By Jarrod Jones. I can’t imagine there will be much argument when I say that the Superman books have suffered a severe drop in quality since the inception of the New52. (To be fair, things weren’t much better before.) Even when they boasted the storied talent of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales on Action Comics, and George Pérez and Jesús Merino (and later, Nicola Scott) on Superman, the books have had a tough time selling the newer, younger, brasher Clark Kent. The fact that the two comics were (for a time) narratively separated by five years from each other, compounded by Pérez’s noted aggravation from editorial confusion as a by-product of that separation, there was no wonder why both Action and Superman seemed like a chaotic mess.
As time has carried on, there hasn’t been much improvement: inter-book crossovers with Superboy and Supergirl for the critically maligned H’el On Earth didn’t whet anybody’s appetite, and adding more frustration and confusion by making the pivotal moments of Superman’s life take place outside of his very own books (and placing them instead in Justice League and Superman/Wonder Woman) have only continued to marginalize the Man of Steel’s titles even further. Something needed to change. Someone needed to save Superman.
While change has arrived rather abruptly (dropped right in the middle of another Super-crossover), change has been widely accepted in the form of a new creative team: DC Comics’ CCO Geoff Johns is back to chronicle the adventures of Superman, and artist John Romita, Jr. has made the leap from Marvel to their Distinguished Competition. The transfusion has been the subject of much press and fanboy anticipation, and the first two issues of their collaboration – titled rather colorlessly as Men Of Tomorrow – have injected some much-needed optimism into the otherwise troubled Super-books. But how has Men Of Tomorrow fared?
Three issues into the run, and it’s as Johns and Romita have promised: we have the New52 Superman as he was originally sold to us. He’s youthful and optimistic, assertive but more than a little naive. Johns has already spent a good amount of time on Superman with Clark Kent, a character who has arguably ceased to matter in the Super-books, and it’s through Kent that Men Of Tomorrow has really worked. With Ma and Pa Kent indefinitely relegated to an ethereal plane and Lois Lane playing second fiddle to Wonder Woman, Clark’s personal life has been set in the periphery, and Johns is visibly attempting to rectify that. The strongest parts of Superman #34 are found with Clark learning that he is not so different from the super-man Ulysses, a newly-introduced character from the Fourth Dimension who discovers (in tandem with Superman) that his origins are not so different from the Man of Steel.
Giving Ulysses a similar, Earth-bound origin is something of a tired conceit; the cosmically misplaced, nigh-invulnerable and mild-mannered doppelganger is nothing new to the Superman books – Mon-El, Supergirl, and even Lor-Zod (Chris Kent, from Johns’ pre-New52 tale, Last Son) have all spawned from the desire to create equals for Superman to pal around with. That Ulysses is seemingly as benevolent as our own Last Son of Krypton initiates the typically jaded knee-jerk suspicions from any Superman fan, but issue #34 maneuvers around the expected showdown between Superman and Ulysses by turning their fracas on its ear.
With reliably gorgeous, fluid artwork from John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson (with a vivid infusion of color by Laura Martin), the brief fisticuffs between Superman and his strange visitor have the look and feel of what happens when titans tussle. Romita’s pencils have always complimented the heroes he’s been tasked to render, and his Superman has an elegant movement, while his frequently red-glowing eyes give this iteration of the Man of Steel an other-worldly demeanor. Ulysses has the look and feel of Marvel’s own Superman avatar, The Sentry, and though Romita’s instantly recognizable linework doesn’t do much to differentiate between DC or Marvel’s men of tomorrow, Johns keeps Ulysses very much his own character. (Though Ulysses seems to be keeping any intentions beyond acclimating to his new home close to the vest, and one can’t shake the feeling that another shoe is going to drop in the near future.)
Superman #34 is a well-conceived entry in the Men Of Tomorrow saga, rife with moments imbued with real emotion (the time spent between Superman and Ulysses’ biological parents made this writer yearn for the return of Ma and Pa Kent in a very potent way), and real intrigue (who is the Machinist, and how is he connected to Ulysses?). The cover blasts The Machinations Of The Machinist!, and though the book does a fine job of introducing this new threat, real answers look like they will have to wait. With this much going on at once, Superman’s life is very busy all of a sudden, and the adventures going on in Superman are the most thrilling the Man of Steel has faced since DC underwent their chaotic company-wide reboot. Men Of Tomorrow shows that in order to improve Superman in this post-Flashpoint universe, it’s time to inject new ideas. To continue clinging to the past – and everything that goes with it – means that the Superman books are already doomed.
Written by Geoff Johns.
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.
Colored by Laura Martin.
7 out of 10