Review: Superman Vol. 2: Return to Glory hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Within the confines of the Superman: Savage Dawn crossover, Gene Luen Yang's Superman stories bugged me a little bit. I ultimately liked Yang's "Mythbrawl" stories (under the "Truth" heading) that lead in to Savage Dawn, but within Savage Dawn I noted that Yang's issues kept pulling Superman one way while the other writers kept pulling him another. While just three of the ten full issues in Yang's Superman Vol. 2: Return to Glory (with Peter Tomasi) are only collected in this book, and six are parts of the Savage Dawn and Final Days of Superman crossovers (the first, fourth, seventh, tenth, and then first and eighth parts respectively), Yang's shared issues do come off better when read laterally like this. I wouldn't recommend anyone read those crossovers in this disjointed of a manner, but there are ultimately some throughways in this mix-and-match pre-Rebirth Superman book.

[Review contains spoilers]

Starting with Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth, Yang's Superman work (tied up the whole time with the DC You "Truth" storyline and its aftermath) has focused on Clark Kent's relationships with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. This is fallow territory of late, as in Doomed for instance Superman's chief confidant was girlfriend Wonder Woman, and Lois has more often been a slave of Brainiac in the New 52 than a hearty member of Superman's supporting cast. But Yang brought Clark, Lois, and Jimmy back together, only in short order to have Clark's superheroic identity revealed to Lois and then to the world, creating a rift between Clark and Lois.

In Yang's Return to Glory stories, then, we continue to see elements of this. It's not absolute and not ever-present, but from Yang's three-part "Mythbrawl" story through his "Savage Dawn" parts, either Lois or Jimmy play a big role, and especially at the beginning and at the end. Again, in a sequential reading of Savage Dawn, this doesn't quite work, because Superman spends very little time with Lois versus Wonder Woman, for instance, but Yang's concluding part gives Lois a big role; however, to read just Yang's issues, disjointed as that is, Lois's outsize role seems more natural. Similarly, though Yang ultimately does not get to kill off the Hordr_Root villain he created (that happens over in Action Comics), issue-by-issue Yang does set up the framework of Vandal Savage killing his own father to gain power, Savage's "son" Hodr_Root "begetting" the Puzzler character with parallels to his own origin, and then separately Puzzler killing Hodor_Root as his "fathers" did.

This is a point made more strongly over in Action, but the basic upshot is that despite Superman's considerable change over the course of "Truth," Lois, Jimmy, and the rest have always had faith that he'd still be the same Superman at heart, even if Clark himself didn't always think so. Jimmy makes that point during the "Mythbrawl" storyline -- tagging along as Superman exiles himself to California -- and that's ultimately the point of reconciliation between Clark and Lois, that she had faith that he'd ultimately weather the revelation of his identity.

Given an entire trade of Gene Luen Yang's super-fight club "Mythbrawl" stories with no end in sight, I might call foul; Starfire, Cyborg, and Black Canary are each characters who've lent themselves to reinventing, but absent Metropolis and the Daily Planet it's hard to call something a Superman story. But for three issues, the "Mythbrawl" aspect of Yang's story is a delight. Even despite the "Truth" storyline's turmoil, Yang's Clark Kent is as affable as I've seen him, and the winningest scene is when he goes out drinking with new friend and "brawl-mate" Haemosu. Going perhaps to the themes of Yang's story, rarely do we see Clark just enjoying himself with a friend, and when we do, it's with stodgy Batman or kid brother Jimmy Olsen. The camaraderie here drives that part of the story even if it doesn't quite feel like "Superman."

Yang benefits from that interstitial story's relative separation from the "Truth" event. At the same time, I thought Yang makes one of "Truth"'s best points when character Shahrazad "reads" Clark Kent's story and notes that young Clark "always felt out of place" and as Superman "tried to keep people from questioning whether he belonged by being as good as possible -- the perfect citizen," something that crumbled when his identity was revealed. Yang's take on Superman is eminently relatable, whether from the standpoint of one who feels culturally or ethnically different, or really has any difference at all, and tries to disguise that by "being good" or overachieving (Yang's bio states he was part of "a small Asian-American minority" in his community growing up). It lays plain Clark's emotional conflict at the center of "Truth" more clearly and movingly than it has been so far (including Peter Tomasi's also very good Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 4: Dark Truth).

Indeed perhaps best about the end of Yang's run is that his last three "independent" issues finally feel like Yang doing what he wants and not what "Truth" dictates, while still working within "Truth"'s  confines. Throughout "Mythbrawl" there are references to various Asian cultures, reflecting some of the areas of material Yang is known for, not to mention that Yang moved Superman out to Oakland, California where Yang has lived. Again, I'm not sure such overt evidence of the author in a Superman story would work long-term, but it's enjoyable to see Superman by way of Yang for the short-term. Artist Howard Porter brings an exuberant, "hip" vibe to the California dreamin' here that matches the story better than the last volume's John Romita would have.

Though it's hard to say how intentionally Peter Tomasi's "Final Days" stories follow Yang's pattern, Tomasi's first part of "Final Days" does involve both Lana and Lois. Jimmy Olsen is absent "Final Days" until the penultimate page of the last part, also a Superman issue, which may still be a nod on Tomasi's part. This book includes Tomasi's Rebirth special, too, which turns on the clever premise that the pre-Flashpoint Superman thinks he can resurrect the New 52 Superman a la "Reign of the Supermen"; at the same time, Tomasi has some wobbly continuity as to who knows what about the New 52 Superman's Fortress of Solitude, for instance, the kind of thing I'll be eager to see become more seamless as Rebirth contiues.

Superman Vol. 2: Return to Glory collects fewer proprietary issues than Batman/Superman Vol. 6: Universe's Finest, and I couldn't say purchasing this whole book is worth it just for the three "Mythbrawl" issues. They are entertaining, however, and do show Gene Luen Yang's nascent DC work at its best so far, I'd say -- New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China was enjoyable, but there's a greater maturity to "Mythbrawl" that worked better for me than New Super-Man's more all-ages comedy. If nothing else, based on Yang's work on the "Truth" saga, I'd give him a shot at some Lois Lane work, no question.

[Includes original and variant covers, Rebirth special]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman Vol. 2: Return to Glory
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
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1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. Good to hear good thoughts about Yang's Superman for a change.

    ReplyDelete