Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writers: Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Penciller: Patrick Gleason
Inker: Mick Gray
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letters: Rob Leigh
Alex Lu: We took a few weeks off from Peter Tomasi’s and Patrick Gleason’s Superman to focus on some of the other DC Rebirth books that were coming out, but both Kyle and I adored the first two issues of the series so much that we felt it was worth checking in on. Disappointingly though, what I found in Superman #4 was not all that impressive to me.
Now, this may be a product of my relative newness to the DC Universe, but the Eradicator has not rubbed off on me since he appeared at the end of the second issue of this series. In this issue, he’s still hellbent on his quest to restore the Kryptonian race by protecting Kal-El aka Clark Kent and eliminating “impurities” such as Clark’s wife Lois and their half-Kryptonian son, Jon. This is a fine, albeit less novel, storyline than the superpowered bildungsroman we were initially presented with back in issue one, but ultimately my problem with it lies in the execution.
Honestly, I could not comprehend what was going on in this book. I have a general sense of what’s happening in each scene, but very little of it is explained or visualized in a digestible way. For example, about halfway through this issue the Eradicator explodes and unleashes what we’re told by Tomasi’s and Gleason’s script are the “souls of Krypton,” preserved in the Eradicator all this time. The explosion is visualized by a torrent of hellfire exploding in every direction from the Eradicator’s chest on an admittedly gorgeous spread that’s punctuated by three glistening eyeballs and the Kent family seemingly being obliterated. It’s a frankly surreal moment that’s never quite explained. How did Kryptonian souls end up in the Eradicator? What sort of sentience do they have? Why could they aid Kal-El and his family later in the story? Why, instead of being obliterated, did everyone get teleported into a bar through a fragment of Kryptonite? It’s all a mystery in my mind.
I left this issue feeling discombobulated. I was a huge fan of Gleason’s art– especially his faces– at the start of Superman, but the very first panel of this chapter flies in the face of the standard of detail he has established. Clark’s head looks like a statue of Easter Island and Lois’s facial proportions in that panel feel wrong as well. More egregiously in general though, the art does not flow in a way that grounds the story. Jon goes from one end of the Fortress of Solitude to the other in an instant to help his dad beat up the Eradicator. Lois travels through abstract fiery landscapes to go from one end of the bar to another, giving the reader no sense of where she is in space at any given moment. There are still some gorgeous spreads and single panels in this book, but they feel more like standalone art pieces than they do a part of the story. It all goes to say that the art makes as little sense to me as the script.
Maybe this distinct feeling of surreal angst I’m experiencing is just limited to me. I really don’t know anything about the Eradicator so I need your guidance, Kyle– have I missed something?
Kyle Pinion: We’re at odds again here, surprise surprise. The major takeaway for this issue for me is this: Bibbo Bibbowski is back. As a young lad, one of my favorite bits of Superman’s ever expanding 90’s cast was this big lummox that was basically Popeye if he happened to be really obsessed with Superman in an endearing way. I might argue that the lack of that character, and just what he stands for: someone who admires Superman as the honorable character he is, rather than what corporate interests might want him to be, highlights just how little Superman has felt like Superman in the past 5 or more years. Why have a character that’s driven by the ideals displayed by the title hero if the creative forces behind him don’t necessarily value those same traits in Clark? That’s been one of the best part of Rebirth, the restoration of the best versions of these characters, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think Superman was ever better than the Byrne-Jurgens-Ordway-Simonson-Stern etc era.
Anyway, that rant aside, I was very glad to see Bibbo back and doing Bibbo-like things. And I didn’t really have an issue with the Eradicator’s role in the story per se. He’s a pretty one dimensional character, and he’s serving the purpose he basically always serves, which is acting as the vanguard for Kryptonian preservation. I think thematically that works with the coming of age tale that Tomasi and Gleason promised in the first issue. Jon has to reconcile his two halves, and what better way to do that than with a threat that stands in direct opposition with that very effort?
Now, I do understand your concerns with the spirits/ghostly presence of the Kryptonians that reside within the Eradicator. As a story, it plays a little weird, and I’ve never found that “weird” has ever really suited Tomasi and Gleason comics given that their strengths tend to lie within the heart-warming and personable, with a dash of adventure. That said, the moment that Clark, Jon and Lois meet these phantoms, there’s mention of their being whole again once separated, and when they’re suddenly reabsorbed by the Eradicator, he in turn claims that “We Are One”. That idea of being whole dovetails nicely with the ongoing struggle Jon faces as a child of two worlds. Just what lesson will he learn from the remnants of his paternal heritage and how will that impact the environment that he has to live on in over in Smallville as he tries to become his own person. There’s rich stuff there, it’s just a little more high-octane than we’re used to given how our expectations were set by the much slower, more meditative initial issue or two.
As for the art, I’m not sure I see a terribly big difference between what Gleason was doing here and what he did two weeks ago or more. Every panel I found myself gawking at, as I tend to do with the man’s work and I didn’t feel like anything was terribly unclear or unattractive. That double page punch spread of Clark and Jon was a real winner especially.
I like being kept on my toes, and I have to admit that Tomasi and Gleason are doing just that. I love this book. Holy cow, I’m just the king of positivity today. That’s a turn of events. Wait, hold on, there’s gotta be something I hated…
Alex: In a lot of ways, I do agree with your analysis of this issue, Kyle. I don’t have the inbuilt fondness for Bibbo that you do but I did find the careful management of his shrine to Superman very endearing. I even think the thematic presence of the Eradicator and its relationship to Jon’s journey makes total sense.
I just think this book has lost its grounding. The thing I loved about Tomasi’s and Gleason’s Superman when it started was that it was incredibly heartfelt with no pretense. The big story beats for the issue were the aftermath of a lightning strike burning the Kent family barn and Jon losing control of his powers in a fit of rage and killing his cat Goldie. It felt like a very human story despite the obvious supernatural elements. At the time, I wondered how Jon’s young neighbor would react to seeing such a display of power. Now I just wonder where she is.
I do think that Gleason’s art, in general, still has the same sheen it did at the start of the series. However the script has become so abstract at times that it feels like Gleason is struggling to convey exactly what is going on. In the scene where the Eradicator is about to detonate itself to kill Jon and Lois at the end of the issue, the lost souls of Krypton gather to stop the Eradicator and help Superman’s family escape. They do so and it seems like the Eradicator explodes in the last panel of the page, but then Superman immediately decides he needs to fly his family to the moon in order to save them from the threat that has seemingly removed itself from existence. I’m not saying that my interpretation of the events here is completely accurate– the Eradicator may still pose a clear and present danger. However, I think the fact that I actually have to interpret this book’s scenes is a problem.
I see the temptation to go big with Superman– he’s a huge icon and has enormous powers that a writer and artist can pair up against threats unmanageable for any other hero. At the same time though, I feel like Superman is at his best when he’s dealing with the less tangible, but equally impactful, things in life. We know that he’ll be able to save the world from the latest alien threat, but can he salvage the way that people see him? It seemed like Tomasi and Gleason were interested in asking those more abstract questions, giving Superman an identity distinct from the huge bombs being thrown left and right in the current run of Action Comics. I’m willing to keep reading this book in the hopes that the Eradicator detour ends soon and we can get back down to brass tacks, but I’m giving this issue of Superman a pass. How about you, Kyle?
Kyle: Easily this is the most excited I’ve been about the character in quite some time, so I’m all in for more adventures. This is an issue that utilizes big Superman storytelling beats to still serve the small scale arc without, in my opinion, losing the emotional resonance that pulls it all together. Also if I didn’t keep going, I wouldn’t know what’s going to happen on the moon! And who doesn’t love a good “Superman on the moon” story? Buy it and bask in some really fun Superman storytelling again!
Final Verdict: Browse (Alex passes, Kyle recommends)