It’s 1985 and Superman is preparing for the end. Something is happening and he’s not fighting, he’s saying his goodbyes.
Flashback to 1963 and a young Clark Kent can’t wait to leave Smallville and make his mark on the world.
Jonathan Kent tells his son about his time fighting in the Second World War – out there in the big, wide world he was called on to do some terrible things. Is staying home, and staying safe – staying sane? – really so bad? That same evening Clark, Jonathan and mom Martha hear terrible news from the TV – President John F Kennedy has been murdered.
With JFK dead, the uncomfortable stalemate between the USA and USSR worsens, and when Soviet nuclear subs are reported around US waters, Clark can’t sit back any longer.
Meanwhile, rival business magnates are hoping to sell the US military on their plans to deal with the growing threat of all-out nuclear war.
Clark manages to stop the immediate outbreak of World War Three and finds someone – some thing – to teach him about his super-powers.
Soon, Clark finds himself a job at the Metropolis Daily Planet, inheriting the ‘Kooks and Kranks’ beat as reporter Lois Lane goes onto bigger things.
Clark’s new role leads to him meeting a man in a bar…
Pariah? I was not expecting him. Mind, there’s room for everything including the kitchen sink in this 80pp debut issue of a new mini-series from writer Mark Russell and artist Mike Allred. To be honest, I found the length exhausting… yes, Russell’s alternate take on DCU/real world history intrigues – Lex Luthor is on excellent form, while the war stories of Jonathan Kent and, later, Sam Lane, are hard hitting – but there’s relatively little Superman.
Also, DC already has a definitive take on the middle years of the century in Darwyn Cooke’s wonderful New Frontier. By the end of this issue Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Batman have joined Superman as public heroes, making the comparisons even harder to resist. And where New Frontier filled me with wonder, Superman: Space Age leaves me feeling a little down… despite the odd pretty good joke, and musings on hope, there’s something melancholy about Russell’s story. And while I always find Allred’s art fascinating to look at, his people appear so very very sad, haunted even. There’s a great speech on Hope that Russell gives Jonathan but delivering it, he look like a zombie.
There are some great moments – that first image of Clark flying over the porch is something else, there’s a real sense of defying gravity. Lois looks wonderful. Sixties Luthorcorp is sensational. There’s a very clever visual showing Superman travelling at speed. Heck, the only thing I find objectionable in the art is Clark’s baggy shorts, which are hideous.
There is one thing I really hate in the script, and if you’ve been around this blog awhile you can likely guess – the all-singing, all-dancing Jor-El hologram. I ruddy well hate the interactive holo-Jor-El we’ve had in pretty much every version of Superman since the Smallville TV series (if memory serves, Superman the Movie stuck to tape recordings).
Seriously? No wonder Jor-El couldn’t save Krypton from being blown up, he was spending decades setting up Speak and Spell Dad. I’d be more comfortable if Russell just said Jor-El was a ghost.
I like the cover a lot. A puzzled Man of Steel, a sense of doom and the actual Superman logo, which DC have barely been using over the last couple of years. It’s not only the classic look, it’s period appropriate, with the ‘U’ chiselled rather than rounded off (that version of the masthead debuted in the mid-Seventies). A pat on the back to publication designer Kenny Lopez. Kudos top to colourist Laura Allred and letterer Dave Sharpe for wonderful work throughout the issue.
There’s a lot to like here – a heartfelt script, superbly crafted art and interestingly tweaked takes on beloved characters. And it’s amazing value, at about twice the price of a regular DC comic with five times the page count. In the end, though, I admired this comic rather than loved it; I’ll be buying next issue but I won’t be chomping at the bit waiting for it.