Review: Superman Vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Doug Mahnke are some of my favorite current comics creators, and so if your premise is a comic where Tomasi, Gleason, and Mahnke just get to do their own thing for 20-some pages, I'm all for that. Whether it totally makes sense for them to do that under the auspices of a Superman title is a different question entirely. I thought the team's first Rebirth Superman collection was good, but given over too much to setting up Tomasi's Super Sons title without much else. Superman Vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son certainly has variety going for it, but here again it vacillates between either set-up for other books or a kind of purposelessness -- Tomasi, Gleason, and Mahnke doing the stuff they love and do well, but perhaps in spite of and not because of Superman in the lead.

[Review contains spoilers]

As compared to Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman's singular focus, Trials does have admirable range. Tomasi and company deliver four jam-packed stories in seven issues, which feels unusually full for a trade. And there is plenty tonal difference between them, too, from the big monsters of the Dinosaur Island story to the comedic superheroics of "World's Smallest," to aliens and horror in the Frankenstein story that, really showing this book's range, also demonstrates that Jon doesn't have to appear in every issue.

The two-part Frankenstein story, "Super-Monster," represents the best and worst of what this title has to offer. It is the best because it's always good to see Mahnke drawing Frankenstein and it's nice that Tomasi gives him opportunities to do so; Tomasi also pulls well here from the continuity of the Jeff Lemire series. At the same time, it's the worst because we're just six months into the new Superman title and Tomasi's pausing to spend two issues on a Frankenstein story really only tangentially related to Superman; it was cute when Tomasi did this nineteen issues into Batman and Robin but less novel when he does it again on Superman. I'd happily buy a Frankenstein series by Tomasi and Mahnke forever, but when it comes to Superman I find myself wishing for some focus, please.

The same might almost have been true for the two-part "Escape from Dinosaur Island" story, except that in the end Tomasi ties it into the slow-growing "monster attack" storyline that began in issue #2. This is assuredly what this title needs, some sort of internal storyline, so that it's not just setting up other titles or riffing but actually doing something of its own. Even without brushing up on New Frontier, I still found "Dinosaur Island" exciting and emotional, and I could relax into it at least in part because it demonstrated a larger plot and narrative for this series. "Super-Monster" didn't have that, so it didn't land for me quite as well.

I am not without heart, however. The one-shot "Our Town" wouldn't seem on its face my cup of tea, a little story about the Kent family enjoying the evening at a town fair, supposedly with no superheroics allowed. Tomasi and Gleason's plot is funny without being corny; there's not a lot of reason for some of the small-town characters they introduce (the Kents can't stay in Hamilton County forever) but yet they feel very fully realized; and Jorge Jimenez draws some wonderful expressions (see Lois on the second-to-last page, like a comic strip character). I've been slow to embrace the Super-Kents concept, but Tomasi and Gleason warmed me on it a bit here, and it puts me in mind of some of the enjoyable small-town fare of the Jeph Loeb/Ed McGuinness Superman run.

I'm sure I will enjoy Super Sons. It is not that I specifically didn't like the (long-titled) "In the Name of the Father: World's Smallest," so much that it purposefully follows a predictable formula; we know Jon and Damian are going to fail a couple of their fathers' tests before they succeed, we know they're going to dislike one another and then become friends, etc. It's fun of course to see NoBody and Goliath here from Robin, Son of Batman, too, though their inclusion, as with Frankenstein, gives me the sense of the creative team longing for title characters other than the ones they have. (But am I to understand that was Detective's Clayface in the end? Because that's a great cameo.)


So far I have not been as enthused as I expected by the Rebirth Superman titles. Peter Tomasi and company's Superman Vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son had a variety of moments that separated it from the pack, but by and large we've been dealing with smaller, more insular Superman stories. There's nearly no "villains" here, something I might ordinarily admire, but I rather feel we've yet to get the strong "Superman saves the planet" story that would really be kicking the Rebirth era off right. Tomasi's got "Multiplicity" next, and maybe that'll be more my speed.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman Vol. 2: Trial of the Super Son
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
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4 comments:

  1. Without spoiling it, there are things from the Frankenstein two-parter (and throughout these early issues) that come back up in what ends up feeling like the "big" storyline to which Tomasi & co. are building.

    But yeah, there is a sense in these issues that it's the creative team given free rein to do their own thing, which is really refreshing. It's an interesting counterpart to Action Comics, which has more of the conventional Superman superheroics. I appreciated the tonal difference that comes from setting AC in Metropolis and S in Hamilton, which gave each book a stronger sense of belonging to the Rebirth initiative than had they both been set in Metropolis.

    PS - I wonder at what point Tomasi realized he'd be writing Super Sons. Initially it was advertised as by Chris Burns & Dennis Carver, then it was delayed, then it debuted with Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez on deck (Dustin Nguyen, incidentally, does bang-up variant covers for the book). I do wonder if Tomasi was teeing up a run that didn't happen, for writers who hadn't written the characters before, until the point when he realized he'd get a whole book for Jon & Damian.

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    Replies
    1. With benefit of time I know better now how Frankenstein fits in all of this, though I'd still call it a little flimsy. When we get to Black Dawn, I have ... thoughts.

      Now that the settings of Superman and Action have come together a bit after Reborn, and especially after Doomsday Clock, I'll be curious what the status quo becomes for these two titles. Essentially much of the first year was just prologue and we've yet to really, really see what these titles are about.

      I liked Super Sons better than I thought I would after this, and especially if Tomasi keeps tying in Teen Titans.

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    2. @CE - not sure where you are in your reading (vs reviews), but as a continuity note, it's better to read Superwoman v1 before Action Comics v2.

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    3. I did read them that way, though on the Timeline (by the way ...) I have Action Comics Vol. 2 first and Superwoman Vol. 1 second. Superwoman Vol. 1 takes place both before and after Superwoman's appearance in Action Comics Vol. 2, so both books necessarily spoil one another. I thought having Action Vol. 2 first was right, but thinking about it now, I guess the fact of Superwoman is the greater thing, so I'll probably switch them. Thanks for the tip!

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