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Geoff Johns may be a big name draw now, but around a decade ago he was still making a name for himself. The name that would soon become comic book sales boffo. After quite a long while, Johns returns to the character that helped shape his career – Superman! Although he’s no longer on Action Comics (where he shared his acclaimed run with Richard Donner) his arrival on the man Superman title is seen by many as a return to his roots.
Johns is known for taking a character and throwing everything outside the base materials out the window when he comes along. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, but other (more frequent) times it can be a blessing. Especially when considering the minefield of bad editorial and writing decisions that “New 52” Superman books have been mired in. While it has had its moments, the line of comics has been shooting more blanks than actual caliber stories. With useless ornamentation such as “hipster Jimmy Olsen” or “Clark quitting and creating his own blog”, it just takes away from the real power of Superman. Chipping away at a hard won foundation for a few easy changes that hold no real narrative value.
Right away, as in from the front cover, one can see the position that Johns is coming from. The sterling, sparkling, silver logo jumping out at the reader with its iconic whiff of the old Christopher Reeve imagery. It’s not playing any games with the reader and it lays its message bare: “This is a Superman story, plain and simple”. A message that is only reinforced by the issues masterful first pages – a retelling of the Superman myth (doomed planet, desperate scientists etc.) but with the main DC Earth replacing Krypton. It could be a remarkable elseworld in its own right, and is able to conjure the same magic that the standard origin does without seeming trite.
It all caps off with the long awaited return of a Geoff Johns special: his neat little credits pages. He used a slight one at the start of his Justice League of America run, but the one included here is one of his full out varieties that is sure to bring back fond memories of his seminal “Last Son of Krypton” arc. It hits the right emotional key as we see the newborn Kal-El surrogate (the newly dubbed Ulysses are we learn as the issue goes on) is sent adrift by his hopeful, but doomed parents. The rest of the issue is no different, as Johns spends much of the time creating a centered atmosphere and tone.
It places the story on the back burner but is really necessary so that the reader can get accustomed to Johns’ own vision of the Superman world. Every single other title is geared into one crossover or another and Johns sets out to place his story in its own section. We get the back to basics version of Superman, Clark being teased to return to the Daily Planet, the end of “rich playboy” Jimmy Olsen (he is back to being the ever hardworking photographer), and other such aspects. Of course this might disappoint those who were hoping for a more action packed issue. It’s just a “status quo” issue for the most part.
Near the end is where we get the real nit and grit of the start of our story, with the return of a now fully grown Ulysses and some hints at the nebulous “real threat” of the arc. It comes off a bit sudden, but not too jarring. At this juncture what does come off as jarring would be John Romita Jr.’s art. Although rather well done and even with touches of greatness (the double pages splash with Titano), the action sequence at the issue’s end comes off as cluttered and absurdly hard to follow. While not as bad as some might have been expecting it fails to reach the finish line intact. Overall, however, this proved a flashy start to Johns’ return to the big blue boy scout.