Superman: The Man of Steel

It was a bit odd returning to a Superman comic.  Looking back, it’s been a month since I read a straight-up Superman trade.  He made appearances in JLA comics, and played a big role in Crisis, but he hasn’t been the sole star of the show for a while now.  My recollection of his prior comics greatly influenced my opinion going into this trade, and I was very curious to see how his character has changed.

As with the recent Batman trades I’ve read, this collection serves to rewrite Superman’s history after the destruction of the multiverse, retelling his origin story with plenty of detail.

The story begins, as is to be expected, on Krypton, with Jor-El discussing the planet’s impending doom with Lara and determining that the only way to save their son is to send him to Earth.  Krypton explodes just as baby Kal-El is escaping in his pod, only to land in a field in Kansas and be discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent and raised as their own.

As far as backstories go, this one hasn’t changed much.  It seems the writers wanted to remain true to the original versions of such iconic characters as Superman and Batman, and so left the core elements of their stories untouched.

What has changed is the detail given to these characters.  I remember reading Superman’s original origin story way back when (a whopping three months ago) and thinking it felt glossed over.  We get the bare-bones story, but there was no humanity in it.  The supporting characters might as well have been nameless people in a crowd for all the characterization they were given.

Here, we see supporting characters being given personalities, helping create a more fully developed world in which Clark Kent lives.  Perhaps one of my favorite panels featuring Clark’s parents is when they are helping him develop his secret identity costume, and his mother remarks:

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Martha’s comment, as well as Clark’s long-suffering “Maaa”, just feel entirely natural.  Scenes like this remind us that even superheroes have to deal with embarrassing mom-praise.  It’s a small detail, but it makes for a richer story with more relatable characters.  After all, it’s far more compelling to read about someone you feel like you can relate to in some way, and it’s no easy task to make a flying muscle-man relatable to the general public.

After Clark adopts the Superman persona, we get to see the beginnings of his crimefighting career.  What struck me most, especially after reading so many Batman comics, was how inherently good Superman is.  Whereas Batman is more the “punch first, ask questions later” type, Superman seems less inclined to fight.

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Justice with a smile. I like it.

Superman’s calm, collected attitude makes sense.  Unlike other superheroes, he doesn’t have to worry that the criminal has a gun.  The bullets will just bounce off his chest.  Being virtually invulnerable to anything a villain could throw his way, Superman has the luxury of taking his time, trying to reason with the bad guys no matter how futile his attempts may be.  It’s not a method that would work for many heroes, but it’s one Superman pulls off quite well.

While reading I kept thinking about the differences between Superman and Batman.  Their methods are just so different from one another that I couldn’t really imagine how they operate in the same world.  Color me surprised when who should show up in this trade but Batman himself.

Unfortunately, theirs was not a happy union.  Superman shows up in Gotham to apprehend Batman and turn him over to the authorities.  Not surprisingly, Batman isn’t too fond of this idea, and has a backup plan to prevent Superman’s success:

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Even though we find out eventually that Batman’s threat to detonate a bomb and kill an innocent person is nothing more than a clever ruse, this panel accurately depicts the dichotomy between these two characters.  Superman is good for good’s own sake, whereas Batman is willing to go to more drastic means for the greater good.  One scene even went so far as to explain why these varying methods are necessary.  Batman points out that Metropolis doesn’t have the problems of drugs and corruption that Gotham does.  With such wideswept issues, Batman’s sometimes questionable methods make more sense.  I’m glad they included this conversation, for it helps explain how two such opposite superheroes can both effectively operate in their respective cities.

I can’t write this post without addressing one other character: that of Lois Lane.  Now, Lois has always been spunky and driven, so it was no surprise to see her portrayed as such here.  What did surprise me was just how much moxie she has.  Lois has adopted a no-nonsense attitude in every aspect of her life, not caring what people think.

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Yeah, she just strips down to nothing in the middle of a fancy party to return an ill-gotten gift from Lex Luthor.  Pure badass, that one.

I will admit, some of the earlier Superman comics were not the most entertaining to me.  Superman was always portrayed as so perfect, yet there wasn’t much characterization to explain why he acted this way.  It made his character a bit flat at times, and far less compelling than others.  I was worried at one point, as I know a lot of Superman comics appear on “the shelf”, and I didn’t want to have to slog through issue after issue of self-righteous, justice-for-justice’s-sake stories.  After reading this collection, that fear is gone.  Superman is still good to his core, but his character feels more relatable, as though he could at some point falter and make a mistake.  This fallible, human side of the character is much more interesting than the perfect god-like being often seen in some of the earlier comics.  I can’t wait to see how this new origin story further affects Superman lore and his character development.  If it continues with the foundation laid in this trade, I have a feeling Superman may quickly grow to become one of my favorite superheroes.

-Jess

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