Comic Book Review: Superman: Rebirth #1
This week marks the first official look at DC Comics’ new Rebirth line, a line wide redesign of the company’s status quo with a greater sense of legacy and optimism in mind. One of the most direct gestures has been the return of the pre-Flashpoint Superman to take up the role as the Man of Tomorrow in Superman: Rebirth.
To give some backstory, Superman: Rebirth is a follow-up to the various Superman books. In the pages of Superman: Lois and Clark, the Lois Lane and Clark Kent before the New 52 reboot find themselves as refugees in the current DC Universe with their young son Jonathon. Despite this Earth also crawling with various world ending threats, Clark elects to avoid interference with how things are going a la the Prime Directive and only meet the Superman of the New 52 for a brief time.
First let’s look at the over by Dog Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Wil Quintana. The image is of Superman flying at the reader fist raised and eyes a’glowing. Given DC’s new direction with their Rebirth line is to bring optimism and joy, this is a strange move. The cover is mostly generic as most of the Rebirth covers have been but the sour scowl on Superman’s face and his red eyes give this cover make the subject appear at best menacing and worst homicidal and it doesn’t mesh at all with the contents of the issue itself.
This book has an incredible line up featuring Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Doug Mahnke, all fantastic creators, especially in their Green Lantern work. Tomasi and Gleason write this one shot, following up with how Clark handles the death of his young doppelgänger and re-evaluating his role as Superman. The book is quite clever in working in the theme of being reborn, in this case Superman being very aware that superheros are harder to kill than crab grass and it must only be a matter of time before there’s a resurrection. Playing off Clark’s humanity is Lana Lang who’s a delight to have, being one of the Superman mythos’ understated female voices.
Sadly, Tomasi and Gleason never really get there thematically. Their contemplative story about how the world will always have Superman gets bogged down and is mostly funereal. It aims high but doesn’t quite get its feet off the ground. What’s not helped is the lack of accessibility. I read the other Rebirth titles this week, and this one is by far the least friendly to new readers. Obviously it doesn’t help to be staring the main character from a completely different branch of DC’s ever entangling continuity but the book doesn’t try to really explain who this Superman is. It doesn’t reference his wife Lois or his son Jonathon, how Superman is in this new world, or even how the younger Superman died. That last one is a big problem, despite the death of Superman being a major development in the greater DCU, neither Superman: Rebirth or last week’s DC Universe: Rebirth have bothered to explain how/when/why he died and its utterly baffling.
The artwork is penciled by Doug Mahnke and inked by Jaime Mendoza. As said before, I’m a big Mahnke fan. He has a great talent for filling panels with immense energy and weight. That’s certainly on display here, while the Death of Superman flashbacks may read like filller, Mahnke captures the raw energy that story line zeroed in on. What’s interesting is how most of the book is Clark and Lana’s back and forth quietly respecting the dead and it never feels out-of-place. However, and I feel this is my own personal hang up, I am not a fan of Mendoza’s inking. it’s looser than I’d come to expect from Mahnke who often has thick clearly defined borders in his work. The amount of cross sketching does not pair well with the pencils and it brings the over all appearance down, in my opinion.
The colors by Wil Quintana are strong. While most of the issue takes place underground, resulting in a lot of beige and grey, the other primary scenes are bright and stand out. There are lots of cool colors for the likes of the Fortress of Solitude. However it’s in the Death of Superman flashbacks where Quintana does some very subtle and clever work. In these scenes, he uses a more basic and primary color scene which is a great sleight of hand to show the past. it’s a small change I think most readers will over look.
I wish I could like Superman: Rebirth more than I did. While the book has an amazing team, beyond Doug Mahnke’s usual great work, there’s just not much here. It’s a story about coming to terms with death, which can be great and powerful character building moments, but not as an introduction to a new series. Out of the four current Rebirth titles, this is the one that requires the most backstory and it barely gives anything a reader any context for who this Superman is. I have faith in Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason to tell some great Superman stories, but this is not a good entry point.