Superman’s been on quite the rollercoaster ever since the start of the New 52 about three years ago. From Grant Morrison’s head-trip origin tales in ACTION COMICS to a slew of creators taking the character in as many different directions in his own title has gone, and his newest team seems to be intent on continuing that tradition. And that's not a bad thing. Geoff Johns, of course, has some experience writing the Big Blue Boyscout and what we get here is actually something of a return to form. This is about as earnest, humble and approachable, in his own way, that Superman’s been since the relaunch. Johns seems intent on bringing him back down to Earth, so to speak, and I think it’s a great direction for the character to go in. As much as I enjoyed the brashness and bravado of the younger Man of Steel, it too quickly came off as arrogance and an almost callous disregard for the average people, but in this story we see Superman, and Clark Kent, as warm and compassionate as they’ve ever been, particularly as they deal with the new interloper introduced last issue: now dubbed Ulysses.
John Romita Jr. is still an interesting presence as the penciler on the book. The artist is definitely most well-known, at least in the modern era of comics, for excelling at drawing more street-level, character-driven superheroes (Spider-Man and Wolverine immediately spring to mind, as well as a recent run drawing Cap’s adventures in Dimension Z) and, even more especially, drawing people that have been beat the hell UP. There’s little to none of that in this issue, nor was it terribly prevalent last issue, but since we seem to be dealing with a Superman who’s getting in touch with the people, and characters, in his life, Romita Jr. is so far making a lot of sense as a choice. This book is driven far more by characters and dialog than action, even when Big Blue makes an appearance, it’s mostly as cleanup or exploration and Clark Kent actually dominates most of the pages of this issue. Part of the credit for this also has to go to Klaus Janson’s inks for making the imagery as crisp and clear as it is. Romita’s pencils aren’t as wild as a lot of other artist’s, and since he and Jansen are longtime partners, there are lots of tiny, subtle nuances that make up every panel. Laura Martin’s colors can’t be discounted either, this is a bright, shining example of a comic book and her colors are a massive part of that, with a simple, but thrilling palette that makes every panel practically shimmer.
While the characters are, so far, the highlight of this book, the overall narrative thus far is not as great. It isn’t that it’s bad, it’s just very, very by-numbers at this point in the story. We’ve seen numerous tales in the past of superbeings that may or may not be Kryptonian, but have similar powers, and how that impacts Superman is part of the appeal of such stories. The problem becomes, there are only so many ways that it CAN impact him, and only so many ways it can turn out. This is, so far, a very good Superman story, but it feels like one we’ve seen numerous times, even in the recent past.
A return to form isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Man of Steel, and doing it in this way is certainly going to be a big help. A team of top-tier creators with total creative control and freedom could be just the shot in the arm that Superman’s needed, and with a support network like the one we’ve seen here, there’s nowhere for him to go but up. Up. And away.