In a flawed arc, Geoff Johns’ script and John Romita Jr.’s artwork have conflicted from the beginning.
With issue #38, the first story arc by this new creative team comes to a close. The real climax of ‘The Men of Tomorrow’ was in #37, with the destruction of the Great World, and this issue presents the aftermath, along with the long-overdue fight between Ulysses and Superman.
Before you read any further, it’s only fair to tell you that I’m a big fan of Superman. When I was a kid, my first comic was a Superman book that I read over and over until the cover was nearly separating from the staples. Today, that comic is framed and hanging on a wall in my home. Big. Fan.
But I’m not a fan of this story arc.
In this final issue of the arc, Superman fights Ulysses (who wasn’t the good guy Supes and the world originally thought he was) and informs the six million people who were returned to Earth that there is no utopia. The fight builds until Superman unleashes the solar power of every cell in his body. This is the new power fussed over in the previews: a solar flare.
Fight over, Supes wakes up in the Batcave and learns that Ulysses is alive and being held at Stryker’s Island. Clark is back at the Daily Planet (thank goodness), and Jimmy Olsen gave away his entire fortune to help those in need. The big surprise of the issue happens when Clark reveals to Jimmy that he is Superman.
Superman is the flagship character of the DC Universe. He is one of the only fictional characters identifiable by citizens in every nation on the planet. And for more than 75 years, he has served as an enduring symbol of hope and the difference one person can make. Writer Geoff Johns understands this and balanced the action of the issue using quality character moments with the guest-starring Batman and an interesting exchange with Jimmy Olsen.
So why am I not a fan of the arc? It’s all about the story and the art. Rather than complementing one another, the two elements have conflicted from the beginning. John Romita Jr. has done a fine job with action sequences and setting a serious tone for the book, but he falls short with the personal characterization of Superman.
From the beginning of the arc, Superman has looked like a post-fight Rocky Balboa suffering from the flu. This would be fine if he really had just been in a fight while suffering from the flu. However, he has consistently been presented in this arc with slumped shoulders, no neck, and a lack of emotional articulation in his face. And that is a problem.
Part of what makes Superman super is that despite the fact that he is the most powerful being on the planet, his homegrown Kansas humility makes him trustworthy and relatable. From the barrel-chested depictions drawn by Curt Swan to the stunning articulations of Jim Lee, the artists responsible for Superman have given him a confident and almost regal bearing that never translates as smug superiority because of his inherent humanity. Those sensibilities are absent in this arc.
The best lines Superman delivers in the book happen in the scene where he hovers above the people returned from the Great World and addresses them. “There is no perfect world out there. There never was. I know you are all facing things you feel you can’t overcome. But you have to look here for answers. For help. For hope.”
Johns is at the top of his game with this sequence; it’s exactly what Superman would say. But look at the page (right). Yes, he is in the middle of a fight with Ulysses and has taken some big hits. But he is addressing the people he just saved and telling them to have hope. His hand is over his mouth like he’s coughing and unsure of the truth of his words.
The artistic bright spot in this arc comes from Laura Martin. In her capable hands, the color blue is a weapon in this series and she wields it like a lightsaber to punctuate action, present a mood of desperation, and rekindle hope. She also does amazing things with reds and yellows in this issue.
I’m hoping that future issues will see this creative team settle into a more stable storytelling formula that will produce a happier marriage of story and art. They are, after all, playing in an important sandbox.
Geoff Johns (W), John Romita Jr. (A), Klaus Janson (I), Laura Martin (C) • DC Comics, $4.99