By Jarrod Jones. The Death of Jonathan Kent. The Advent of Christopher Kent. Secret Origin. Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. Retcons and reimaginings. Reboots and bold new directions. Every time Geoff Johns throws himself at Superman, something interesting is bound to happen. And just as often, give or take a couple of years, those interesting somethings are either tossed out entirely, completely forgotten, or both.
So it should be no surprise to anyone that I approach the finale to Men of Tomorrow with trepidation. That whatever changes writer Geoff Johns and artist John Romita, Jr. bring to the world of Superman are going to be met with a jaded, “yeah, sure” sneer. Mostly because, whenever DC applies the words “New Power! New Costume!” to Superman, I typically think of this. And more often, given time, none of it really matters, anyway.
So I remind myself that we’re living in the New52. Superman already has a new uniform that I readily detest, and aside from his lack of outer undergarments, the only other severe physical change to the Man of Steel has been his equally abhorrent hairstyle. If Geoff Johns wants to improve upon any of it (or even all of it), there’s only one place to go, and that’s up, up, and away. I’m one of Superman’s biggest fans. Of course I believe in hope.
So after seven plodding installments, Men of Tomorrow has finally come to an end. And like several other Geoff Johns Super-sagas, it brings “world-shattering changes” and “paradigm shifts” and other hyperbolic things that ought to matter. The pleasant news is that it mostly succeeds. (The great news is that it actually shipped in a more timely fashion than the last time the DC CCO paired up with a noted Marvel illustrator.) The obnoxious news is that it took seven issues just to get Johns and Romita started.
That’s the rub about any Geoff Johns yarn – he’ll tell you a story, sure, but he’s not going to merely plant seeds for the next story down the line, no, no… he’s going to plant a fully-grown oak tree. One that you, as the devoted reader, are obligated to climb. By the time Superman #38 wraps up, the reader is left with enough lingering plot threads (who is the Machinist? Who watches Superman? Jimmy Olsen — huh?) that remain unfulfilled that they have to hang around for next month’s issue.
Is that good storytelling or shrewd business? I’m not sure even Mr. Johns knows anymore.
Men of Tomorrow may have a few things stacked against it (a meandering storyline, an adversary who would be obvious to anyone familiar with archetype), but one thing it has never suffered is a lacking in John Romita and Klaus Janson’s reliably fantastic artwork. (For two men who spent so much time making the Marvel Universe’s New York City feel adequately filthy for Spider-Man, the men sure know how to make Superman and Metropolis look as radiant and inspiring as possible.) Johns is a writer who knows how to script to an artist’s strengths, and Men of Tomorrow is another fine example of an artist fulfilling the writer’s ambitions. It just might be the most gorgeously-rendered Johns tale since he and Ivan Reis rolled out The Sinestro Corps War over seven years ago.
Then there’s the small matter of Superman’s new power. While Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance said it first, it bears repeating: additional superpowers aren’t exactly ‘new’ to the Last Son of Krypton. So is ‘super flare’ the hero’s greatest power since heat vision? Well, maybe. We certainly find out that it’s the most taxing: after the Metropolis Marvel expels all his solar reserves into Ulysses, we find out (through an abrupt visit from the Batman) that this new power drains our Superman dry for an entire day, leaving him – as the Dark Knight so eloquently puts it – “as human as I am.”
So it’s likely that super flare will probably become a handy weapon for either Superman or the Justice League in the near future, perhaps one that’s used against Apokolips in the upcoming, Johns-scripted Darkseid Wars. That portends frightening things for a world that will have to do without a Superman for twenty-four hours, should the hero ever find the need to use it. (Dammit, Johns, you have me riveted.)
Even with all of these speculative nuggets to chew on, Johns, Romita, Janson, and company provide a couple more things for us kids to swallow: a new costume that veers ever closer to its Post-Crisis forebear, and a game-changing (?) revelation for both Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, one that may have been more impactive had Johns not dumped all of the dialogue-heavy exposition into this issue’s epilogue. It’s a rush job that makes the glut of Men of Tomorrow feel wholly unnecessary. But if that’s what it takes to set things right in Superman’s world, I suppose that I’m all for it. The question is: will Johns follow through with this new paradigm? Is there truly a reason to be excited about Superman again?
Clark Kent is once again the star reporter for the Daily Planet. All is well in Metropolis. So that’s something.
If Johns has proven anything with Men of Tomorrow, it’s that maybe change isn’t so bad after all. Now, perhaps Geoff’ll get around to having Wonder Woman dump Superman. Or maybe he’ll get Clark and Lois together. Or he’ll resurrect the Kents, and turn this New52 into a place that isn’t so bad after all… (And my Never-Ending Battle continues…)
Written by Geoff Johns.
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.
Colored by Laura Martin, Ulises Arreola, Dan Brown, and Wil Quintana.
7 out of 10