SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Superman #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
There's a bold, new Daily Planet building, some tension between the various branches of the multimedia conglomerate that owns it. Also, Superman fights a fire monster as somebody Tweets.

Shawn Hill:
Chris Kiser:
Ray Tate:




Shawn Hill:


I haven't reviewed an issue of Superman since Superman Beyond during Final Crisis, as I'm not a heavy Superman collector except for special events. I enjoyed Action in the days when it was his teamup book, or when it had backup strips with other stars. His situation (undercover reporter, in love with an indifferent Lois, surrounded by a bellicose editor, a sycophantic neophyte, a big blowhard of some sort, and various other stock characters) never really did all that much for me, even when written well.

It worked in the movies, at least the ones with Christopher Reeve, because of Reeve and the rest of the cast of amusing character actors. And Supes is fine as a team player, whether with the Legion or the Justice League or whoever he's helping out. But alone, being the perfect guy who never actually gets what he really wants? Not for me.



This issue is an earnest attempt to update that concept for the current audience. And by update I mean be the first movie all over again, except with less humor and more topical references. Perez is doing here something akin to what he did to Wonder Woman in the 1980s, putting the character in a realistic (if photogenic) world while also investing in her particular history and legacy.

In Diana's case that was Greek mythology. In Clark's case it's going to have to be Krypton, and his foe this issue seems to tie into his Kryptonian origins in some vague way already. But mostly we get a heavy dose of the realistic setting this issue, a Daily Planet that has been sold to Morgan Edge, and that now must compete with its remaining print edition against the shinier, happier TV news division that he also owns. Lois has moved towards the cameras (or actually, behind the cameras), meaning she has to deal with popular pit-bull anchors (definite allusions to talking TV personalities here).

Perry White, by the way, has also been Amanda Wallered. Formerly played by the likes of Ed Asner, we're now going with Perry King apparently. Can we notice now that part of the New 52 seems to be Botox and tummy tucks and a general all over attempt to youthify and sexify pretty much anyone that might once have been played by a character actor instead? It's not just that such an editorial edict isn't just sexist and ageist; it's also hopelessly shallow.

White still gets to deliver gruff lines about the integrity of the news, made more poignant by the sense that he's fighting a losing crusade. And Clark is squarely on the side against tabloid journalism and other media "dog and pony shows," making him a very young and tousle-haired curmudgeon.

In his battle against the fire creature, we learn how hesitant Metropolis is to fully embrace the still unpredictable hero. It's all beautifully portrayed by Perez's breakdowns, and Merino does excellent work simplifying the busy compositions. His inking is efficient and detailed without being heavy.



There's no one to cut back on the excess of verbiage, however, so we get multiple narrators of scenes we're already watching play out (why do artist-writers always tend in that direction?), making some sequences harder to follow than they should be. Economy of storytelling might benefit this title, which also ties into the story begun in Stormwatch #1.

Really, on every aesthetic level, this issue is better than Stormwatch was. The art is more fluid and more detailed. The story has a grounding in reality to offset its alien and potentially exotic main character. There's a rich supporting cast and some real-world topicality to be explored. But while I'm waiting for Stormwatch #2, I probably won't be back for further issues of Superman, any more than I ever was. I'll get my fix from Action's quirkier storytelling. Though this is a top-of-the-line rendition of the title character, it's still business as usual at its core. I read it already in the 1970s when Steve Lombard was the blowhard jerk on camera rather than William McCoy. At least in Morrison's takes on the formula, the stereotypes are played for humor, and deliver the occasional zinger.


Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.



Chris Kiser:

In what turns out to be a rather irony-laden creative effort, the new Superman #1 has been relentlessly infused with a heavy dose of modern-day social references designed to retool the franchise for the current generation. Just like it did in 1986, DC is seeking make Superman relevant to the readers of today by reconfiguring several key elements of the franchise that have been deemed outdated by those at the top. Who better, then, to make an appeal to the young’uns than George Pérez, an old-school comics artist who hasn’t written a book for upwards of 20 years? (See where I’m going with the irony, there?)

Superman #1 strives to be so fresh and new that I’m surprised the publisher even let the ink dry before shipping it out to stores. The fabled Daily Planet building has been torn down and rebuilt, now housing the operations of a multimedia conglomerate more than eager to hammer the last nail in the coffin of print journalism. Supes’ own costume has been famously altered, now flashing far fewer undies than could be spotted in the latest issue of Catwoman. Heck, this book is so hip and stylish, it even makes mention of Twitter on multiple occasions!



But in its wild torrent of Superman modernization, DC seems to have forgotten to upgrade the most crucial element of comic book storytelling -- the writing. With all due respect to the progress John Byrne made in the landmark 1986 Man of Steel miniseries, the craft of writing in this industry has improved by leaps and bounds since then, although you’d never know it by reading this issue. The script is criminally overwritten, using gobs and gobs of words to describe what should be left to the images alone to depict. The problem is so excessive in parts that it essentially feels like you’re reading the story twice, a difficult chore given how generic and uninteresting the villain Superman faces is.

Not all the book does is completely a failure, however, as a few bright spots demonstrate the potential this take on Superman could have achieved. For starters, the art broken down by Pérez and finished by Jesús Merino has a nice classic feel that would be welcome in any incarnation of the series, even one that strives to be as trendy as this one. Pérez also handles well the reversion to the original Clark Kent-Lois Lane status quo, admirably depicting the way in which Clark once again pines for the unattainably attractive Lois. Unfortunately, these high points are not enough to salvage the issue as a whole, its flaws doing all they can to drown them out.



When the advent of the DCnU was first announced, the most common reaction was that its slate of creators and books seemed disappointingly out-of-date. Thankfully, several of the finished products have turned out to be innovative and exciting, but Superman is one that falls prey to the realization of those initial assessments. As this book’s sister series Action Comics confirmed, the fortunes of the DC relaunch lie not in superficial tweaks to the publisher’s longstanding mythos, but rather in the creativity and skill at the core of each offering.


Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!



Ray Tate:

Morgan Edge absorbs The Daily Planet as part of his Galaxy Broadcasting Systems. Superman and Clark Kent are not amused, and while the change means a step-up for Lois Lane, she may just find the heat from on high and below to be too much. Speaking of heat, the Man of Steel must contend against an alien or elemental fire being who drops some mysterious notes for Big Blue's ears.

George Perez, known more for his art than his writing, explores the meaning of free press in this Superman premiere. I don't know how involved Perez has been in the media, but his debut for the Man of Tomorrow demonstrates an insider's acumen or extraordinary research.



Lois Lane becomes an executive producer. This puts her on an equal footing with Perry White, looking much sprier in the new DCU, still Chief of The Daily Planet, Every wedge of Galaxy tries to outscoop the other. Despite playing on the same team, they all exhibit different approaches, tied into today's technology.

Miko, Jimmy Olsen's partner, immediately begins blogging Superman's reappearance in Metropolis. Olsen still snaps photos. Meanwhile, a FoxNews type, William McCoy, part of PGN, which Lois now heads, spins the story to suggest that Superman was actually behind the catalyst of the news, namely blowing up a couple of wannabe terrorists who carjack a load of chemical waste.

Lois orders her people out of the area when things get hot, this prompts a call from Morgan Edge, who apparently isn't at all concerned about his employees health so as long as Galaxy gets the story. Meanwhile, Perry White and his new boss Izzy begin to form an opinion on how The Planet will relate the tale. It becomes clear that Superman is innocent of McCoy's accusation.

Lois comes up with a clever means to get the story and protect the lives of her people, and she even anticipates the flack from the police. So she calls Inspector Casey, who has been chomping at the bit to do something other than crowd control. Meanwhile, we see Superman employ his numerous powers to defeat the fire creature, and different narration, a more poetic journalist, enhances the mood and gets inside of the Man of Steel's head. Could this journalist be ace reporter Clark Kent? Could be.

Clark Kent's ethics have always been the subject of debate. Is it really fair that he be the one to tell Superman's story. It's like Insider Trading. Perez adjusts the argument. According to Perry: "...He may have a nose for news, but not usually the front page variety." That statement would seem to indicate that Clark didn't or seldom took advantage of his dual identity to land a scoop. So why now? If you read between the lines, Clark is deathly afraid of seeing the fourth estate lose its integrity, and the only way to tell Superman's story is to divulge the truth himself. That makes sense, and it clears him of any unethical "superdickery."



As you may have discerned, a lot of things proceed simultaneously. Some conflict and others cohere, but no matter what the position, Jesús Merino effortlessly keeps the panels uncluttered and the visual narrative easy to follow. You can simply look at Superman and enjoy a ripping yarn, but Perez's words are sauce for the goose.

Before the big reveal, some people wondered if DC weren't making a financial move as if somehow they were attempting to detach Siegel and Schuster from this new Superman through a new set of duds. The banner created by Siegel and Schuster is still there. Superman is still Superman. In fact, he's a lot closer to the original than the Boy Scout he became in lesser writers' hands, but then Perez always had a way at conveying Superman's power and wasn't afraid to show him actually engaging in violence, regardless of whatever writer was putting words in the dialogue balloons. Merino follows suit. He without hesitation captures the intent of Perez's breakdowns while putting his own stamp to the character design. Merino cut his teeth on Marvel's Star Trek Voyager, and he always handled that burgeoning cast with detail and dignity. If anything Merino's skills have improved from already great, and Superman is the feather in his cap.


Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

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