The introduction of Brian Michael Bendis on the Superman titles also marks the end of an era for the Man of Steel. At the start of the DC Comics Rebirth initiative both Superman and Action Comics were relaunched with new creative teams and directions while the latter still kept its original numbering. After some rocky years during the New 52 era, both titles were seized by Superman fans as a return to form. Action Comics has arrived at its conclusion and will return in July with Bendis and artist Patrick Gleason at the helm of Action Comics #1001.
However, Superman has one last hurrah this week with the release of Superman Special #1 intended to celebrate two excellent years of storytelling. Both Gleason and co-writer Peter J. Tomasi penned a follow-up to one of their earliest stories on the series in which Superman and his son Jonathan traveled to Dinosaur Island. It’s an outstanding over-sized issue that embraces the ideas and talents that made this run of 45 issues stand out in the annals of Superman history. To celebrate Tomasi and Gleason’s accomplishment and the end of an era, it’s worth looking back at what made these issues something special.
Meeting the Man of Tomorrow
One of the greatest attractions of DC Comics has been its history. Even before Crisis On Infinite Earths, its characters grew older, got married, and had children. That trend only increased once its multiple universes were merged, with many heroic mantles being passed forward across generations. Superman has never been a generational hero though; he is one of the (near) constants of DC Comics alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. That extends to his personal life as well, only getting married to Lois Lane in 1996 after more than 50 years of flirtation. While the New 52 era of Superman wiped that away, it also wound up creating an opportunity to take Superman forward.
Superman in the Rebirth era focused on the character as a leader, husband, and father, a drastic change from the man discovering himself in his late 20s during the New 52. It began with Clark, Lois, and their preadolescent son Jonathan together on a farm in Hamilton, a small town much like Smallville. Even compared to the days in which Lois and Clark were married, this was an arrangement unlike anything outside of Elseworlds stories before.
The version of Superman in this series was a wholly mature person who filled his role as the most respected superhero in the world. He managed to capture a sense of authority without appearing too old fashioned or behind the times. That’s largely thanks to his placement as a father, requiring seriousness and wisdom, but also giving him opportunities to embrace play. For seemingly the first time ever, fans met a man of tomorrow they had only dreamed of before.
Adventures for All Ages
Shifting Superman from a young adult discovering romances and careers to a settled adult also altered the tone of the series. The concern Superman felt for protecting Metropolis, Hamilton, and the rest of Earth were consistent, but they were also reinterpreted through his family. Each new battle wasn’t simply a necessary end to a threat, but an opportunity to teach a lesson. The stakes of every adventure, no matter how great in scale, were always linked to essential relationships that both children and parents readily identify with.The stakes were never diminished, but the characters and stories were presented in a way that made them palatable to a much wider audience.
That is the essence of an all-ages story, and it’s something Gleason, Tomasi, and their collaborators struck perfectly with Superman. While many issues during the New 52 era may not have been inappropriate for children, there are few examples that you would readily hand to someone discovering reading in grade school. The stories in this iteration of Superman were much more approachable. Language was made accessible to any potential reader with perspectives and ideas presented as clearly as possible. Each antagonist also addressed a universal theme. Even when the stories went in darker directions, contemplating mortality or oppression, they were presented on multiple levels. It was possible for a young reader to see the story of a dead family pet as a means for understanding loss, while it became more complex for more mature readers perceiving additional layers to the story. In almost every issue of Superman there was a story that could be passed around by an entire family, no matter how it might be read.
A Focus on the Family0comments
The connecting thread through everything that makes this run of Superman stand out and work so well is the inclusion of the Kent family. When Gleason and Tomasi began their run on the series, the concept of Superman as family man had not been tried before with any significant impact or longevity at DC Comics. Even iconic interpretations like Kingdom Come found Clark Kent waiting until he was essentially in retirement to have a first child. This era of Superman undid all of that by embedding both Jonathan and Clark’s marriage to Lois Lane firmly in continuity. It was not a superficial change, but one that reshaped the entirety of the Superman line in such a substantial form that a crisis would be required to undo any of it. Crossovers and spinoffs, like Super Sons, have all made this the new status quo for Superman moving forward.
That seemingly permanent change, or at least as permanent as anything might be in superhero comics, has been proven to be for the best. Consistently quality stories, exciting updates, and critical acclaim have all added up for a big endorsement of this era of Superman. It won’t be going anywhere with Bendis’ arrival either. Bendis’ own stories have often emphasized the importance of family and children, most recently in the pages of Spider-Man and Jessica Jones. The new arrangement in these comics only provides a boost for him to move the series forward. While we’ll miss this version of Superman, it’s impact will be felt for a long time to come. That has us excited for whatever arrives next.