By Lvenger 24 Comments
The New 52 has been getting its fair share of justified criticism for the way it handles the reintroduction of characters into the New 52 universe, overmanaging editorials dictating rather than assisting creators with stories and an ignorance of the rich history DC have created since COIE. Among those criticised, Superman was seen as not getting the treatment he deserved, mostly due to the disappointing Superman series. Even now with Lobdell on board, it hasn’t gotten too much back on track IMO. But this blog isn’t about Lobdell’s Superman run. It’s about what my 5 favourite New 52 Superman stories are. Thanks to a select few writers, Superman has been written well with slight tweaks to his mythology that work well within the New 52 universe. Although Morrison’s Men of Steel arc brought back the Golden Age social crusader and hero of the people into Superman’s origin again, none of the earlier issues of Action Comics make it into my top 5 New 52 Superman stories. Anyway, let me begin. I’ll limit spoilers for those who may not have read the issues
5) Action Comics #19
I juggled this and Superman Unchained #2 for this position but despite me giving them the same story score, Unchained has a few more flaws. Although if I were to choose which one I’d read for entertaining, Unchained would take the cake. But this issue has the better story. Diggle kicks off his shortest run on a series ever with a spectacular grasp over Superman and his supporting cast. His Lois is full of determination and gutsy enough to free political prisoners whilst getting the story out to the propaganda censored Quarac. And their interactions are exactly spot on. There’s even a build up of romantic tension before Clark finds out about a problem he needs to deal with. Diggle’s Superman contains many of the Pre Flashpoint characteristics that have been sorely missed from the New 52. Clark tries to negotiate and find a peaceful route to dealing with some robots controlled by human pilots. Not only does Diggle deliver on the action, he writes an engaging plot which is executed very well. And for those who prefer Diggle for his darker writing, he injects his dark writing into Lex Luthor. His Lex is sinister and has a menacing, compassionless presence on panel. Not to mention that Diggle uses Lex for a fresh, interesting plot to pose a threat to Superman. It’s a massive shame that Daniel takes over the writing for the next issue because the quality of the story drops like a stone down a well. Daniel is a brilliant artist but a rubbish writer.
4) Action Comics #18
Morrison is a writer whose work is best viewed with the big picture in hand. His run on Action Comics has its fair share of critics as it’s not the match made in heaven All Star Superman was. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Morrison’s run. It has its flaws, moreso than usual for Morrison but he injected some golden age and sci fi elements into the series and employed some wacky Silver Age concepts that made for an engaging story. Which, as per usual, is typical Morrison style. By the time this issue came around, a lot of people wanted the story to end. And I’ll admit, Action Comics #17 was a terrible set up to this issue. But here, Morrison redeems himself and brings the symbolic message of his arc full circle. The main villain of the piece, Vyndktvx is quite underrated in his role as the villain of Morrison’s arc as he’s responsible for affecting Superman’s life in a grand way. In this issue, Vyndktvx strikes at Superman’s core ideals and here Morrison brings the battle of good ideas and bad ideas onto the comic book pages. There’s some very smart hints as to Superman’s nature being a cash cow for the comic book industry and the defiant response Superman makes to Vyndktvx encapsulates why he’s so much more than that. The sci fi wackiness comes from Captain Comet and the Cometeers who play an excellent role in helping Superman and bringing the characters Morrison has been working on full circle. The seeded ideas Morrison had placed in his run (the way in which Vyndktvx is beaten was mentioned in Action Comics #11) along with the overall message Morrison was giving for this series comes to the forefront. That message, for me was that Superman is capable of triumphing against any odds, no matter how impossible they may seem because he is the ultimate idea for the ideals of humanity. A man who never gives up and never stops fighting for what’s right.
3) Superman Unchained #1
Now, someone (cough FadetoBlackBolt cough :P) on here who may or may not read this blog might be irked I give this issue a higher place than something of Morrison’s run. To him I say firstly, my two favourite New 52 Superman stories are Morrison ones and secondly, that this first issue felt like the kind of Superman story I’d been waiting to read. Morrison had done something ambitious, innovative and symbolic but Snyder wrote a fresh, compelling Superman story that felt like a real, more traditional with a twist Superman story. Snyder has been criticised for not understanding Batman and whilst I disagree with some assertions, I can see that easily. But this first issue of Unchained showed a deep understanding of what makes Superman tick. Snyder writes a Superman who feels more like Superman than Johns or Lobdell have made him feel like. He’s calm, compassionate and charming and feels more like the Superman I know and love should act. And the threat Superman faces of a falling space station with a nuclear core whilst saving two astronauts is extremely well executed. Here, Superman is given multiple challenges that require innovative and precise applications of his powers. The true test of a writer of Superman is not to nerf him but give him threats that requite quick thinking and accurate uses of his vast powers. That is how you write entertaining Superman stories. Along with excellent characterisation and a good plot of course. Snyder’s use of Superman’s supporting cast is wonderful. Lois, Jimmy and Perry get some awesome moments in this issue, Perry in the back up. But it’s Lois who is the most striking as she challenges and guides Clark in the story. And the plot is well written too with an engaging narrative and compelling mystery.
2) Action Comics #13
Now we come to my second favourite Superman story of the New 52. This issue of Action Comics does contain poor artwork but fortunately, I prioritise story way above artwork. In this issue, Morrison brings back the Phantom Zone and a long forgotten inmate in spectacular fashion as a palpable threat for Superman in a really entertaining story. Morrison explores the Phantom Zone in a splendid fashion and the art style does compliment the ghostly phantoms Morrison depicts the inmates in throughout the issue. There’s nifty sci fi technobabble such as ecto technology and googles that allow the Zoners to see inside the Zone. But it’s not just these flairs of Morrison’s writing that make this issue so good. The first thing that makes it good is the inclusion of the Phantom Stranger. It was not only a good way to promote his up coming series but also allowed him to play a meaningful role in this issue. Stranger’s presence in the story is easily justified by Morrison and he’s written in a much better fashion than most of his tenure in the New 52. But the star of the show is Krypto. Morrison redesigns him into a more wolfhound like dog and makes him look badass whilst keeping the loyal, faithful hound aspect of Krypto. Their reunion is touching and when they’re separated, it tugs on the heartstrings to think that Krypto might not see his boy again. The main villain, Xa-Du is a good character. Morrison gives him some interesting villainous tendencies and even if his plans are a tad generic, they have a distinctive flair to them. But the best thing about this issue is how Superman wrests control of Xa-Du’s suit to come back into the world of the living. Here Morrison displays his characteristic understanding of the metaphysical meaning of Superman that his will for doing good and the right thing is indomitable. That was a real highlight for me.
1) Action Comics #12
At last, my favourite Superman story of the New 52. An odd choice for some I assume. But let me justify it. Action Comics #10-12 or “Bulletproof” as the trade version calls it is my favourite Superman arc from the New 52 so far (though Unchained may well surpass it) And issue 12 rounds off the storyline wonderfully. For those who don’t know the story, I’ll summarise. Clark Kent gets caught in an explosion which was meant to throw Zimrod the Hunter off Clark’s trail. In the meantime, Clark gets a new secret identity but calls in Batman to check Clark’s background to see if he can be brought back. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger called Adam comes to Earth to find a Neo-Sapien, a human born further up along the evolutionary tree. Superman then gets in a fight with Adam who promptly uses his mental abilities to subdue Superman. So this is easily my favourite issue of Morrison’s run as he deftly balances the strong plot of Adam coming to rescue a girl from interested parties along with coming into conflict with Superman. The opening of the issue is an interesting throwback to Pre Flashpoint times mixed in with New 52 continuity. Superman’s fight with Adam is expertly played out with Adam seeming like a real threat to Superman due to his advanced mental abilities. What’s more, Adam’s backstory is freshly integrated into the New 52 by Morrison and I really want to see more of Adam Blake in the New 52 as a result. The sci fi aspect of the character is played up excellently thanks to Morrison’s script. Susie is fleshed out into a great character from her Golden Age counterpart. Again, this is typical Morrison to read the classic stories and write them in a modernising, relatable way. And of course, Lois’s life is hanging by a thread thanks to an incident in the previous issue. The way Superman saves her is pure genius and is testament to Morrison’s impressive understanding and execution of Superman’s powers in his stories. And we get to see plenty of threads come together in Morrison’s overall arc from Zimrod to “the Little Man.” Overall, I enjoyed reading this issue very much and for now, it’s my favourite Superman story of the New 52 and one of the best stories from the New 52 IMO.
Sorry that this is quite a long blog. I guess I had more to write on these issues than I expected. In any case, whilst the New 52 is far from perfect as one can imagine, there are silver linings and gems hidden away. And Superman has had a pretty good ride all things considered. Anyway, hope you enjoyed reading this long winded essay of a blog and feel free to comment below :)