THIS WEEK: Superman – Space Age #1 arrives from Mark Russell and Mike Allred, bringing the start of a grandiose and ambitious story that seems ready to reprocess the character’s long history. Plus, Detective Comics #1062 marks the start of a new, gothic run on the title.
Note: This piece 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: Mark Russell
Artist: Michael Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Superman – Space Age #1 has one of the more interesting creative teams to tackle a new DC Comics series in some time. Writer Mark Russell is a singular voice in the DC stable, with a narrative style that blends a mix of funny satire with poignant monologuing that contextualizes the events on the page — be it within a story about superheroes or pop culture properties like The Flintstones. Meanwhile, Mike Allred (colored by his wife, Laura Allred) is almost equally singular, bringing to superheroes a kitschy aesthetic that blends pop art sensibilities with sterling and precise linework. The draw for this book, before even reading the concept, is in part seeing what kind of alchemy will result from the Russell-Allreds pairing.
And now that I’ve read this massive 80-plus-page issue, I can say that it is indeed that alchemy between the creative team that makes this an interesting comic. Everything in this book is done well, and its definitely imbued with the full talents of the creative team, making it engaging throughout. The concept of this comic, though, feels a bit hard to pin-down. This is a three-issue series, so what we get in this week’s book is a full 1/3 of it. On first blush, it feels like an alternate universe take on Superman and his history, in which the Man of Steel is affixed to the real life events of certain time periods. And it is certainly that. It is, however, also an effort to affix Superman’s history to DC Comics fictional continuity, too.
For example, in this comic we see Pa Kent serving in the marines during WWII, fighting in the Pacific Theater on the island of Saipan, and we see baby Kal-El arrive to the Kents not long after Pa returns from the war. We see glimpses of Superman growing up in real time, and we see him taking his first steps toward superhero-ing amid the backdrop of the Cold War. At the same time, from the first establishing caption on page one — 1985 — long-time DC readers will realize that this comic is building right up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that that will, indeed, be central to the story.
This real time concept mixed with comics continuity is an idea that has been done multiple times now at Marvel, with both Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Russell himself having worked on the latter. I’ve never been able to engage with those comics, which mostly just made me want to re-read the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee and Steve Ditko/Lee source material, rather than a new proximation. This book feels a little more interesting than that, since Superman’s history is longer and more fragmented than Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.
Within all this too, Superman – Space Age #1 plays loosely with what readers know about Superman’s back story, bringing newness to how he discovered the Fortress of Solitude and other things in his world, including the origin of Batman, altering what feels like maybe the single most established pillar of DC Comics continuity, ultimately giving this book an Elseworlds feel, at least within this first issue. And while there is an interesting novelty to it — and both the writing and art are unexpectedly well-executed — there’s an odd thing where that kind of whole cloth changing of fundamental DC backstory makes me a little nervous (I can hear the Internet grumbling as I read, but that’s a me issue).
And it all may end up being a conceptual mess, that potential does exist here. Still, I have to give this massive book a full recommendation. Regardless of the concept, it’s a real treat to read a Russell-Allred collaboration, especially one that feels as ambitious as this one.
Writer: Ram V.
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Ariana Maher
One thing I always prefer from DC Comics is that the main Batman title and Detective Comics be about as different as possible while still being about Batman and Gotham City. This can (and has over the years) take many forms. Recently, for example, Batman was about Bruce’s adventures outside of Gotham City, while Detective Comics focused on the supporting Bat-Family’s efforts to protect the home front. That’s a fine way to handle it, but with this first issue of a new run of Detective Comics, it feels like the creative team here wants to distinguish this title even further past that — and I for one love the result.
What we get with the start of this new run of Detective Comics is a comic that is starkly different from the main Batman title in everything from aesthetic, to thematic interests, to cover, to tone. This is a comic that leans full into the gothic side of Batman, taking an operatic approach to its Caped Crusader (literally opening with a Bat-opera). The end result is an issue that feels as risky as it does bold, and I know it won’t be to the liking of all readers (also, this is comics and nothing is ever to the liking of all readers, plus whenever someone doesn’t like a thing, they feel entitled to tell anyone who will listen about why, but I digress), yet I would encourage all readers to take a chance on it, because if it lands for you, it will really land.
What was really striking to me in this book was the artwork. Jokes are often made about how many Batman and Batman-related comics DC is currently publishing, and it is a lot, to be sure, but the upshot to that is we’re getting a glut of excellent Batman artwork. This week alone we got Darick Robertson and Diego Rodriguez delivering a sharp alien-flavored Batman mystery in Batman Fortress #3, while Jock served up the finale to a must-buy Black Label trade collection, with Batman: One Dark Night #3.
Even within all that excellence, the artwork by Rafael Albuquerque and Dave Stewart in Detective Comics #1062 stands out. It’s sharp and gritty and poetic, and quite unlike any other Batman art being published, at least in recent memory. I thought this was a gorgeous book.
The other quality I enjoyed about this comic was the restraint in the scripting by writer Ram V. I have started to increasingly grumble about overly-wordy superhero comics that step all over the art with skippable dialogue and captions. This could not be further from that. Detective Comics #1062 features a script that is confident, sparse, and hard-hitting, taking a less-is-more approach that highlights its excellent art and makes the words that are there feel more important.
All in all, this is a great comic, one that serves as an excellent and very different compliment to the main Batman run, itself also undergoing a recent new beginning.
- Action Comics #1045 keeps moving the excellent Warworld Saga forward, but I wanted to shout-out the back-up story in this one, specifically for the way it makes use of the wider Superman-family, including the always-rare appearance of Kong Keenan.
- I also enjoyed Aquamen #6 this week, which is one of the first in-continuity titles to address the Death of the Justice League. As I say here often, I’m a sucker for big summer superhero events, and that includes also being a sucker for fanning their stories out across other titles.
- Lastly, it has finally happened — I have tired of alternate DC Universe takes where the superheroes are just vampires, or technozombies, or dinosaurs, or — in this week’s case — mechs. These types of OTHER GENRE + SUPERHERO alternate DC takes have really started to have diminishing returns for me, to the point they feel entirely perfunctory and I might just bow out of any new ones altogether. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but that’s where I’m at.
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