Alien overlord Helspont sends a powerful robotic ‘thrall’ to Metropolis to assess Superman and finds him worthy; worthy of enlisting him in his quest to make Earth Daemonite territory. When he finally meets Superman himself, he can’t understand something (click on image to enlarge):
And with that one moment, showcasing a defiant hero, proudly wearing his S-symbol, I know that the DC New 52 Superman comic is in safe creative hands. Sure, Keith Giffen’s association with Superman predates the Crisis on Infinite Earths, whereas Dan Jurgens came on board a few years after and gave us a classic run … but could they make this series sing after a lacklustre relaunch which dragged Superman’s good name through the mud?
I think they can. This first issue, co-plotted by them, pencilled by Jurgens and finished by Jesus Merino, is heaps of fun and popping with fresh ideas. Not Helspont – he dates back to the glory days of the Wildstorm universe, and while the name is rubbish, he has a villainous charm. I’m thinking of how we see Clark Kent’s discomfort at being asked to glorify his other identity for the Daily Planet, and the presentation of Superman’s new costume as ‘Kryptonian biotech’ he wills to appear. Then there are re-purposed concepts, such as Earth’s propensity to act as a hothouse for superbeings (the Giffen-plotted Invasion mini-series of the late Eighties) and the return of Lois Lane’s troublesome sister, Lucy (several thousand Silver Age comics and pre-New 52 Supergirl). There’s humour at STAR Labs and the Daily Planet, a de-emphasising of Lois’ new TV job and Superman cutting loose.
Simply put, this is a confident, enjoyable Superman comic. It’s not out to remake the wheel, it simply wants to entertain – and the number of bad comics out there tells us that’s not always an easy thing. The only misstep is the Metropolis throng’s continued surprise at the presence of Superman among them, and the distrust many feel for him – isn’t this comic set five or six years into the super-career? I get the feeling this sort of thing originates on DC Editorial’s answer to Mount Sinai, that stone tablets exist saying that DC’s heroes must be treated like Marvel’s mutants. Well, enough already – let the DC Universe be the best DCU it can be, not a second-rate Marvel Universe.
The ponderous narrative devices of this title’s first six issues have been dumped in favour of a present tense ‘what Clark’s thinking’ – basically, good-old thought bubbles, but in white-out-of-blue caption boxes to fool the kids that we’re all trendy now. I’d prefer unashamed balloons, but this works for me, making for a much more comfortable read than previously.
Clark’s perpetually flustered appearance apart, I like the art here a lot. Jurgens knows how to pace a Superman story, while Merino adds strength to his breakdowns (presumably, as a first-class penciller too, Merino will be doing full art at some point). These pages are teeming with excellent figurework, great value backgrounds and pulse-pounding action, resulting in a dynamic feast for the eyes. And they’re coloured with joie de vivre by Tanya and Richard Horie, while Rob Leigh adds energy on the lettering side.
The cover is by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis of Aquaman fame, and it’s rather the winner – extra points for almost managing to hide the fact that Superman has lost his shorts.
If you gave this book a try at relaunch time but jumped off for whatever reason, take another gander. With the iconoclastic Giffen on board, surprises are guaranteed, while Jurgens has a knack for translating the classic DC sensibility for modern audiences. I understand that the Helspont storyline is something they inherited – the horn mentioned herein was blown way back in Superman #1 – but they’re making tasty Kryptonian lemonade out of it. And once they can go their own way, who knows what thrills they’ll come up with?