In 1963, President John F Kennedy has a request for Superman.
In the future, Superman has a request for Manchester Black.
One of the most memorable Superman stories of the last couple of decades was Action Comics #775’s ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?’ With Wildstorm Comics’ The Authority showing how superheroes could beat the big problems of war, famine and so on if they put their minds – and abilities – to it, some readers were asking why DC characters didn’t do the same (over at Marvel, the Squadron Supreme had given it a go on their alternate Earth). Wishing to address the question, but unable to use the Authority, Action Comics writer Joe Kelly came up with analogous characters, The Elite, headed by Manchester Black, a mentalist in both senses of the word. Superman put him in his place, but decades on it seems that our hero – whose powers have weakened with age – has had a chance of heart.
In the years since that Action Comics issue, DC has bought the Authority, meaning Manchester Black can join an updated version of the team he and his mates riffed on. But writer Grant Morrison and artist Mikel Janín aren’t bringing back the whole team – only Apollo and Midnighter have been annnounced for this four-issue mini series. They’re going to be joined by female Steel Natasha Irons from Superman’s corner of the DCU; Enchantress of Suicide Squad fame; Lightray, the Flash of the Tangent Universe; and Omac, from bad crossovers. Together, they will change the world.
Cards on the table, given the number of telepaths around the DC Universe, I can’t for a second buy that Superman would bring in a sociopath who has tried to kill him and his family multiple times. Yes, Superman likes giving folk a shot at redemption, but even Black finds the idea nuts, quoting Amazing Grace.
But, Morrison is a terrific writer and has to have a plan… meanwhile, the fireworks between the serene Superman and the incredulous, impertinent Black are fun. The other characters don’t appear this time, but hopefully will be around by the start of next issue – I’d hate to see the entire mini devoted to the gathering of the team rather than the team getting on with stuff. Actually, a page of villains – we know they’re villains cos they’ve obviously not paid their electric bill – hints heavily that such won’t be the case.
So who do we have? Eclipso at far right. Perhaps Black’s old pal Coldcast at the back. The General? Ice gone bad? Dr Sivana after gender reassignment? A bulked-up Kryptonite Man?
This series was originally going to arise from DC’s proposed 5G timeline, which would have seen Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and others appear in-world at the time of their real-world publishing debuts. Meaning the older Superman here – although apparently he’s still ageing more slowly than the rest of us – could conceivably have met Jack Kennedy.
Actually, he did, back on Earth One, in Action Comics #309, which was, unfortunately but unavoidably, published just after Kennedy was killed.
‘Who can I trust?’ As they said back in the Silver Age, ‘How ironic’?
With the Superman currently being published not having been around since 1938, there’s a quick fudge.
Lost in time? There’s a lot of it about right now… I don’t know why Morrison bothered with this – having worked hard to reestablish DC’s parallel worlds in their Multiversity series they should take advantage – present this as a story of a Superman on an Earth similar to the post-Crisis one.
Anyway, this comic is loads of fun. Details such as Superman’s exercise routine to stave off the effects of ageing, and changed public attitudes towards him, intrigue. Superman is charming with a bit of Golden Age edge, which is appropriate as he’s ready to go outside the law. Oh, and there’s a Phantom Zone breakout, giving Black the choice of helping Superman or, well, freezing to death in the Arctic wastes. Plus, there’s an appearance by one of my favourite Kryptonian beasties.
A scene showing Black being rounded on by the authorities is dragged out somewhat, but this is a 30pp story, and it motivates one of Janín’s most eye-popping pages.
Ah yes, the art. Janín never disappoints. His storytelling is exemplary, his individual compositions excellent and his action sequences thrilling. He knows how to give Superman a dramatic entrance.
OK, it’s very Marvel movie, but by cracky, it works – weaker or not, this is not a Man of Steel with whom you would mess. The one tweak I’d have asked for as editor would be to avoid a strong keyline on Black’s purple crop – the lack of same made him especially striking in his debut.
Janín’s Superman is beyond striking, ridiculously handsome and slick in his new outfit featuring Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come ‘S’ shield. And while Jordie Bellaire’s glowing tones are a boon throughout, the light-blue tone she gives Superman’s eyes really stand out. On the lettering side, Steve Wands beings his usual class to proceedings. And thanks, too, to editors Diego Lopez and Jamie S Rich for sharp steering.
Janín’s cover is classy, with Superman looking very much in control. I wonder how long that will last, given the characters he’s throwing in with. I’ll definitely be back next month to find out.