superman-51-title

There’s always a job for Superman

It’s 2016, and DC’s enormous Rebirth initiative looms close on the horizon. During the months of April and May, Pete Tomasi and an assortment of artists will be taking over all of the Superman titles for “Super League”, an eight-part crossover event which should lead us right into Rebirth and a new (old?) status quo for Supes.

Part 1 arrives today with Superman #51, as Clark comes to terms with the consequences of three recent experiences: his exposure to the fire pits of Apokolips in Justice League’s “Darkseid War”, his time in the Kryptonite chamber at A.R.G.U.S. during his de-powered DC You days, and his battle with Rao in Bryan Hitch’s JLA. To get straight to the point:

superman-51-dying

From this first page, the rest of the issue takes us through some touching moments with Lana and Lois in Smallville and Metropolis, a mysterious incursion into the Fortress of Solitude’s computer systems by an equally mysterious woman in China, and the combustive birth of a new S-level being outside of Minneapolis.

Is that right, Super-Duper?

One of my favorite books from The New 52 was Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin, most especially because it had so much heart. That sort of emotional resonance is the glue that holds this issue together, and to me, it feels like a return to form for Pete, whose work on Superman/Wonder Woman in recent months has been a challenge to connect with (in fairness, said work was part of the DC You “Truth” crossover, and I feel like all of the Superman books struggled to make sense of that seemingly arbitrary change to Clark’s world).

My first time through Superman #51, I felt like it was decent–solid–but more of a setup (even a necessary one) for the larger story. After going through it once more, however, I’m a bit more confident in its ability to stand on its own. Make no mistake: it raises plenty of questions that will be answered in the coming weeks, and it will likely feel even more meaningful once its larger context is revealed; and yet, the simple, human sweetness of a dying man concerned for his legacy only gets better with each read. Seeing Clark come to terms with his mortality, while new threats grow from the shadows–this is the sort of Superman story that is great all by itself; that it simultaneously sets the stage for a larger drama is a handsome bonus.

Your time to shine has come

And speaking of handsome, Mikel Janin’s artwork is as excellent as any Grayson fan would expect. His faces are near-perfect almost all of the time: a superb balance of realism and simplicity in which his subjects look convincingly real; yet a balance that does not depend on an abundance of lines to achieve its purpose. Janin offers full-service, too, inking and coloring his own pencils, and he’s no slouch at any point in the process. Each location benefits greatly from the very distinct feel given by the colors–the Fortress, Smallville, and Metropolis having their own identities even apart from specific, penciled detail.

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My only complaints are that there are a few odd facial expressions–I think all in cases where characters grit their teeth (I’ve noticed the same oddity in Grayson, I believe); and, that there are several occasions when Janin’s Clark looks exactly like his Dick Grayson. At the end of the day, these are teeny-tiny complaints that don’t have any meaningful impact on my enjoyment of the book, but I did notice them just the same.

Recommended if…

  • You’re excited for Rebirth and want to know what’s going to become of the New 52 Superman.
  • You enjoy the sort of emotional storytelling Tomasi put to use in Batman and Robin and want to see him try again with Superman.
  • You love Mikel Janin in particular or excellent art in general.

Overall

This was a tough one for me to score. There’s not a ton of stuff here, but as they say, sometimes less is more. In one sense, it’s the expected set-up installment of a much larger story, but after considering this story a few times, I don’t think it depends too heavily on what’s coming next. Superman #51 is an entertaining, sweet book all on its own, and while I’m anxious to find out what this is all leading to, I’m looking forward to reading this a few more times over the next week and savoring the simple, heartwarming goodness that Tomasi and Janin have crafted.

SCORE: 8.5/10