By: Jon M. Wilson
Welcome to the first proper installment of Superman in the New 52! DC Comics has launched their new line-up, and this column series will be examining what we learn about the continuity and mythos surrounding the Superman family of characters. This installment will be primarily concerned with Action Comics 1, but Superman also had appearances in Justice League 1 and Swamp Thing #1. (Click the names of each of those comics for detailed synopses and reviews.)
SPOILER WARNING: This column assumes full knowledge of all books published this week.
Action Comics 1 gave us a lot of information about the early history of Superman. Morrison provided an action-packed story but also laced it with references to what Clark’s been doing with himself.
First, a discussion of Superman’s look. While the original Superman of the 1930s was modeled after circus strong men, this outfit is something Clark could have grabbed off the hangers of any clothing store, with possibly an iron-on patch for the S-shield. The cape is the only exception to this, and the symbol on the cape is simply a black outline on the red fabric. We’ve heard some information about this cape being a baby blanket when he was found, but none of that information has been provided in the book itself, so I’ll address it further when we get to it.
Why doesn’t Superman have a traditional superhero costume yet? Very possibly because for him, there is no such thing as a traditional superhero costume. Interviews and marketing information has said that Superman is the first superhero, other than stories of a man in Gotham dressed as a bat, and there’s no mention in Action Comics 1 of any other heroes out there. In any case, he likely hasn’t seen images of anyone else out there doing the hero bit, and therefore he may not have anything to compare his own outfit to. He knows he’s going out there to do a lot of heavy activity, roughing up bad guys and such, and what do you wear when you’re going to be working hard? I wear a comfortable shirt, jeans, and work boots. And that’s what Superman is wearing too.
Powers we see with Superman are glowing red eyes, x-ray vision, super-acute hearing, and long-distance jumping (whether that’s more or less than an eighth of a mile isn’t clear). He also has a certain degree of invulnerability, but it’s not absolute. An electrified net tap and the explosion of a tank both cause him pain. And not just on the surface level. He gets bruised up enough by his fight that his landlady Ms. Nyxly notices Clark’s injuries.
And his powers appear to be in growth. Luthor says that six months ago, Superman “could hurdle skyscrapers and toss trucks around”, but that now he is faster and stronger.
Luthor appears in this book, but so far, we know very little of him. He is a man with the resource to engineer the bombing of a train track so that the train rams Superman into a building. He’s certainly highly intelligent with skills at predicting multiple variables. And yet, he seemed almost bored with the whole process, sipping his Jolt energy drink and charging a high consultancy fee for his troubles. He definitely holds Superman in disdain as an invading parasite on the Earth, and he seemed to take as much joy in eradicating the alien as you and I would take in squashing a bug.
Another antagonist of the story is General Sam Lane. This is a holdover from the most recent chapter in Superman’s history, though it’s the only bit that I found to be obviously lifted from the New Earth history. His daughter Lois is the one who gave the popular name of Superman, and Clark has definitely claimed that nickname as his own, but General Lane feels Superman is a threat of increasing magnitude, so he hires Luthor to stop him.
There is a brief reference to the Legion in this issue. While Clark was out being Superman, he missed a visit from “two men and a woman — a blonde, very nice, very good-looking”, who looked like actors. This seems like an all but explicit reference to Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl. It’s ambiguous at this point whether Clark has had previous involvement with them. Mrs. Nyxly calls them Clark’s friends as if she’s seen him with them before, but Clark doesn’t really respond strongly to the information, so it could also be that they’ve asked about him before but that he hasn’t actually met them.
As far as Clark’s personal life, he has been “best friends” with Jimmy Olsen for six months, (Jimmy even has the old signal watch ZEEZEEZEE as his ringtone for Clark’s texts), but Clark does not currently work with Jimmy or Lois. Lois seems hardly aware of his existence beyond someone who Jimmy has probably talked about occasionally. Instead, Clark works at Lois’s rival newspaper for a man named Taylor. Although it’s not yet given explicitly on the page, we’ve been told elsewhere that this is George Taylor at the Daily Star, which is an interesting spin on the original Superman mythos. In 1938 and 1939, that was Clark’s original place of employment, though of course Lois was with him in those old books. The newspaper was changed to the Daily Planet because Star was actually a rather common name and the creators and/or editors wanted to avoid the implication that Clark worked for any of the real newspapers that were carrying the daily or Sunday newspaper strips. His boss at the Planet was still Taylor in the print media while his name was Perry White in the radio show, and this later made its way to the comics as well. There were no story explanations given for these changes in those old books. They were just introduced as if that’s the way it had always been. So to see a dichotomy in this issue of Action, between Taylor’s Star and White’s Planet, is an interesting way to interpret that bit of the character’s history.
Another tidbit is that Clark’s landlady’s name, Mrs. Nyxly, bears a rather strong resemblance to the naming conventions of a certain fifth-dimensional race of imps. Was this intentional or a coincidence? Time will tell.
And the last bit I want to pull from Action Comics 1 is that the hooded Flashpoint woman appears on the train while Superman is trying to save it before it crashes into him.
Justice League 1 had only a brief cameo of Superman at the end, but by the time Superman has this first encounter with Batman and Green Lantern, he is well-known enough that the heroes from other cities have heard of him. Also by this time, he has adopted a full superhero costume, and he seems just a bit full of himself, even confrontational. This threw some readers off when it appeared without context a week before Action Comics 1, but now it seems to merely be a continuation of the attitude we saw in Action Comics 1. This Superman knows he’s powerful and knows he can do just about anything he wants to do, and he has the confidence of youth to go with it. Some might call this cocky, but I call it true to the era that Morrison is using as the basis for this story. Golden Age Superman would take down the bad guy without a care for what got in his way, even killing those who got on his bad side. The Superman of Action Comics 1 and Justice League 1 doesn’t appear to be willing to kill, but he certainly isn’t above some fear tactics and bullying of the bad guys, and when Batman and Green Lantern appear in his town, he bowls them over and gets ready to take them on. What he doesn’t know is that Batman has been reading up on him and already considered him dangerous, so the events of Justice League 2 in October may take Superman by surprise.
Swamp Thing 1 has the distinction of being the first presentation of the “modern” Superman, as well as the first appearance of Perry White and Clark’s job with him and Lois at the Daily Planet. Justice League 1 was set five years in the past, and Action Comics 1 a few months before that, but Swamp Thing 1 is a present-day story. When scores of pigeons fall dead from the skies of Metropolis, Superman seeks out Dr. Alec Holland, aka the Swamp Thing. The Superman we see is a bit more tempered in his attitude. He hovers in the air with confidence but not arrogance, and his words to Dr. Holland are authoritative but kind. During their conversation, Superman mentions that he has knowledge of “coming back”, which is the first reference we have to comic events that occurred in his life pre-Flashpoint. SDCC had confirmed that the spirit of the Death story was still in continuity, but it’s nice to see it confirmed on the page. We also see Superman’s cape has retained the black outline for the S symbol, as it was in the original Paul Cassidy design in 1939. (Cassidy was one of Joe Shuster’s ghost artists, and he was the one to first introduce a symbol on the cape to Superman’s design.)
Stormwatch 1 is actually a crossover of sorts with Superman 1, which hasn’t been published yet. The Eye of the Storm in hyperspace is Stormwatch headquarters, and they’re examining a giant horn that seems to have been damaged. They think the “super-heroes” are so far unaware of it, but actually the events of Superman 1 seem to play a part in the events.
By the modern DCU, the whole world seems to be familiar with Superman. We see an oblique reference to him in Animal Man 1. A random fanboy has photoshopped an image of Apollo mauling Superman for comparethepowers.com, in Stormwatch 1. In Justice League International 1, when Booster Gold arrives at the Hall of Justice to join the Justice League, his first question is “Where’s Superman?”, implying that Superman is still active with that team in modern times. This is backed up by comments from Guy Gardner. Dubbilex, Mokkari, and the Cadmus project seem like they will be figured heavily into OMAC 1, and may continue to do so throughout his series, which makes sense as those are all Kirby creations. S.T.A.R. Labs has either been relocated to New York or at least has offices there, as seen in Static Shock 1. Hawk and Dove 1 makes a reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths as “the worst crisis the world has ever seen” where the first Dove was killed, so that event is still in continuity in some form.
Next time, Superboy 1 (reprogrammed to kill!) and Supergirl 1 (alone and hunted!)
Next month, Action Comics 2, with Superman in chains!