictures, when he hears someone calling for help. He unbuttons his shirt and we see that underneath he’s wearing his Superman outfit. This image of Clark pulling open his shirt to reveal the Superman symbol on a field of blue underneath is such an iconic image of the hero, yet one that’s been sadly lacking in the New 52 universe. It’s nice to see it back.
Part of what makes the above scene work is Romita’s pencil work. Say what you will about his portrait work (and there’s been plenty said about his faces), but his layouts are just perfect. The composition of the page with Clark sitting alone with the photo album is so well done. Without the benefit of narration or dialogue, there’s a sense of the loneliness that a character like Clark Kent must feel, and how sad he is about the loss of his parents. Then in an instant the scene changes. A close up shows us that Clark has shifted his focus to something he’d heard with his super-hearing. That’s followed by the close up of the shirt unbuttoning to reveal the top of the Superman crest, then an action scene involving super-speed as Clark transforms into Superman and flies out the window.
I also like Romita’s backgrounds. With some artists, one gets the sense that the characters are drawn first and then a very sketchy, vague background was added in later with minimal detail. In Romita’s case, it seems as though the entire scene, including the background, was created all at once, so the characters actually seem to inhabit the background. Clark’s apartment looks lived in, like a real place, rather than just as a “sound stage” for a scene.
To cap the story off, we are introduced to a new character who can act as something of a mirror for Superman. It looks like during this arc, Johns plans to use this other character as a way to illustrate what makes Superman such a great character. It’s a brilliant idea, and if Johns can succeed with this arc like he did with both Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, then this story combined with Romita’s art could become one of the best Superman arcs in recent memory.