Review: ‘Superman: The Men of Tomorrow’
Superman may be DC’s flagship character, and his comic book one of their foundational ones, but Superman has been particularly troubled since the 2011 New 52 relaunch, running through writers and artists at a sometimes alarmingly fast rate. By comparison, Batman has only had one regular creative team throughout those four years, and Wonder Woman two creative teams. This particular volume, however, is a particularly significant one, and a good place for readers (and librarians) to start with the modern Superman (the character) and the current Superman (the comic).
First, it sees DC’s most popular writer (and chief creative officer) Geoff Johns come on as writer, essentially righting the ship and restoring Superman as the primary book of the Superman line.
Second, it sees John Romita Jr.’s arrival as an artist. A lifelong artist for Marvel Comics (following the footsteps in his father), JR JR doing his first work for DC Comics is a pretty huge deal, as his name and style have been synonymous with Marvel for decades. (I don’t know that there’s any real gossip or controversy regarding the move; it seems to be more of a case of someone whose spent their live drawing superhero comics wanting to get a chance to draw some of the biggest superheroes as well, even if their comics are published by Marvel’s Distinguished Competition.)
And, thirdly, the content itself is noteworthy. The Men of Tomorrow introduces Superman’s first new super-power in decades, at least since the Silver Age, when minor super-powers would appear and disappear at the drop of a hat (super-ventriloquism, for example). Called “Super-Flare,” this anime-like power allows Superman to release all the solar energy he’s stored up in his body at once, essentially detonating like a huge bomb. The side-effect, of course, is that Superman loses all of his powers for about 24 hours afterwards.
This, as well as his revelation of his secret identity to a long-time supporting character at the climax, both set up Superman’s newsworthy new status quo, which is currently unfolding in the monthly pages of Superman, now being written by Gene Luen Yang (Romita and Janson stayed on artists after the conclusion of the story arc that fills this volume). As you’ve likely heard, Superman has lost most of his powers, and his secret identity.
Johns and Romita here present one of the most basic of Superman stories: Superman meets a double of himself, giving the creators a way to define the character through compare-and-contrast. That new character is Ulysses, who has powers very much like Superman’s, and an origin not too terribly different: His parents are Earth scientists trapped in a lab that’s about to be destroyed, and so they rocket their infant son into a different dimension, where he discovers he has incredible powers in his new home, and his adopted parents raise him to be a champion of their way of life.
Superman and Ulysses become fast friends, but the relationship goes south quickly, as such Superman doppelganger-style stories so often do, and the supermen find themselves in a high-stakes battle with the fates of worlds hanging in the balance.
For all the familiar elements of the story, Johns’ version is different enough to be interesting and even a little suspenseful, and Romita’s art transforms it into one of the more unusual-looking Superman stories in a while. Romita’s action is raw and visceral, and seeing his Marvel-forged style applied to the likes of Superman, Lois Lane, Batman, and Jimmy Olsen is still a strange experience.
His designs for the new characters, worlds, and vehicles are pretty inspired, too; while Ulysses himself is a generic-ish near-Superman (with a long blonde mullet that cascades down his back), the alien denizens of his homeworld are truly alien, looking like giant, perambulating chromosomes, or tall, skinny starfish-shaped creatures made of giant pieces of black licorice.
The individual issues that are collected here may be #32-#39, but this is such a new start for Superman that it’s little wonder there’s no volume number on the spine (This would be Superman Vol. 6 though, if they had numbered it as such.) Given how strongly it serves as a prelude to the Yang run (which I imagine any library is going to want, based on Yang’s popularity and past work), even if it’s not quite a must-read or must-have, it’s definitely you-should-probably-read or you-should-more-than-likely-have.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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