Superman: Son Of Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason – A Book Review

Oh, boy.  To understand Superman’s first volume under the Rebirth movement, you need to understand that the Superman in this book is the Superman we knew in the 80s, 90s, and early-2000s.  This is the Superman who married Lois Lane, the Superman who fought against Doomsday and died, the Superman who returned from the dead.

Why is this confusing, you ask?  Well, this Superman is now living in an alternate reality, one that arrived around 2010.  DC calls it The New 52 universe.  In this softly rebooted universe, everything and everyone got a facelift, modernized, updated.  The Superman in this new universe wore a suit more like armor than tights, had a romance with Wonder Woman, and wasn’t much of a talker.  He died in battle, though, and so the pre-New 52 Superman, who had been hiding out on this alternate Earth with his wife Lois and their son Jon, decides to don the red and blue again because, yeah, Earth needs a Superman.

Batman and Wonder Woman don’t know this new Superman.  No one does.  They don’t know if they can trust him.  They honestly don’t know what to think of him.  This is a really interesting dynamic because this classic version of Superman was the beacon of hope in his old universe—he was the gold standard.  To suddenly be an alien twice over adds an interesting dimension to the character, one that the creators were sure to touch upon.  I can only hope they continue to use it to drive stories.

But the real heart and soul of this book is the arrival of Superman as a family man.  Let’s face it—our classic Superman has always been a dad.  He may not previously have actually had a child, but he basically epitomized the traits we hope for in every great father—brave, selfless, compassionate, assertive, reliable, strong, and even a little boring.

Now Superman acts like a dad for good reason—he is one!  Their son, Jon, is just beginning to develop powers, and watching Superman guide his son through these changes is charming in and of itself.

Jon, who I believe is around ten or so, is an incredibly likable character.  He’s not too naïve, not too sassy, not too polished, but not too rough, either.  They’ve hit a nice tone with him, one that I hope they can continue.

I do believe Lois is getting a bit lost in the mix in this first volume, though.  In my opinion, her inclusion in the action feels a bit forced, and, honestly, there’s a moment at the end of this book where I really questioned Superman’s judgment in allowing a very human Lois to be anywhere near the cataclysmic battle taking place.

As much as the creators have hit the right note with Jon, they are missing the mark just a bit with Lois.  They’ve all been hiding out on this new Earth in order to protect Jon, and so Lois must be content as an anonymous novelist, doing house chores, and sort of playing the role of house wife.  It never felt quite true to the character, but neither did the big action scene in which she participates.  Granted, like Superman himself, getting Lois just right can be tricky.  I trust Tomasi and Gleason will eventually find the right chord for her.

So, yes, much of Son of Superman worked very well.  Seeing Superman as a father is something I very much enjoy, especially because I am a father myself.  It’s fun to be able to relate to him even now as a forty year old man.  Seeing Superman through Jon’s eyes breathes fresh life into the hero, and watching Jon struggle to become a hero in his own right is going to prove fertile ground for future stories.

But speaking of story, Son of Superman faltered with its main conflict.  The Eradicator is back, but I think this is the New 52 version of the character—I was never clear on that, to be honest.  Anyway, as an ancient piece of Kryptonian technology, he’s taken it upon himself to destroy Jonathan Kent, whom he views to be an impure blight against Kryptonian genes due to his human heritage.  Plus, as it happens, he’s got a bunch of Kryptonian souls living inside of him.

Frankly, I found the whole Eradicator plot a bit of a stretch, even by comic book standards.  There are dozens of directions they could have taken in this first volume, why they chose yet another character with an “S” on his chest and very convoluted motive is something of a mystery.  And the dozens of Kryptonian souls trapped inside of the Eradicator really took me out of the story.  It seemed like such a significant event just to kind of throw in there as an aside … it felt forced and unnatural to the general cadence of the book.  In fact, everything with the Eradicator felt a little clunky to me.

Furthermore, along those same lines, the art in Son of Superman is flat-out superb.  Patrick Gleason draws a heroic Superman, a charismatic Jonathan, and a self-reliant Lois.  But his style tends to be a little cartoony—a bit exaggerated.  There are a few installments in the book, however, where both Jorge Jimenez and Dough Mahnke fill in on the pencils.  Both are superb—I’ve been a Mahnke fan for a long while now.  But, their style tends to be a little darker, a little more realistic, a little more chiseled.  Like the storyline itself, the shift in art could be abrupt and jarring.  All of the art is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the flow is disruptive from installment to installment due to contrasting styles.

Son of Superman is not perfect, but it’s a bold, uplifting direction for Superman and I commend the creators for embarking upon such risk.  Taking one of your flagship characters and making him both a husband and a dad is unconventional to be sure, but I have no doubt this creative team in particular will provide captivating stories to come.  I think we’re all ready for Superman Dad … I know I am.

Image result for son of superman rebirth

 

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The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 is one of my favorite comics so far in the Rebirth initiative because it’s very well written and very well drawn.

I’ll admit, though almost 40 years old, I have very limited knowledge when it comes to John Constantine.  I think my first encounter with him was the 2005 movie.  I then got to know him a little in Justice League Dark.  And though it wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed his NBC show.  I’ve always meant to go back and read the classic stories, particularly the ones by Ennis and Azzarello.  Ah, so much to read, so little time …

This issue worked really well because it cut to the core of Constantine’s character, displayed unusual, interesting art, and also proved to be very well constructed.

Constantine is not really a decent man.  He is a master of the dark arts, he’s not particularly nice, he’s rather selfish, he has lots of bad habits pertaining to all kinds of things, and he couldn’t care less about much of anything.  I won’t spoil it, but this issue brings all of that to the forefront in an organic way that progresses the story without bopping you atop the head.

Also, Moritat’s art is so beautifully weird.  I caught myself studying every panel in this comic book for all the little details peppered throughout, and those pages with throngs of people in the background mesmerized me.  I can’t remember the last time I saw an artist depict so many diverse people in a single panel.  The art is a little cartoonish, a little creepy, yet magnificently rendered with cool angles, layouts, and, best of all, facial expressions.  Maritat is the master of facial expressions.

I think what I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, is the way Oliver constructed it.  It’s not a linear story, but, by story’s end, it all makes sense.  It hints at things past and things to come, yet it concludes satisfactorily.  It is packed with different scenes, characters, and conflicts, but it all feels cohesive and unfolds smoothly.  I groaned a little when I flipped through it and saw a few colorful cameos, but Oliver managed to make their appearances interesting and used them to further his characterization of Constantine and even lay down some potential plot threads.

I bought The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did.

 

New Super-Man #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I won’t even pretend to be objective during this review.  I am a Gene Luen Yang fan.  I first discovered him when I started teaching American Born Chinese, and he just keeps winning me over.  After all, the guy is the official National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature!

So, it’s probably obvious I’m going to sing New Super-Man praises.

Yang is no stranger to Superman, having written the character before, but New Super-Man is a world away from everyone’s beloved Clark Kent.  New Super-Man is Kong Kenan, a young man in China who is not particularly nice, humble, altruistic, or, well, heroic.  He’s a bit of a bully, doesn’t get along with his dad all that well, and has attitude to spare.

So how does he become New Super-Man?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but, as one would expect, Yang lays the groundwork for a very rich, complex character that I’m sure will become even more layered as time progresses.  After all, Yang excels at depicting relatable characters overcoming internal turmoil.  There are some fun bits of action, moments of quirky Yang humor, and the last page will force a double-take.

I love the entire premise of what Yang is doing with New Super-Man — I’m frankly surprised DC went for this idea.  It’s funny, but even though this book literally uses the name of the most famous super hero in the world, it is by far the most original comic I’ve read in ages.  Sure, Yang borrows from Superman mythology, but he does so with a wink and a nudge.  Anyone who believes this book is a ripoff is not paying close enough attention.

Packed full of characterization, action, humor, and heart, Yang’s New Super-Man is off to an exhilarating start.

… That last page.  This is going to be interesting.

 

 

Justice League: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I am absolutely a fan of Bryan Hitch’s art.  I remember first encountering it way back when he worked with Mark Waid on another Justice League title.  I recall it impressing me much the same as when I saw my first X-Men cover by Jim Lee.  Since that moment, Hitch has never let me down when it comes to art.

That being said, I’ve never experienced Bryan Hitch the writer.

I’m not a big fan of that Bryan Hitch.

Justice League: Rebirth had a sound, even necessary, plot.  A giant alien menace arrives, the Justice League, stunned by the death of the New 52 Superman, seems ineffective against the behemoth, so therefore the pre-New 52 Superman suits up to help out.  As you can imagine, a cautious partnership consequently develops, one that will apparently be mired in distrust from both sides.

The art is very pleasing to the eyes with dynamic, fluid movement and thrilling sequences.  The dialogue, unfortunately, did not go so smoothly.  Characters were redundant, verbose, and even awkward.  They often felt as though they were speaking to me rather than to each other.  The writing proved a bit distracting and because of the lackluster writing, the alien plot ventured into fairly cliche territory.

Hitch is an artist worthy of rendering these icons and, despite the writing, I will certainly pick up the collected editions of his work on Justice League and Justice League of America.

Justice League: Rebirth is visually a joy, but the writing did not quite live up to my expectations considering this is the first interaction between the League and an unknown Superman.

The Flash: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

You may remember I went a little goo-goo for DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I’m very happy to say that The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a can’t-miss connection to that seminal issue.

The first several pages establish Barry Allen’s character and background in case anyone is new to the title.  But then Wally West appears exactly as it happened in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and it prolongs that moment, makes it even more emotionally resonant, and provides direction for both Wally and Barry.  Then, unbelievably, it goes even a step further and takes Flash into the Batcave to discuss that yellow pin Batman found.  I won’t spoiler any of the actual conversation, but this issue absolutely seems pivotal to the imminent conflict I personally cannot wait to witness.

So from a plot standpoint, this issue is extremely important to where Barry, Wally, and even the DC Universe is headed.  In that regard, I deem it required reading.

I also want to note, though, that The Flash is one of my all-time favorite heroes, and I have to say I much prefer Wally over Barry because I grew up alongside Wally West.  (Again, check out my ecstatic raving …)  However, this issue features the most likable and identifiable Barry Allen I’ve seen since the New 52’s inception.  Joshua Williamson seems to have a great handle on Barry’s persona and, let’s face it, Barry is so much better with Wally by his side.  Like Superman, Barry has always struck me as a father figure, a pure hero.  He is at his best when he is caring for those closest to him, and he needs those closest to him present in order to shine.  I absolutely believe Wally and Barry can share the Flash mantel.  They’ve done it before after Barry’s initial return … they can do it again.

I enjoyed Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art, but it definitely benefited from Ivan Plascencia’s colors.   This is a supreme case of the coloring making the art standout.  They both work together to denote forward movement, fluidity, and ultimately speed.  They are a good team for this character.

Quite honestly, I think this is my favorite Flash comic since the New 52.  It’s got heart, soul, and it seems to be filled with crucial plot points.

Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Green Arrow is a character I’ve always really enjoyed when appearing in the Justice League books.  At times I’ve even felt compelled to read his solo title, especially when Smith, Meltzer, and Lemire were at the helm.  More often than not, though, I just follow him from afar.

One major thing drew me to his “Rebirth” book, and that’s his reunion with Black Canary.  It’s my understanding that Green Arrow and Black Canary only peripherally knew each other since the dawn of the New 52 back in 2010.  To newer fans this may not seem like a big deal.  To old guys like me, though, that seemed outrageous!   Black Canary and Green Arrow are one of the greatest partnerships and romances in all of comic book lore.  I don’t know when they got together, but I’ve been reading comic books since about 1980 and they were an item even back then.

In “Rebirth,” they come fact to face, join forces, and have an adventure together.  I’m honestly not familiar with the author, Benjamin Percy, but he nailed the chemistry that must exist between these two icons.  He kept each character true to their core but also made sure they amplified the best attributes of the other.  Isn’t that what all great romances are meant to do?

He also ended the book with a nod to the audience, that yes, this has been too long in the making, which I thought clever.

I think one really interesting development with bringing Arrow and Canary together for the “first” time is that even old fellas like me get to see something I’ve never seen before — the advent of the relationship.  Like I said, even in 1980 this couple felt firmly established to my three-year-old eyes.  It’s nice to have them both very young, very fresh, and very inexperienced with each other.  I really hope DC takes its time fostering the relationship and giving them the time they deserve to grow together.  But, man, it’s nice to see them side by side!

In fact, this entire book seemed intent on giving the audience back what it wants.  Green Arrow has his famous goatee again, he once again considers himself a social justice warrior, he’s the most lighthearted I’ve seen him in a long time (which, to me, is a must with GA), and his costume is simple, sleek, and dynamic.

The story itself didn’t prove all that interesting.  Honestly, it accomplished the one thing it needed to do, which was give GA and BC a reason to team up.  And while the writer certainly captured the charisma and charm of this famous couple, there were several instances of clunky dialogue and redundancy.

Even so, if you’re a Green Arrow AND Black Canary fan, I’d consider this required reading.  While the plot concerning the conflict wasn’t great, it still firmly delivered on providing a memorable first interaction between two of DC’s greatest characters.

 

 

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 – A Longer Than Intended Reaction

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about DC Universe: Rebirth, I didn’t think much of it. I’m 39 and I’ve read DC comics since about the age of 3.  I’ve always loved my Super Friends, but yet another “event” failed to engage my interest this time around.

That is, until DC executed a masterful stroke of marketing – they spoiled the book’s biggest revelation.  Believe it or not, that spoiler is what drew me into the comic book shop today for the first time in over a year.

From this moment on, I will discuss the book as though you’ve read it.  If you’ve (somehow) managed to avoid spoilers and have yet to pick up your copy, turn back now!

Last chance.

Final warning.

I’m serious.

Okay, you’re still here.

Wally West.

Or, as I like to call him, The Flash.

Allow me a brief aside.  As a  7 year old, I felt sure Barry Allen was THE Flash.  When Kid Flash took over the the mantle, I felt cheated.  Yes, even then, my comic book rage was fully developed.  They portrayed Wally as a selfish, immature, horn dog.  But then a funny thing happened.  Wally and I started growing up together.  When I reached high school, Wally realized his full potential under the guidance of Mark Waid.  I watched Wally accept his legacy and role as Barry Allen’s successor.  As I sought to discover my own identity, I cheered as Wally overcame his own doubts and achieved both the respect and friendship of the entire DC Universe.  He became the heart and soul of the JLA, the moral compass of the super hero community, and the guy everyone came to for advice.  I marveled at how a fictional character could go through such growing pains even as I endured similar dilemmas.  He inspired me to make peace with myself, to accept myself, and to realize that I have to believe in myself before I can expect anyone else to do so.

I walked away from comic books in my early 20s, but, of course, Wally reached across the multiverse and invited me back in after only  a few years’ hiatus.  This time he had to learn not just how to love himself but how to love someone else.  I don’t mean just love, I mean truly LOVE.  Geoff Johns gave us a Wally West who gave himself, all of himself, to Linda Park.  Interestingly enough, this story line occurred as I myself got engaged and married.  Just as Wally discovered true love and devotion, real loyalty and humility, I also underwent such change.  Both of us became better men as a result.

My God … I never realized until now just how much I identify with Wally West.  I mean, I knew I did, just not to this extent.  Wow.

Time progressed, and Wally took the final step – fatherhood.  Guess what?  Yep, I’m a dad, too.

Things happened, Bart Allen (aka Impulse/Kid Flash) took over the mantel, Wally returned with Linda and the kids – I loved it.  Here’s my favorite super hero and he’s also a husband and dad!  I literally grew up with this character and enjoyed the same milestones!

When I heard they were bringing Barry back, I felt nervous.  I understood why, I just hoped Wally wouldn’t be tossed aside.  Of course, Geoff Johns did the honors in The Flash: Rebirth, and he gave me exactly what I wanted.  There is a fantastic spread of Wally running alongside Barry, both in a Flash costume, along with the entire Flash Family.  Even Wally’s kids had costumes and were sprinting by their side!  It seemed a new age arrived, one that would be better than ever!  Love, family, legacy – it was all there.

But then Flashpoint arrived.  Long story short, Barry ran back in time, saved his mom, and when he returned to the present, things had changed.  Lois and Clark were no longer married, nor were Barry Allen and Iris West, Green Arrow and Black Canary didn’t even know each other, Wonder Woman was the daughter of Zeus, and Cyborg was a full member of the JLA and had never been in the Teen Titans. In fact, the classic Titans seemed to have not existed at all.  And, there was no trace of Wally West.  No one even mentioned him. A Wally West eventually appeared in The Flash comic, but this was a young African-American man who, while interesting and full of potential, was not the Wally West I’d grown up with.

Of course, this new direction had its ups and downs.  But as years went by, Wally stayed away, and no one really understood why.

Jeeze.  This has been the longest build up ever.  If you’re still reading … thanks for sticking with me.

So the spoiler I mentioned, the one that brought me back into the comic book shop?  My Wally West hugging Barry Allen with Barry saying, “How could I ever forget you?”  Geesh.  I’m tearing up just writing it.  I’m such a sap.

You got me DC; I had to know.  I had to know where Wally had been and what his return had in store for the DC Universe.

This book initiated a change in direction I didn’t even know I wanted, and it’s all thanks to the heart and soul of the DCU – Wally West.

Wally narrates the book.  He’s stuck in the Speed Force.  (This is not the first time he’s been in such a predicament.  I think it’s not even the tenth!  Surely it won’t be the last.)  He’s being held back against his will, but he doesn’t know why or by whom.

Wally needs a tether.  He needs someone to connect with and pull him out of the Speed Force.  He visits several people, all who fail to help him, but those visits set up fascinating plot devices for the future.  He even visits Linda Park, thinking that, like so many times before, she would be his anchor.  It’s a heartbreaking moment, yet not one without hope for days to come.

It’s only fitting that it’s Barry, Wally’s hero, who finally saves him.  Wally appears before Barry, says he’s made peace with dying, tells Barry he loves him, says his goodbyes, and then begins to disintegrate.  Barry, not fully understanding, takes a leap of faith, believes in hope, and reaches for Wally’s hand.  Wally is saved.  And then they remember everything.

Geoff Johns wrote this book, and you can rest assured that his one moment is the mission statement of Rebirth.  It’s incredibly symbolic, perhaps even a metaphor, and it completely won me over.

In the middle of the 1980s, a few books came out that changed the industry.  Interestingly enough, several of them were released by DC Comics.  The Dark Knight Returns was one such book.  The other was Watchmen.  Neither were considered part of “continuity,” but the gritty, adult, psychological approach won fans over and ushered in what some call The Dark Age of comics.  Of course, it devolved over the years into sheer violence without the benefit of intelligent storytelling, then moved into crazy “extreme” versions of characters.   Hal Jordan went nuts and killed the Green Lantern Corps.  Superman suffered death by Doomsday.  Bane broke Batman’s back.  It eventually ran it’s course, and some of these stories were well executed and have withstood the test of time, but several characters were never fully restored to the core of what made them heroes to begin with.

In 2010, after Flashpoint, the DCU wasn’t quite as dark or extreme as it had been, but it seemed to be missing something.  Wally pointed this something out rather poignantly.  What was this “something?”  Love.  Real love.  Family love.  Friend love.  The kind of love that grows over time and bonds people from one generation to the next.  With the New 52, DC abandoned the very thing that made it unique – love, and the legacy that consequently results from it.

In this book we see the pre-New 52 Lois with Clark with their son – love.  We see Ryan Choi working with Ray Palmer – legacy.  We see a meaningful glance between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance – love.  We see Jaime Reyes side by side with Ted Kord – legacy.  We see Arthur Curry proposing to Mera – love.  We see the other Wally West living up to the name “Kid Flash” – legacy.  We see classic versions of Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder – legacy.  We see the classic Legion flight ring – legacy.

And just in case Johns hasn’t made it apparent, he kills off Pandora, the driving character of the New 52.  And who kills her?  All indications point to Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame.

Mind.

Blown.

Never in a million years did I think DC would go there.

Oh, they went there.

Imagine.  The heart and soul of the DCU has been held prisoner by the harbinger of the Dark Age.  From a story telling perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The DCU is a multiverse, we all understood Watchmen existed in that multiverse somewhere, but I personally never dreamed they would finally integrate members of Watchmen into the mainstream DCU.

Can this renewed direction of love, legacy, and hope start off any better than by having the heroes battle the one character who most perfectly encapsulates the antithesis of those things?  This is a bold step by both Johns and DCU, and I applaud them for taking a pretty big chance.  Watchmen is a seminal work and the author, Alan Moore, has made it explicitly clear he does NOT want his creations mucked with.  Oftentimes publishers purport that a story will “change everything!”  In this case, it’s true.  This has literally never been done.

How fitting that Wally West is leading this charge into a new era.