Today saw the reality-altering conclusion to "Superman Reborn," the month-long story that rolled through Superman and Action Comics and pitted the Man of Steel against Mr. Mxyzptlk in a battle to keep his wife, his son, and everything that was only recently restored to him when the New 52 Superman seemingly died and was replaced by the pre-Flashpoint version of the Last Son of Krypton.
Even if you haven't, there are spoilers ahead for Action Comics #976, so be forewarned that from this point on, you should have read the comic (you can buy a copy right here and keep reading if you want) to continue.
The pacing on the first three issues of the four-part story couldn't have been better -- or so it seemed at the time. The fourth issue, today's Action Comics #976, is JAM-PACKED. Jurgens is deft at balancing character and spectacle, which makes the issue good, but it still feels a bit like there's a plot dump that could have been avoided...though it's frankly difficult to imagine how, without blowing all or part of the twist/big reveal before DC was ready.
Ultimately it does feel a little like it could have been a six-part story instead of a four-part one, but who knows? Fans are forever complaining about padding stories out to fill the trade paperback.
The biggest discussion of the issue will revolve around the continuity snarl created by the ending, of course. The very short version is that the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane were somehow "merged" with their New 52 counterparts, and the resultant characters have all of the memories of both versions. Those around them will also remember years of Lois and Clark being married and raising Jonathan. Continuity wonks will likely complain that it's another tweak to the character's history, making the timeline more complicated than it needs to be -- but we disagree.
In this case, it seems pretty obvious that the writers, backed into a corner, did exactly what they needed to do -- and what was best for the Superman mythology -- to get out of it.
Superman's appeal from 1987 until 2000 rested in no small part on the fact that they took cues from latter-day books like The New Teen Titans, The New Gods, and the best of the Marvel Age, and presented a lead character who had an evolution and a growth path. The "Triangle Era" was Superman at its most addictive -- coming out weekly, with tightly-woven continuity and a strong supporting cast, the books weren't everyone's cup of tea but they brought in a committed fan base, and in many cases, that era converted comics non-believers into lifelong fans.
For some, that version of Superman went away when the likes of Jeph Loeb and Mark Waid started to rewrite the history on the fly and writers began to soft-reboot the mythology to suit short-term story needs as early as 2000. For others who enjoyed the "evolved" Superman, they were able to roll with all of those tweaks and modifications as long as most of their favorite stories "counted," the biggest and most obvious being the marriage of Lois and Clark.
The New 52 blew up much of that mythology and alienated a lot of people who had been reading Superman for what at the time of The New 52's genesis would have been 25 years since the last full-on reboot. Many of the stories told with those characters, though, were on the face of them not bad stories, and fans who read The New 52 era and enjoyed it -- or even long-term fans who merely endured it -- in many cases felt a bit cheated by the return of the "Lois & Clark" Superman, even as people like me rejoiced.
Superman: Lois and Clark was one best Superman stories since the turn of the Century, and using that as a jumping-off point created a scenario where fans who agreed with that assessment were more excited, and invested in Superman, than they had been in years -- but a world that remembered Clark not as "the first, best superhero" but as the older, bulkier guy who replaced New 52 Superman seemed weird.
All told, the company made the right decision bringing the pre-Flashpoint Superman (and the marriage) back. Sales reflect that; reviews certainly do. Doing so, though, also potentially alienated the New 52 fans, and DC is in the business of selling as many books as they can. Allowing a vocal contingent of the fandom to wander off because "their" stories "didn't count" is bad business, and if you can find a dramatically compelling way to keep those readers, it's not just good business but it's also good storytelling.
There will be some people up in arms, of course. There will be New 52 fans who don't think this goes far enough to give them "their" character back, and there will be Lois Lane fans upset that she can feel like a bit of an afterthought in the whole Superman Red/Superman Blue of it all. There will be continuity purists who proclaim this is all too convoluted.
Those last people, by the way, are mostly wrong. Longtime readers are accustomed to this kind of thing -- and even if they don't like it they will generally understand and accept it if the books are good (which the Superman titles have been). Those who aren't longtime readers may not "get" what's going on in this particular story but going forward it eliminates the constant references to the "other" Superman and the need to clarify which version of the character people are talking about when relating information.
Where it's going to be a little shaky of course is just who knows what in the larger DC Universe. Do Superman and Lois remember their two "halves" being separate and living different lives? How do their respective paramours from the New 52 play into the now-merged backstory that means Superman and Lois have been married at least ten years?
This is both overthinking it -- we can't help but hum the MST3K mantra here -- and ignoring the fact that NOT immediately answering these questions opens up a lot of storytelling possibilities. Writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns have been climbing into little holes in the narrative, setting up camp, and blowing up everything we know about the characters for decades now -- and it seems to be working out alright for them. Even if Jurgens and Tomasi leave the broad strokes in place and don't get too down and dirty with the explanations, that just means they've left some of those holes for the next Geoff Johns. Or, Rao knows, for this one. It's not like he'll stay away from Superman forever.
(No "Superman Forever" -- the story where Superman Red and Superman Blue were reunited in 1998 -- reference intended.)
And frankly, for all the grousing about Batman's wide-open backstory and how it "didn't seem to gel" with everyone else's timeline at the start of The New 52, I think we can all collectively agree that having Scott Snyder's run on Batman fill in some of those gaps was a pretty sweet deal.
So, Action Comics #976: Not perfect. But very good. And as a resolution to both the "Superman Reborn" story and the larger post-Rebirth Superman mystery, it's a good/not great approach to the only thing they could have done to make as many people happy as possible.
More Superman news: