Superman is a unique character in all of popular culture, the origin point of so much of our modern mythology. In a way, all superheroes are reflections of him, defining themselves by what they do differently than the original.
So though we’ve seen a few takes on “the Son of Superman” as a concept, from Invincible to My Hero Academia to the ill-fated Jupiter’s Legacy, there’s something very different about the original passing on the mantle. It’s the culmination of 83 years of stories.
But from another perspective, it’s the beginning of so many more.
The Action Reaction exists for two reasons. Reason one is that I wanted new and returning readers to have one place they can go to find out which Superman comics will appeal to them, and how they connect to any other comics currently coming out.
Reason two is that I wanted to host a regular discussion on Superman, and the new era we’re stepping into, featuring some of the most insightful writers I know. We’ve got some incredible contributors lined up, and frankly it would be a disservice to cram all of that into one short article.
So, each month we’ll have at least two separate Action Reaction articles come out: the Reviews (this article) and the Roundtable. I say “at least” because we’ll also host the occasional deeper dive into an issue or a run of Superman, in a series we’re calling The Action Reaction: X-Rays. And, on top of that, we’re working on a reading guide for new and lapsed readers.
But enough talk about all the amazing things we have planned: what about the Superman comics that just came out? Do they actually live up to the promise of this new chapter?
Read on and find out.
Superman: Son of Kal-El #1
Reviewed by David Mann
After years of buildup and with decades of history behind it, the promise of having Lois and Clark’s For Real Kid in Jon Kent is fulfilled as we get Superman II taking to the skies. From DC’s own current golden boy in Tom Taylor and the artist of Future State: Superman of Metropolis Jon Timms, this issue is by Taylor’s note in interviews meant as a self-contained introduction, establishing basics and drawing a line in the sand that a new day is dawning as the one true heir of the big daddy of every cape out there takes his first steps into defining his own era.
It’s solidly done at that: Taylor’s often at his best writing Superman, like Mark Millar before him the earnestness short-circuiting some of his more creatively cynical tendencies to display his touch for engaging action and sincere warmth, and this represents a major level-up for Timms from what I’ve seen of his previous work. Alongside colorist Gabe Eltaeb and letterer Dave Sharpe, Timms captures cosmic panoramas, springy action, and crisp character work with a manga-reminiscent edge that should help Son of Kal-El #1 appeal to the fresher audience this clearly hopes to attract.
What really strikes me though — a trait I wouldn’t normally associate with Taylor’s work, though maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention to give him credit — is the efficiency of the structure in conveying the big thesis statement. The standalone opening does solid, emotional work in underlining the significance the logline represents. The threat is as traditional as Superman problems go, with a handful of simple layers on top to establish Jon’s distinct narrative territory. Even Damian not being addressed as Robin but simply Batman’s son takes the straightest path to establishing him as a peer.
Most notable, however, is Jon’s ultimate capitulation to the army rather than a fully cathartic victory. This not only establishes the vulnerability of our protagonist, but sets up his character arc such that Lois playing a role in guiding him becomes essential. He’s proven himself as Superman from moment one, but in behaving as the iconic cultural impression of the character would he lets someone down, and only by finding his fire, his commitment, his willingness to make the right people nervous — embracing his mother’s spirit, the human side of his heritage — might he be able to break free and become the 21st century Superman demanded on the cover.
Son of Kal-El #1 is more promise than delivery, but it’s a promise made with consideration.
Superman and The Authority #1
Reviewed by Rook Geary
God, this book is nice to look at. All of Superman and the Authority is rendered with phenomenal grace and storytelling ability by Mikel Janin, who pulls off five or six pages in this single issue that would be considered the high points of most runs. Janin’s been one of the best artists in superhero comics for years, and could have turned in a gorgeous book without flexing nearly this hard.
Jordie Bellaire’s colors anchor Superman and The Authority. On one end of the spectrum, there are retro color palettes textured with a Spider-verse-esque application of classic comic book printing techniques. On the other, there are stark, almost monochromatic pages that ooze a hypermodern atmosphere. That contrast sells the story as much as the writing and pencils do, and that’s a tall order.
Despite hearing that Manchester Black would be a big part of this series, I made a point of not reading any stories featuring him, so I could judge for myself how much backstory you need to know. I’m happy to say none of it is necessary — but without that background, Manchester Black may not feel that original or interesting. A friend of mine walked away from the issue with the impression that Black was yet another “ultimate cynic” in the vein of Rick Sanchez or John Constantine, and without the larger context of his history, that’s a fair assessment.
This book is as much an introduction to Superman as it is Manchester Black. Now, he’s so iconic he doesn’t need any fanfare — see his appearance on the very first page, in classic color and a classic costume. But the Clark Kent who’s forming the Authority, who has to levitate in order to exercise his dwindling power of flight, is new to us. This is a Superman who’s had to look at all of his triumphs and see that none of them fixed the world, only preserved it long enough for the human race to drive it into the ground anyways.
Superman made a promise to us, a pledge that he’d help us see a better tomorrow. Now tomorrow’s knocking on the door, and he’s running out of time to save us. That’s thematically rich territory to tackle with the world’s first superhero, and it forces him into positions we don’t usually get to see Superman in. The stakes feel high, the dialogue sings, and the premise is killer. This creative team has a rare synergy, and if they can deliver on the promises this issue makes, it’ll be one for the ages.
Action Comics #1033 – “Warworld Rising: Part 4”
Reviewed by Dan McMahon and Rook Geary
Issue #1033 finds us in the middle of the arc, with tensions between the United States and Atlantis escalating to the brink of war after Atlantis recovered an incredible powersource from the wreck of a Warworld ship in US waters. This standoff provides us a fascinating look at the Justice League trying to handle a situation with two morally muddy sides, and at Superman’s priorities in the face of such a crisis. It’s a tricky situation to write in the DC universe — Marvel’s always been more comfortable territory for exploring the selfishness of nations — but writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson handles it with grace.
All of the character beats land perfectly thanks to some incredible artwork by Daniel Sampere, who’s as at home depicting subtle character expressions as he is creating bombastic futurescapes of undersea tech and interstellar horror. The color and texture provided by Adriano Lucas is a perfect compliment, providing just enough grittiness for the issue to feel real while still featuring the kind of vibrant majesty you can only find in a comic book. I generally feel like “grittiness” is something creative teams should stay away from with Superman, as it undercuts the grand spectacle and genuine tenderness the character is so good at. However, this story executes it damn well, continuing a run that’s unafraid of depicting darkness but unashamed of the light and love at the heart of Superman.
Superman Red & Blue #5
Reviewed by Gabrielle Cazeaux
I think there’s an argument to be made for why anthologies work so well with Superman. Mainly, it’s because you can concentrate on things you normally can’t in a mainline canon comic because it’s not pertinent to the story, but it goes deeper than that.
Superman can be a great character for grandiose spectacle, fighting with aliens inside the core of an exploding sun, or traveling to the future to stop the end of time, or any flashy science fiction story you can come up with which is great! The thing is, there’s a lot of superheroes that can fly, move planets with their bare hands, or run faster than time. But there won’t ever be a character with the same impact that makes you feel like he loves you, that he’s your friend. There will always be just one Superman.
Superman: Red and Blue keeps proving that. With the capability of focusing on smaller things, such as inspiring a kid to be the best version they can be, meditating on his fears, or helping someone to feel like they’re not alone, it shows us what really matters about the character. Not every story will succeed, or stick with you. Even in this fifth issue, there’s an entry that, in my opinion, completely misses the mark and fails in his characterization just because of one line that (without feeling ill-intended) seems absolutely out of character. Still, this book assures me every month that it can bring new stories with unlimited creativity that will make me shed some tears and remind me again and again why I love Superman.