THIS WEEK: DC’s Infinite Frontier era fully kicks off with the first slate of titles including Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Phil Hester’s Superman #29.
Note: the review below contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Writer: Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Eric Gapstur
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
I’m something of a Superman fan. Have been most of my life at this point. He and his family make up a good chunk of my favorite characters. He stands for the things I believe in most, and I’m always able to find a sense of hope from Superman stories. That’s not to say that they’re always good, there are large chunks of Superman where it’s just been unreadable for me. But, the beauty of a character that has been around for over eighty years, is that even when the current stories being told aren’t great, you can still go back to the ones you love, or even find more in the past you haven’t read yet to fall in love with all over again.
As DC shifts into the new (Infinite) Frontier, that means some changes coming for the characters that call the universe home. For Superman, part of that is saying goodbye to Brian Michael Bendis who had been writing the books for the last two years, and really, other than some hiccups here and there, did a pretty bang-up job of moving the family forward. Now he’s off to Justice League and Phillip Kennedy Johnson comes on board as the new writer for both Superman and Action Comics. Johnson hasn’t done a lot of superhero work yet, doing much more in the realm of fantasy including his Black Label book The Last God, and the closest thing he has done to Superman, his Empyre: Captain America mini-series last summer, didn’t jive with me at all. So when he was announced as the incoming writer for both books, I was a little worried that it might not be for me.
Those fears were alleviated quite a bit as I dug into the meat of his Future State titles, able to see that his grasp on the character and what made him great was stronger than I had assumed. Part of my concern was that as an active-duty Army officer, Johnson may push Superman a little too far into the “American Way” part of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” To me, while that’s a part of Superman’s motto, it’s one that’s easy to misuse. The American Way that Superman represents is hope through adversity, and a strive to be your best, not necessarily American governmental policy.
To his credit, Johnson has addressed this exact fear, both with fellow critic Robert Secundus:
First, I can promise you you won’t need to worry about seeing a jingoist Superman from me, ever. Yes, I am an active duty soldier, and I consider myself a patriot, but the kind of patriot who wants his nation to be the best version of itself, not the kind who believes his 2/
— Phillip Kennedy Johnson (@PhillipKJohnson) October 12, 2020
And then again on Word Balloon where I posed a similar question. With these fears subsiding, and fresh of House of El which I absolutely loved, I went into his Superman with an open mind. And I’m glad I did because right out of the gate Johnson and Phil Hester tell a wonderful story, about the weird type of fatherhood that Clark has been thrust into. His son has grown up, but without him there to be a guide, and it’s disheartening and disorienting. Beyond that, even when Jon returned, he didn’t spend a lot of time with Lois and Clark before going off to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. The father aspect of Superman has been pretty much a non-factor during all of Bendis’s run on the character.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with this new run, as this issue is all about exploring that father-son dynamic, and looking at it from both sides. Yeah, Clark missed a lot of his son’s childhood, but Jon also missed the guidance of his father in that same time period. And now that he’s been to the future, there’s just this specter of dread hanging over him, as he knows his father won’t be around forever. There’s an emotional weight to the story that Johnson and Hester are telling, and it’s one that makes the characters instantly more relatable and humanized. If I wasn’t sold on this new era of Superman before this issue, I sure am after reading Superman #29.
- I’m an absolute sucker for Bibbo Bibbowski, so the backup story in Superman #29 by Sean Lewis and Sami Basri was also an absolutely delightful treat.
- I actually quite liked Joker. I’m very surprised by this because I do not really want to read about that character again for a few years, but Tynion made it work because the book is more of a Jim Gordon book.
- Speaking of the Batman family, I absolutely loved Batman: Urban Legends. All three stories were a blast to read, and I’m really digging the anthology approach here.
- I was also very impressed with Wonder Woman #770. It’s an interesting place to pick up that story, and one that begs to be explored more over the coming months.
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