With DC's line-wide Rebirth publishing initiative, arguably no single character has benefited more from sweeping status quo changes than Superman.
The Man of Steel has struggled to connect with readers for years, and a five-year malaise following DC's 2011 reboot The New 52 didn't improve the situation. There were intermittent moments of solid storytelling during the half-decade during which Superman wore a high collar and his tights looked like armor, but overall it was...fine. Nothing to write home about.
That, of course, is the kiss of death in long-running superhero comics, arguably worse than actually being bad. And as longtime DC honcho Dan DiDio has been quoted as saying, the publisher's fortunes are often closely tied with Superman. When he succeeds, so do they. For much of the last five years, the publisher has struggled to find its footing in the marketplace, with reviews being no kinder than sales.
Even before the reboot, Superman has not been a major hit for DC in years. Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns had runs that connected with the audience, but both were fairly short-lived and, in the case of Johns's, often truncated by scheduling conflicts (Johns co-wrote a chunk of his Superman stories with Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner and those stories came out...let's say deliberately).
So when Rebirth happened, the pre-Flashpoint Superman was restored as the lead in the titles (along with his wife Lois and their new son), and Batman V Superman-inspired imagery started to dominate the promotional art, the market wasn't entirely prepared for fan enthusiasm. The Rebirth line sold out for the first few months all around, but the Superman titles, in particular, were not only selling out but they were being grossly under-ordered, according to at least two different retailers who spoke with ComicBook.com. Simply said, Superman hadn't had nearly this kind of bump out of the last few big status quo changes, so using past trends as a guide, retailers were ordering low and running out of the books in a few hours.
So what's all the excitement about? Why should you be reading these titles?
Look, Jurgens gets this character.
In 2012, ComicBook.com named Jurgens as one of the top ten best Superman writers and Superman artists of all time. Around that time, he had stepped up to replace George Perez as the writer/artist on the New 52 Superman title -- a role that didn't last very long. At the time, there was a sense that Jurgens as a creator may have had too much pre-Flashpoint baggage to be an effective creator in the "forget everything you thought you knew" era of the early New 52.
But when Superman: Lois and Clark launched just after Convergence, it became clear that 15 years after the last time he was the ongoing writer of the Superman titles, Jurgens still had a handle on what made the classic version of Superman special...and when the Lois and Clark Superman was brought in to replace his now-deceased New 52 variant, Jurgens carrying over was an obvious move for DC to make.
And it was the right one. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are turning in an exciting run on Superman, but it's Jurgens's Action Comics that captures the feeling of history and legacy (and the classic Superman flavor) that got so many long-term fans excited when they heard the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel (and wife, and son) would be returning to the DC Universe.
It also helps that in an era where the Big Two are basking in '90s nostalgia, Jurgens was the definitive Superman writer/artist of the '90s, and so a lot of the characters and concepts that both he and the Tomasi/Gleason team have been playing with are things that Jurgens himself either created or contributed greatly to.
THE ART TEAMS
Patrick Gleason has been knocking it out of the park on Superman, and while there hasn't been as consistent a team on Action Comics, the three that are rotating -- with pencillers Patrick Zircher, Tyler Kirkham, and Stephen Segovia -- have had a consistent look and feel that's surprising given the fact that, on the whole, those artists doin't actually draw all that much alike.
It's a testament to the creative team's commitment to making the twice-monthly experiment work, and to making the trade paperback collections feel like a cohesive whole.
Over on the Superman side, there's also fan-favorite artist Doug Mahnke, whose best-known work is probably the Action Comics story "What's So Funny 'Bout Truth, Justice, and the American Way?," a story translated to film in Superman vs. The Elite.
All in all, it's a murderer's row of talent who have been doing some of their best work together and the result is a pair of books that look great, even though they're coming out every couple of weeks.
Jonathan Kent, the baby born at the end of Convergence: Superman #2, has turned out to be one of those great character finds you just can't wait to see really pop.
In Superman: Lois and Clark, Jonathan (now 10 years old, because of the way Superman, Lois, and Jon were returned to the post-Flashpoint timeline) was precocious and curious -- but also starting to figure out that there was something a little different about him. By the time he figured out that he was not only "super" but that his father was (a) Superman, he was ecstatic.
That's made his transition into Superboy a ton of fun. So far he's had relatively few missions and nobody much knows that Superman has a son (really only Batman, Robin, Alfred, and Wonder Woman, as far as we can tell), but the excitement he brings to the idea of being a superhero is the kind of thing that everyone praises a character like Cisco for on The Flash.
When Rebirth happened, the big things that they kept saying were being restored to the DC Universe were history, legacy, and a sense that every story -- no matter what your favorite one is -- "matters."
This is why the original trailer for Rebirth included things like Guy Gardner in his "Warrior" form, a version of the character beloved by few and that only lasted a few years.
Nowhere is this more true than when you run into stories featuring Superman and the Wally West Flash, two characters imported from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, with their memories largely intact.
Wally, though, is a bit of a tragic figure: he doesn't seem to remember his kids at all, and his wife, the love of his life...doesn't remember him. Up to now, he's just kind of touched the people closest to him and Speed Force lightning has restored their memories of him...but in Linda's case, that hasn't happened.
Superman, meanwhile, gets not only the love of his life, but also their son who, as previously discussed, now has powers. It's family, it's character progression, it's history, and it's legacy.
All wrapped up around the superhero who most deserves to embody all those things.
After five years of Lois Lane being relegated largely to the background when DC decided that the New 52 Lois and Clark couldn't have a romance right away, the character has made a big comeback in the post-Lois and Clark status quo shift.
The New 52's Lois is gone, having apparently died in Superwoman, and so Superman's wife Lois Lane is getting a bit of a reboot herself. She's a hard-hitting journalist in Action Comics and a wife at home in Superman, while still feeling like she's being consistently characterized. It's the best Lois we've had in quite some time.
The feel of the Superman titles is a difficult one to nail down.
Superman has so much power, and means so much to the DC Universe as a whole, that his tales are by default bigger and more ambitious than those of most DC superheroes.
Of course, "event fatigue" is a thing, and not just for marketing reasons. When the stakes are always incredibly high, when everything is always dialed up to eleven, eventually it stops feeling important.
This is why things like stories involving Lois and Jon and the "day at the county fair" issue of Superman are so important. They help keep things in perspective, and they keep the book feeling "widescreen" when it should. If you watch every movie in IMAX then eventually they aren't all amazing -- your neck just hurts. And that's what many Superman writers deal with. Tomasi, Gleason, and Jurgens have found a sweet spot where they can pull the eject cord on heading to space or flitting through the multiverse to deal with character drama like Lois returning to the Daily Planet.
But the little, character-driven moments never entirely take over the books. Superman and Action Comics are still, at their heart, stories about Superman, and while the writers have been careful not to let the scope get so so consistently massive that it's just white noise, they've also taken care not to undersell tales featuring one of the most powerful characters in DC's superhero canon.
DIVERSITY OF STORYTELLING
Dan Jurgens has been handling stories that feel "classic," in the sense that they could have fit into any era of Superman. A battle with Doomsday; conflicts with Lex Luthor; a mysterious new Clark Kent; a trip into space to rescue a human wrongly accused by alien executioners.
Tomasi and Gleason, meanwhile, have been telling the kinds of stories that tend to be big, spotlight events. They've tied into The Multiversity and The New Frontier already, and had a one-and-done story about the "Superman Family" at a county fair that got rave reviews.
The combination of the two -- the consistent excellence of Action Comics's day-to-day Superman stories and the bombastic energy and impressive creativity of Superman's big-picture battles -- has crafted an identity for this era of the Super-books that's hard not to love, regardless of what KIND of Superman story you like.
Raise your hand if you were skeptical about the whole Lex Luthor-as-a-superhero-in-armor-from-Apokolips thing.
...Yeah, we thought so, too. And frankly, we're still eager for the charade to be over so we can see what the real long game has been.
That said, his portrayal both in Action Comics, where he's a functional co-lead with Superman, and in Superwoman, where his sister has been the primary antagonist, has been great, layered stuff with a lot to like.
Not that there's a lot to like in Lex, mind you -- just in the portrayal. Which is how we like it.
A SUPPORTING CAST
A supporting cast is kind of the holy grail for a lot of '80s and '90s comic book readers at this point. The norm has been to have your characters so bogged down in the supehreroics that they really don't get to do anything or spend time with anyone outside of the costume.
Superman, especially when he's married, is a bit of an exception to that rule. Yeah, Jon has powers, but he's primarily Superman's kid. He's also got friends from school and a neighbor kid he plays with. Both Lois and Superman have work friends, although at the moment with Superman and Clark Kent being two disparate individuals the Man of Steel himself has been a full-time dad, superhero, and farmer rather than working at the newspaper.
Beyond even that, though, Peter Tomasi spent the last arc of The New 52 Superman and the first bit of Superman's Rebirth establishing the fact that Superman was going to be a part of Metropolis again. We have re-encountered Bibbo in Superman and Maggie Sawyer in Action Comics. And it's kind of great.
A SENSE OF DIRECTION
Many of these things are expanding. That's the nature of comics, right? It's a game of non-stop one-upsmanship. And in the case of Superman, what seems to be expanding the most is the mythology. In March, we'll get "Superman Reborn," which promises to deal with a number of outstanding plot threads that have been here since Rebirth started. It also will apparently give us some insight into Mr. Oz, the maybe-villain-maybe-not-but-definitely-creepy dude who has been hanging around the books since Geoff Johns's run two years ago.
(Most readers expect the big revelation to be that he's Watchmen's Ozymandias.)
In any event, one of the great things about these titles is that they started out note-perfect and have managed to stay on message and on point while their stories and worlds got bigger and more ambitious. It's a rare comic that can do that -- rarer still when it's trying to tell new stories with a character older than many of our grandparents.