Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth. The writer's first arc connects immediately to the mega-event "Truth," the story involves both Superman and Lois Lane necessarily acting out of character, and we're left with more questions than answers about the villain of the piece. As such, it's hard to fully know what to make of Yang's issues, because it's tough to find what Yang himself is trying to say among the needs of the larger story.
Artist John Romita Jr. does nice work here but really starts to shine at the very end with the grittier Superman who emerges, and we intuit that Yang is more comfortable, too; this is where the DC You aesthetic begins to emerge as well. In some respects Before Truth seems a prelude to where this team really wants to go, though at this point they only have six issues left to do so (and only three before the next crossover). Now that Rebirth has taken off and Peter Tomasi and Dan Jurgens have cemented their partnership as the new Superman team, this Superman run becomes, like many DC You series, just something of a footnote as Rebirth steals the spotlight.
[Review contains spoilers]
Before Truth begins with a single issue written and drawn by Romita. Whether you find it funny or not that Batman calls a denuded Superman -- fresh from experimenting with his new "solar flare" power -- "nature boy" and scolds him not to sit on a Bat-plane seat naked will largely determine whether this chapter is for you. Romita is way off with his laugh-riot Batman throughout the piece and also a Flash that reads like Wally West from the Justice League cartoon, letting alone his rather silly hungover Superman, though assuredly this issue has an important moment leading in to Yang's story.
It's from that dubious start that we have Before Truth, which requires that Superman conduct dangerous experiments with his powers even though they leave him weakened, then be careless enough in his weakened state to essentially reveal his secret identity, and then allow himself to be blackmailed to keep his identity from being revealed. I'm reminded of when Scott Lobdell had Clark Kent spying on Lois's text messages; I don't mind a Superman who's young in the New 52 aesthetic and who sometimes makes bad decisions, but there's an almost unbelievable series of bad decisions here stemming from an uneven start, and that makes the whole thing seem a little sideways.
"Exposed," the story from the Free Comic Book Day Divergence issue that was actually published prior to the "Before Truth" issues, is shunted to the end of this book where it fits chronologically. In some respects it's the strongest sequence of the book, with a hoodie-clad Clark, his identity revealed to the world, trying to have breakfast with Jimmy Olsen until a super-powered criminal with an axe to grind interrupts. Clark is unshaven, put-upon, and angry here, and Romita depicts him much better than he does a flying Superman in his busy costume; equally Yang writes a droll bit of banter between Clark and Jimmy. Again, it seems like this is where the team starts to click; even as this ending story is actually the beginning, narratively it felt like the story thus far was all for the purpose of getting to this point and beyond.
I'm assuredly a sucker for the scene where Lois rips open Clark's shirt to find his Superman armor underneath, and Clark slowly taking off his glasses to reveal himself as Superman; Yang also uses a particularly effective callback to Grant Morrison's Action Comics. But it's hard to reconcile this bit with a page later on where the "unmasked" Clark confronts Perry White, and Perry not only lectures Clark on his "lie of a life" but also goes so far as to slap him! I can frankly only hope there's some element of villainy or mind control at play there, because otherwise it would seem Yang doesn't quite get the Perry character, and again that plays to the general sense of uneasiness in the book as a whole.
I've rejected the idea of the New 52 characters as being lesser than the pre-Flashpoint characters, believing a lot depends on the alacrity of the writer -- Greg Pak, for instance, writing a competent New 52 Superman. But Yang's New 52 Clark and Lois certainly pale in comparison to the pre-Flashpoint same in Dan Jurgens's Superman: Lois and Clark miniseries, though again I think some of this is by design. Remembering well the last time Clark Kent revealed his identity to Lois Lane, there was never the thought of her revealing his secret to the public (albeit they were engaged at the time); further Lois dismissing the danger and actually revealing the secret seems as implausible as Clark bending to the villain Hordr_Root's blackmail. So there's layers of bad decisions here that don't unfortunately reflect well on the characters, though granted we're only halfway through the story.
In this way, again, it's hard to know what to make of Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth. It's poor choices by Clark leading to poor choices by Lois, plus Perry slapping Clark from his hospital bed. I don't mind characters having trouble and I can certainly be patient while Gene Luen Yang wraps up the Hordr_Root arc; I just wonder if the next six issues, connected as they also are to the "Savage Dawn" crossover, will be enough room to tie this all up nicely.
[Includes original and variant covers]