Thursday, July 14, 2016

Superman or Supermen? Where Do We Go?

This time in 2009, DC was promoting an upcoming series called Superman: Secret Origin. That was the third in-continuity origin of Superman in 23 years, with Geoff Johns blending all of the different stories, including the Richard Donner movies and Smallville, into one, vast account. It seemed like overkill to redefine Superman once again, but it was all worth it if one, beautiful, all-encompassing origin could be established for once and for… a while.

That while wasn't long. In less than two years, Superman was rebooted with a loving, year-and-a-half redefinition by Grant Morrison.

Three years later, that Superman is dead, and we have been told by the mysterious Mr. Oz that the last Superman was maybe never Superman at all.

But we have the previous Superman back, which may mean that Secret Origin is once again the origin of the main Superman. Even if so, his reality is now (pending future events) very messy, with his life from birth through adulthood having been spent in his home dimension and the rest of his life on a new dimension without "his" Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League… even his Krypton or Supergirl. Only his Lois Lane and his son made the trip with him, so the new world has two Lois Lanes. It also has a Clark Kent who is not super-powered, is not Superman, and has memories of meetings with Superman that Superman doesn't have. Everyone in this world knows that Superman is… or was… Clark Kent.

It's messy. And far messier with the addition of two other supermen, with Lex Luthor wearing battle armor bearing the S-symbol and, in Shanghai, Kenan Kong starring in a title called New Super-Man. So there are four living men, plus one dead, sharing some aspect or another of the identity of Superman. In addition, August will bring Superwoman #1, with Lois Lane getting the powers she always wished for.

All of this hearkens back to the past in many ways. When Superman died in a 1993 story, he was succeeded by four alternate versions of Superman – including the Eradicator, who is the focus of the current plot in Superman – none of whom was the literal incarnation of the dead man. The event in which the dead Superman returned to life was called "Reign of the Supermen," a titular reference to Jerry Siegel's 1933 story about a Bill Dunn, a regular man who had been given super powers artificially by a mad scientist. This title was referenced in 52 in an issue dubbed "Rain of the Supermen," in which ordinary people given powers by Lex Luthor fell to their deaths when he suddenly switched off their powers. All very ominous for China's new Super-Man, who, in getting his powers from mysterious scientists, is perhaps following in the footsteps of the oldest Super-Man. Lois Lane getting superpowers to become Superwoman was originally depicted in 1943. Is DC revisiting every past year that ends in a '3'?

If 1993 is the playbook for what is happening now, the non-Superman supermen will serve as good supporting characters for DC to work with and the real Superman will step up. Certainly, the Superman who's married to Lois is the individual who seems ordained to fill the role, but we also know that he's going to be reclassified in some essential way, with Mr. Oz telling us in DC Rebirth #1, "You… are not what you believe you are. And neither was the fallen Superman." With Mr. Oz alluding to that Superman's death as a "tragedy" (the air quotes are his, corresponding to a snarky tone of voice that we can't hear), we can take it that Superman's falling was not dying in the conventional sense, and so, the New 52 Superman must be alive or in some sort of limbo. If he's anyone whom we've seen living, then he's likely the powerless Clark Kent who is running around being enigmatic, seemingly on purpose.

When Grant Morrison told the tale of the New 52 Superman in Action Comics, he posited that the New 52 Superman was the individual who fought Doomsday and died – who was the same Superman as pre-Flashpoint, but altered. This wasn't clear until Action #16 when Jimmy and Lois stood beneath the golden memorial statue with an eagle perched on Superman's arm. Lois said, "Superman died right here." Jimmy responded, "Yeah, and then Superman saved everybody, remember? He beat the bad guy. He came back from the dead." Yes, Jimmy, we do remember. Are we supposed to? Is DC being true to what the stories have told us before? They're preparing some intriguing reveal that will tell us that the identities of the dead New 52 Superman and the revived pre-Flashpoint Superman aren't what everyone thought, and that will give us the Rebirth take on Superman, someone whom we're seeing in action (and in Action), but whose true nature is still unknown to us and to him.

There's a new story in progress, though, one that surely wasn't in line with Morrison's plans. Now we have a Clark Kent who is just as suspicious about Superman as Superman is about Clark Kent. And, in a fragmentary conversation during the battle in Action #959, Clark indicates that he seems to know more than Superman:

Clark: You'll "save me," is that it? Like you did before?
Superman: No idea what you're talking about.
Clark: Months ago. When you sent me into hiding.
Superman: I want to help you, but I don't kn-

Obviously, the timeline is fractured. Clark was plucked from it at a different moment than Superman. This Clark experienced a meeting between the two that this Superman either doesn't remember or didn't experience. Clark is resentful of how that all transpired, but here he is, alive. And we know that the fallen Superman's fate is not a "tragedy."

How, at the end of this, are the creators going to put all of the crayons back into the box and give us a Superman whose origins are not torturously complicated? If married-to-Lois Superman isn't who he believes he is, and they want to make the origin blend into the post-Flashpoint, post-Rebirth world, then they may be planning to tell us that he is the post-Flashpoint Superman, but older. If the falling of the fallen Superman was not a tragedy (with a snarky tone, in air quotes), then something else happened to him. For the messy situation with four living Supermen, a dead Superman, and a Superwoman to resolve itself, we're going to have to start learning that some of the multiple Supermen are evidently not different men but the same man tumbling through some timeline or inter-dimensional voodoo. Perhaps dead-Superman, living-Superman, and Clark Kent are all (or, at least two of them) the same individual at different moments in his life. Perhaps the New 52 Superman didn't die but grew a little older to become the Superman who's now married to Lois. Wally West has kicked off Rebirth by telling us that years of the heroes' lives went missing, and they lost, among other things, love. The simplest solution to the mystery of the multiple Supermen is that they aren't multiple, after all.

Given these clues, my take is that is the Superman who is now fighting Doomsday is the Superman who was born on this universe's Krypton. What appeared to be the death of New 52 Superman, wasn't. He somehow lost his powers and was sent into hiding as a powerless Clark Kent by Superman, who – due to some sort of timeline fracturing – doesn't remember the past few years correctly. I think the resolution to the mess is that DC will tell us that it's not a mess, just a good story, and that there was only one Superman all along.


  1. There was one superman... The arrival of superdad, ruin everything.
    Now Superman must be again the same character of the post-crisis era? Bye. boring superman

  2. Victor,

    I don't like the idea of a messy Superman origin, and I preferred the New 52 Superman's personality to the pre-Flashpoint version. So in that sense, I agree.

    Perhaps this is simply wish fulfillment, but I think they can, and likely will make the first problem go away with the plot twist of revealing that the Superman who survived is the New 52 Superman in actuality.

    I'd like to think it through further, what creative process might be going on. I'm sure that the creative team is trying to get to a place that they, too, are happy with, and I don't think this mess, the way it looks, is it. Mr. Oz's comments are very pointed. We are not going to see, at the end of this, that the New 52 Superman died and the pre-Flashpoint Superman survived, end of story. We've been told that the truth differs from that in two if not three different ways.

    As for how the character is written, that is up to each writer – which is itself somewhat unfortunate, but true. Future writers may write this character to my liking and/or yours… then again, they may not!

  3. I have friends who jumped ship at the start of the New 52 but who have climbed back on board with the appearance of the pre-Flashpoint Superman. I am happy he is back, but am definitely interested to find out what really happened to New 52 Superman. I think your theory about him being the powerless Clark Kent is pretty spot-on. I am very curious to see who Mr. Oz turns out to be.
    unrelated but scary thought, is it possible Superboy-Prime still exists in the modern multiverse? Last I remember he was still trapped reading comics in his parents basement.
    Thanks for the interesting blog Rikdad! Always a pleasure!

  4. In terms of personal preference, I liked the New 52 Superman, at least in the hands of some writers, more than I liked the pre-Flashpoint Superman, but everyone has their own preferences.

    People immediately speculated that Mr. Oz could be Ozymandias, Adrian Veidt, from Watchmen. A conversation between Veidt and Dr. Manhattan reprised from the end of Watchmen closes DC Rebirth #1, but only the latter is seen. I was combing Watchmen last night to look for matches of exact phrases between Veidt and Mr. Oz's dialogue, but I didn't find anything specific (nor was I very thorough).

    Were you asking about Superboy-Prime because Mr. Oz's robed appearance is like SBP as the Time Trapper in Legion of Three Worlds? They could do whatever they want with SBP, given the cosmic resets that have happened, but I'd prefer that they abandon that character indefinitely. The last scene of his that I read was in Darkest Night when, it was implied, he might be killed by the Black Lantern version of his girlfriend, although I think he appeared in a comic that I didn't read after that.

  5. Superboy Prime's final appearance is the final 3 pre-flashpoint issues of Teen Titans. He got trapped in The Source Wall.

    Could he remain unaffected by flashpoint the way New Genesis and Apokalips were unaffected by Crisis? Could his exile effect his psyche? Is it possible New52 Superman and older Super-Dad are stronger than prime boy used to be?

  6. Jacob, thanks for the update… I recalled that it was in Teen Titans, but I didn't read that story, and didn't know how it ended.

    It never made sense to me that SBP was stronger than post-Crisis Superman; Superman was equal in strength to pre-Crisis Kal-L, Captain Marvel, etc. and comparable to Amazons, White Martians, etc. Post-Crisis Superman was less powerful than pre-Crisis, but it also affected those other characters. There's no logical reason why SBP would be the only one to come out on top. It was an interesting plot device for a story or two, I suppose, but I'm not a fan of making him the one alpha-powerful character of the Multiverse.

    As I mentioned in my How Strong is Superman post, the stronger versions of Superman are not slightly stronger than the, say, Byrne version, but millions of times stronger. If that's how they're interpreting it, SBP vs post-Crisis Superman shouldn't have been an interesting fight, but more like post-crisis Superman vs. Wildcat – no fight at all.

    And, I think any writer who wants to use him again only needs the proper editorial clearance, and it seems inevitable that he'll be back.

    As I mentioned in my "Who Took The Super Out of Superman?" post, I think DC would be far better off, creatively, with Superman as the tippy-top of the power rankings, or sharing that spot with very few rivals. And it's not a coincidence that Superman's popularity has waned as they've taken away that distinctive trait. But the other characters who have profited by being designated as his peers (e.g. Jo's J'onzz) have no sales power whatsoever, so by weakening Superman relative to others, DC is undermining Superman's success and gaining nothing material in return. Superboy Prime is one part of that.

  7. Isn't it implied that Super-Dad is the Pre-Crisis Superman by the events of Convergence? Don't get me wrong I like this idea Rikdad, I kind of liked New 52 Supes as well, but Rebirth seems to have made everything hella complicated.

  8. David,

    The issues prior to Rebirth #0 certainly communicated with no room for question that Super-Dad is the Pre-Flashpoint Superman (also AKA Post-Crisis Superman). But Mr. Oz is telling us outright that he's not who he thinks he is, so what seems clear is probably wrong.

    There's a lot of room for fuzziness where soft reboots are concerned, and certainly part of the story includes things that weren't on the agenda in 2011. It's always fuzzy if/how much a post-reboot *is* the pre-reboot version (but altered) as opposed to another character replacing the pre-reboot version.

    I think the surprise is going to communicate, one way or another, that the two worlds aren't utterly distinct (like Jay Garrick and Barry Allen back in the Sixties) but are somehow different versions of the same guy, so nobody actually died. It may be an almost philosophical distinction, but it could make things seem less complicated once it's been explained (or explained away).

  9. I am still a little unclear about how pre-flashpoint superman has been in the New52 since Justice League: Origin, if he was trapped by Brainiac during Convergence. Maybe after Convergence he was thrown back in time to the beginning of New52?

    1. He and some others were sent back in time at the end of Convergence to avert the original Crisis (?!?!). But somehow turned up in the New 52. Or so we thought.

      Like seriously, I know I'm going to sound like I have a major hard on for Morrison but everything DC needed to be done to continuity was done in The Multiversity.

      All Convergence and Rebirth have done, at least from my perspective, is muddy the water even further, by dumping a load of mental gymnastics into the mix that I am neither interested or invested in.

  10. I think both Convergence and Rebirth (like the New 52) are creative decisions that were made for business reasons. Convergence started as filler, then the pre-Flashpoint Superman looked like a possible uptick in sales based on how readers responded.

    Rebirth, on the other hand, wraps itself in the flags of "legacy" and perhaps previously-established relationships (e.g., Clark and Lois, Barry and Iris), which obviously finds favor with some readers, but, as I noted in my Rebirth review, it comes across as hollow when the very same creators who are giving us Rebirth made the deliberate decisions to discard those things with the New 52.

    Business-driven decisions routinely complicate the clarity of continuity. After COIE, DC kept the Teen Titans, who were a hot seller, relatively unchanged, which made it perplexing how they could have a complicated past history but team up with Superman, who had a newly-cleansed history. Almost the same thing happened with Damian and Flashpoint: A popular young character was suddenly implausibly young. (How could Batman be the father of a 10-year-old son if Batman's career had only lasted 5 years?)

    As of reading Action Comics today, I'm still uncertain what the story with Doomsday has been, going back not one but TWO reboots! Did Doomsday kill New 52 Superman? Morrison said yes, but the Doomsday virus plot implied not, and the post-Rebirth appearance also implies not. Would it really have been too hard to be specific about this?

    I recently tracked down the early-80s scene that caused a fan to ask a question about continuity that got Marv Wolfman thinking about the need to straighten out continuity because there were decades of comics to keep straight. Rebirth happened only five weeks ago and continuity is already vague.

  11. I kind of felt I signed off yesterday in a very "angry man shouts at cloud" kind of way. I'm not judging anyone who is emotionally invested and can afford to keep up with (post)Rebirth.

    Like you say Rikdad Rebirth #0 kind of rang hollow when you really thought about it. I attempted to write it up but soon gave up when I realised there was nothing new to say.

    I'm vaguely interested in Damian and the Teen Titans, just as I am vaguely interested in Superwoman and Wonder Woman Year One. I'd like to see what's made of the three Jokers thing and of course DC's continued flogging of the dead Watch-horse but I'm not rushing out to add things to my subscriptions. Which is strange as the New 52 was the thing that transitioned me from a casual reader to a subscriber.

  12. I was supremely frustrated at the advent of the New52, so am just naturally excited now that the Rebirth era is at least doing some of what I hoped would eventually happen. And that is starting to acknowledge the pre-Flashpoint DCU and roll-back some of the changes made.

    Doctor Manhattan removing 10 odd years of time from continuity intrigues me as an in-story explanation that I am eager to find expanded on and explored.

    I just wish DC would clear up what happened at the end of Convergence and some other continuity a bit better. Right now everything going on in the Superman titles is getting out of hand, so I hope that straightens out. I think we'll find out that New52 Superman didn't die, he was just depowered and his powers went into Lois and Lana.

    1. The interesting thing is that by jumping on with the New 52 I actually ended up collecting a lot more pre-Flashpoint. I don't utterly mourn the New 52 nor do I lament the return of pre-Flashpoint elements. I guess I just have Crisis fatigue.

      For me Multiversity is/was the pinnacle of what a soft reboot should be. Having said that Secret Wars, which I recently caught up on, is some no nonsense so simple a child could get it establishing of a new status quo.

    2. I love Multiversity, and wish some of what Morrison established in that series was used more.
      Eventually a Crisis will arise where we see the modern day Multiverse interact. IE Bombshells, Injustice, Earth-2, Earth One, etc. and Multiversity should be the basis for that

    3. I read Bombshells as being Earth 11. I want more Earth 13. Never mind Superman give me Superdemon!


    4. I am loving Bombshells! A fun book that has a really different kind of feel to it. :)

  13. Some subtle points in the current story in the "Superman" title; in issue #5, The Eradicator says that the dead Kryptonians of post-Rebirth DCU are Superdad's relatives ("his loved ones"). This is potentially confirmation of my theory, that Superdad has always been the New 52 Superman all along, and not a different person from another dimension as was the case when, say, Barry Allen met Jay Garrick back in "Flash of Two Earths."

    Perhaps the Eradicator is wrong – it's certainly misguided – but it's been calling Superdad the survivor of it's Krypton's (the Rebirth Universe's Krypton) explosion since issue #3.

    To think this through backwards, we know that there's a revelation coming about the nature of Superdad, and his not being who he thought he was. When the editors were picking plots for the first runs in the new series, and they wanted to tease things out before revealing Superdad's true nature, this plot with the Eradicator was one of their choices. And, in the middle of lots of fighting, it keeps making assertions that Superdad is his universe's Superman… "is" with a full stop, no modifications. The Eradicator's dialogue has been a clue all along that Superdad is a native of the post-Rebirth world, not a guest on it.