On July 10th, 1986, thirty years ago this very week, a new Superman debuted in the pages of John Byrne’s Man of Steel #1. In its story, an experimental space-plane* carrying intrepid reporter Lois Lane had begun to careen over the city, nearly about to crash. Though Clark had previously made an effort to use his powers to aid in such situations secretly, this time the whole world was already watching. Yet he made no deliberations in his mind as to whether saving the spacecraft and the passengers aboard was worth exposing his existence; he merely saw the need to help, and he helped.
After the five year interim of the New 52, featuring its own (recently deceased) Man of Steel, this post-Crisis Superman is back, his return being the central subject of Bryan Hitch’s Justice League Rebirth #1. Per usual, disaster is striking the city. Instead of something so simple as a space-plane, this time it’s in the form of a copyright-infringing Reaper straight out of the Mass Effect series, replete with a city-sized stature, cuttlefish-inspired morphology, techno-organic biology, the ability to turn a populous into mind-controlled husks, an intent to “harvest” humanity, and even the very name “Reaper.” It’s been said the bad writers borrow, great writers steal. Based on previous issues of Justice League, I’d not yet call Hitch a great writer (though a great artists, absolutely), but if he must steal, hopefully he’ll continue to do so from sources of the same caliber as the Mass Effect series, albeit with slightly more subtlety.
Watching on television from the family farm, seeing the Justice League as powerless to stop the Reaper as Lois was to save the space-plane, Clark acts quite differently than he did thirty years ago. Instead of witnessing those in need and acting accordingly, now he deliberates on the costs and benefits such actions would have upon himself and his family. It’s not entirely out of character per se. I’ve seen the same character arc play out among my real life friends many times. Though they’d once been (nearly) as awesome as myself, they traded the freedom and spontaneity of bachelorhood in the big city for the burden of a bride and two-point-three kids in a house in the suburbs. Many times I’ll propose hitting up a rooftop cocktail lounge or an underground speakeasy, only for them to ask permission from their partners and have such denied. Lois Lane Kent is a better ball-and-chain than their wives, not only “allowing” Clark to go hang out with his Super Friends but even encouraging such. Unfortunately, in the real world, there seems to be as many such super-spouses like Lois as there are supermen like Clark.
Yet the very fact that Clark is conflicted and no longer a man of immediate action – realistic though it may be – is an unfortunate alteration from the character who was introduced in Man of Steel thirty years ago. Man of Steel #5 was the first comic I ever read as a child; Byrne’s Superman, the very same as Hitch is writing here in Justice League, will always be “my” Superman. And yet I fully understand the impetus behind the New 52 reboot in wanting to reset Lois and Clark from husband and wife back to single status.
Since his domestication, Superman has seemed significantly less super. This has been particularly pronounced throughout the Rebirth titles, including Action Comics, Superman, and shockingly Justice League. For my own part (though I’m guessing Jimmy Olsen is with me on this matter), I’d have preferred for Superman to have his marriage to Lois Lane left behind and for the red trunks to have been brought back. Maybe come the next reboot.
* Originally to be a space shuttle until the Challenger disaster that January
** Only a short review this week. I’m busy basking on the beach in the rays of Earth’s yellow sun, enjoying a much needed vacation.