Review: Superman Reborn (Rebirth) hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Dan Jurgens's Action Comics has been doing well facing off the Kent family against their various strange doppelgangers, while here and there Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Superman has wondered at the true relationship between the post-Crisis and New 52 Supermen. Much of that is purportedly reconciled in Superman Reborn, the first crossover between the titles, though true answers are somewhat scant. Reborn does offer some concrete explanations, but only to what turns out to be its simplest mysteries; for the bigger things in some respects we're left to just interpret for ourselves. That's a troubling trend -- not the first time in recent comics -- and when DC Comics has so much on the line in service to their universe-wide storylines, one has to hope that how the mysteries are addressed here is not a template for what's to come.

That said, at least in the lead-in, Tomasi and Gleason's and Jurgens's story is wonderfully fraught. There's a good part of this that fits Gleason's art style perfectly, and we also see Jurgens teamed with Doug Mahnke, a new and exciting pairing. And surely the end of this book suggests good things to come; I only wish I wasn't looking so forward to the aftermath issues to explain to me what was in the main story.

[Review contains spoilers]

The end of Superman Reborn suggests a new timeline, "consistent with the memories and experiences of all"; given the combining here of the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 Supermen and Lois Lanes, we can guess that means a joint pre-/post-Flashpoint timeline. "Suggesting" and "guessing" is all we can do though, however, because the story doesn't give us more to go on than a two-page splash of various scenes -- a Lara and Jor-El we don't recognize; Lex growing up in Smallville; seemingly the original death of Superman, when Clark revealed his identity to Lois, and their wedding; and wholly new scenes of Jon's birth, plus the post-Crisis Toyman and Imperiex, among others. This suggests a continuity that's really more post-Crisis and new material than anything New 52, an implication that I don't think will trouble most readers.

But the bottom line is that one finishes the book and just doesn't know for sure. Of course, there are the aftermath issues forthcoming, and for a single-issue reader, it's wholly possible these missing answers might have come a month if not two weeks later; a trade reader, however, isn't so lucky. I long for the days of Dan Jurgens's own Zero Hour, when we got a full-fledged DC Universe timeline at the end of that event. Now we have DC Universe: Rebirth, which raised significantly more questions than answers, and Convergence, for instance, with its never-explained spread of the modified multiple Earths.

Reborn for its part also ends with the red spirit of the New 52 Superman and Lois merging with the blue spirit of their post-Crisis counterparts, but neither do we understand how they were split, how they became these red and blue energies, why it is they were able to be accessed in the book's concluding nebulous realm, and so on. This is problematic, as I mentioned, not just here, but as precedent for how Rebirth could go. I'd venture the Rebirth story, and especially the apparent inclusion of the Watchmen characters, is the most ambitious thing DC Comics has ever tried to do, ever. They must stick the landing. The beginning has been good, but the end can't peter out, a la Superman: War of the Supermen, for instance. For Doomsday Clock or what have you to end like Superman Reborn -- for the casual reader to have to go pick up a different book to understand what they just read in the one they're holding -- would be a disappointment, if not something more catastrophic.

Superman Reborn does impress through about its first hundred pages, from Jurgens's two introductory Action Comics issues to the first two parts of Tomasi and Gleason's and Jurgens's story. Some of the strongest parts of Jurgens's Action have been his writing of reporter Lois Lane and also the weird Clark Kent duplicate that's been running around, and all of that shines here; both teams write the alt-Clark as particularly creepy in Reborn's beginning. Patrick Gleason seems born to have drawn the doe-eyed Kent family celebrating Lois and Clark's anniversary at the start (with shades of Jon Bogdanove in Clark's square-jawed Golden Age-iness), and Tomasi and Gleason's writing of Jon's disappearance is heart-breaking. That's followed again by the fantastic teaming of Jurgens and Mahnke.

But for me the story starts to fall apart about the time Mr. Mxyzptlk makes the scene. Having Mxy as the faux Clark Kent makes perfect sense, and of course he brainwashed himself and so on; it's all a bit on the nose but also feels very traditional. But instead of going the route of John Byrne or "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite" where Mxy's extra-dimensional threat manifests itself terrestrially, Tomasi, Gleason, and Jurgens lean more toward the Louise Simonson Man of Steel depiction in which Lois-and-Clark-obsessed looney tune Mxyzptlk sends the Kents through a series of virtual realities (and we know how I dislike virtual reality stories).

A lot of attention is paid in Tomasi and Gleason's penultimate issue to Superman and Lois needing to make their way to the top of an absurdist Daily Planet building to rescue Jon, which the writers immediately skip over with a nonsensical two-page board game spread that ends with Superman and Lois just suddenly reaching their goal. After all the good build-up, the conflict with Mxy is ultimately silly, artificial, and as ill-defined as other parts of the book's conclusion. That's a shame because Mxy is such a good antagonist here and because Jurgens has been involved with writing Mxy well in the past; as strongly as Reborn starts, there's many factors working against it in the end.

With the end of Superman Reborn, perhaps I'm meant to understand we've just lost the post-Crisis Superman, which is really unfortunate -- but again, the fact that I'm not sure whether we did or not speaks to the story's softness. If the post-Crisis and New 52 Superman have merged to become something new, with a new history, that does mean the post-Crisis Superman is gone; then again, "gone" is a relative term because already this has seemed to be Geoff Johns's post-Infinite Crisis Superman and not the Byrne/Jurgens version anyway. Such is comics; if what comes next is strong and maybe Superman still fought Mr. Z that time, I'll be relatively satisfied.

[Includes original, variant, and unused covers, and costume sketches]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman Reborn
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
Collected Editions 2017 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

3 comments:

  1. To me, this crossover was the straw that broke the camel's back. And by camel's back, I mean the DCU's current continuity.

    I understand the need to simplify the origins of the current versions of Superman and Lois, who had come from a different universe, and restore their relationships with Batman, Lex Luthor, Perry White and others. The problem is, how old are they supposed to be? I mean, if they had 10 years to raise Jon, then how long had Clark and Lois known each other before they got married and had a child? About 5 years? Does that mean the Justice League first got together 15 years ago? Then what does that mean for the 5-year timeline of the New 52? Are all of Superman's contemporary fellow heroes in their 40s all of a sudden?

    I wish I could say the aftermath issues by Jurgens provided answers to all of those questions, but everything remains irritatingly vague. I think it could have been solved if they had simply established that after Lois got pregnant, she and Superman traveled 10 years into the past so they could raise their child away from all super-hero craziness, and once they caught up to the point when they had made their trip, they simply told everyone they adopted a 10-year-old boy (with Batman's help to forge the necessary documents, of course). The only problem would be their co-workers not noticing they look 10 years older all of a sudden, but hey, it's not like anyone noticed the difference when pre-Flashpoint Lois replaced her dead New 52 counterpart in the Daily Planet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I imagine we'll have more to discuss about this after the fourth collection of Action Comics comes around, but that's not what specifically bothered me here (you're welcome to what bothers you, of course). Character ages in my opinion are always going to be loopy in comics precisely because a comics character, as opposed to a physical actor, never has to age. How can Bruce Wayne be X age and Dick Grayson be X age but Bruce has a son who's X age, etc. -- for me, the answer is, "It's fiction," and sometimes fiction gets to bend the rules.

      Now, whether Jurgens hews to Johns or Byrne for the origin and how much of the New 52 will get left in or taken out, there I'll have some opinions ...

      Delete
  2. That's the point, Superman stole back part of the timeline from Manhattan. It isn't easy to explain, but at least i got what happened.

    Anyway, i liked this crossover

    ReplyDelete