Superman, Firestorm: New #1 Issues at #13

As The Amazing Spider-Man filmmakers learned this summer, it's difficult to get away with [...]

As The Amazing Spider-Man filmmakers learned this summer, it's difficult to get away with rebooting something soon after it's just been launched, or relaunched, already. It's clearly a lesson that DC Comics has taken to heart, with a pair of new #1 issues out this week cleverly hidden as #13. The New 52 has been a sales success for DC, and a critical success on many titles--but there have been a handful of books where DC seems to have been struggling more or less since the word go. A couple of those--Green Arrow and Superman--are tied directly into film and television projects currently very much on the public's mind and so failure is not an option. Another title that seemed to belly flop out of the gate is The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men, which debuted to low sales and uneven reviews, including a scathing write-up here at Dan Jurgens, who served as the artist on the first arc of Green Arrow, also wrote a few issues after J.T. Krul left early on in the series and DC tried to work with what they had rather than radically altering the book. Ultimately, though, that's what it came down to--thanks, in no small part, to George Perez's departure from Superman, which left that book in need of both a writer and artist. Dan Jurgens and writing partner Keith Giffen left Green Arrow to take that job on...for six months. At the end of that time, Jurgens has moved on to writing and drawing The Fury of Firestorm, and Superman fell to Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. Stuff like this happens all the time in comics, of course; the work is made for hire, and with no ownership in their characters, the writers and artists go wherever they're told. But there's a disconcerting coincidence between Jurgens's old book (Superman) and his new one (Firestorm) this month: The feeling of such a profoundly different start to the new creative team's run that it's basically a new #1. The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Men becomes "...Nuclear MAN" this month, underscoring the point. Superman, of course, features major life changes for Clark Kent while leading into a story about Kal-El; it's a two-pronged approach better served to characters with some history, but it seems as though Lobdell just assumes you're on board with him because, after all, he's writing Superman. So it gets to act like a #1 while relying on the history of being a series with a year in the books. There are some things that get carried over, of course--Lois's relationship with Jonathan Carroll and Clark's problems at the office. But even those are given a fresh coat of paint in order to seem more immediate. Jurgens told us in an interview about Superman that DC wanted to keep Carroll on the board, and it seems we now know why. The Planet stuff has been building for a while--long enough that, indeed, the "opting out to go be a blogger" concept may have come from Jurgens and Giffen--or even Perez--it's hard to know the genesis of these things when people are only on the series for an arc before moving on. Still, the USA Today leak suggests that it's suddenly taken on a sense of urgency--which makes sense. With Morrison leaving and Superman having been an inconsistent title with inconsistent reviews and inconsistent fan response, the publisher is likely looking to make a splash with the next Action Comics creative team and the launch of the still-untitled Snyder/Lee project. Making Superman a visible presence in the market would go hand-in-hand with that.

The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Man, meanwhile, hasn't been uneven or inconsistent--it's frankly been pretty terrible. For a while now, between low sales and mostly bad reviews, it's been expected that the title would appear on the chopping block with each new wave of New 52 announcements. So far, it hasn't happened, and while previous attempts at righting the ship have been minor course corrections, this latest seems like a total replacement of some of the proverbial boat's key components. Jurgens picks up here where he left off in Superman and Justice League International (and even a little bit in Green Arrow, although arguably almost everything he did there was left on the table for him to finish by Krul), creating new villains who both challenge the hero and play directly to his power set enough to give readers a jumping-on point because we see all the basics in the first few pages. The supporting cast, which had been largely marginalized during the first year, took a bit of a step up, too, and looks to be a major part of the book's new direction. In a move that sets him apart a bit from Lobdell, Jurgens has said in interviews that he intends to make the first issue of his run a "new #1" for fans to jump on--although that might be less a philosophical difference and more a practical one. After all, Superman has been selling reasonably well, if only because it's Superman, in spite of the creative challenges and changes. Firestorm has been selling well below the purported cancellation threshold for months, and marking a clean break from a title that many fans and critics consider a failed experiment is likely a wise strategy by DC and Jurgens, even if they can't openly refer to the past year as a failure for any number of reasons.