Of the Rebirth books released so far, the Superman-related series have been the weakest. Largely, that’s because they’re based on a flawed premise: rather than deal with the version of the character that’s existed for 5 years, DC went full fan service and killed him off so they could bring back the dark pre-New 52 version of the character who died and came back to life in the early ’90s. While Action Comics #957 and the Superman Rebirth one-shot had their merits, Superman #1 has few.
Admittedly, it’s not all bad. After being Batman levels of brooding and mysterious in his previous appearances (OK, so his version of Earth did get destroyed, he has legitimate reasons), this Clark lightens up a bit. Mostly that means taking off his black and white uniform and replacing it with the iconic red, blue and yellow outfit. Otherwise, he’s so brooding and mysterious that he won’t even work with Wonder Woman and Batman. It’s a little hard to believe Clark would think not trusting people who are traditionally his allies would help keep this Earth from meeting the same fate his, but sure, why not? Whatever’s most convenient for the storytelling.
Anyway, the real problem here is Lois and Clark’s young son Jon. While he was fairly precocious and innocent in the pre-Rebirth series Superman: Lois and Clark, he turns into a disgruntled adolescent in about three seconds flat here. Granted, he does go through something pretty traumatic in this issue. Not only does he accidentally kill his own cat when his powers go haywire, he does it in front of a pretty girl. The scene–in which the cat’s melted carcass falls at Jon’s feet–is truly shocking. And while the moment has a tinge of promise in that maybe this book will explore the dark side of having superpowers, it mostly feels like a gratuitous violence for the sake of shock value.
The best thing about the issue seems to be the way it acknowledges that Lois and Clark’s fear of people finding out about Jon’s powers may actually be making him afraid of himself. If you make something taboo to a child, they’re going to start thinking of it as bad—especially after they accidentally incinerate their own pet with their laser eyes. It says a lot about Jon’s relationship to his parents that he, first, doesn’t tell them about the dead cat and second, sees his father and the other superheroes who show up at the farm as beady-eyed ghouls in the night. That indicates a clear failure of approach on Lois and Clark’s parts. Yet the real failure is co-writers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s approach to the Superman mythos.
They don’t seem to know what kind of book they want to write. Is this a super violent Superman comic for adolescents? Or is this the story of how Emo Clark Kent from another universe relearns how to be a heroic beacon of hope? In reality, it’s probably a mix of both, but neither really sounds like something worth reading a couple times a month. For goodness’ sake, this is a version of Lois Lane who writes under a pseudonym to stay out of the public eye. Have you ever heard of something that sounded less like Lois Lane?! Listen, it makes sense, these versions of the character are meant as a metaphor the extreme fear of Otherness permeating American culture right now. This Clark and Lois have seen the dangers of being open about your different-ness and they’re acting accordingly. But it was easier to root for them when they were heroes instead of cowards