DC Comics is the house that Superman built. While he may not be the center of the DCU, his open-hearted optimism is a central point; a beacon of light in an ostensibly darker comics universe. In modern times, fans and critics believed he was too old fashioned and didn’t mesh well with a post-9/11 world. After Flashpoint, a storyline that saw the formation of a new universe, DC rebooted their line, and gave the Man of Steel a facelift. He was younger again, less experienced. The Kents were long dead, and this new Man of Steel was hardly a boy scout.
Prone to suspicion, impulsivity, and aggression, the New 52 Superman wasn’t the hero we remembered. The stories were uneven, split between writers who understood the character (Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder) and those who didn’t (Scott Lobdell), and an editorial board determined to modify things on the fly to try and sell the superhero version of New Coke.
Like Coca Cola's failed experiment, the New 52 Supes was unpopular enough for DC to bring back the classic version during their latest reboot/alteration/retcon/apology called Rebirth. The pre-Flashpoint Superman. Older, wiser and the very definition of heroic, the original Last Son of Krypton has been forced into a new universe where the heroes are younger and darker, the history not as defined, and the dangers more prolific.
It’s also some of the best Superman work since the '90s. This is DC Rebirth: Superman's 15 Best Moments So Far.
15 Superman and Superboy Meet Batman and Robin
Like the beginning of all great friendships, the new-ish Boy Wonder (Damian Wayne) kidnapped the very new Boy of Steel (Jon Kent) to run experiments on him. And with that, the World’s Smallest two-parter got off to a quiet and ordinary start.
The modern dynamic of Batman and Superman’s relationship has always been complicated; more so now with this alternate dimension stuff, and further escalated by the fact that they’re both fathers now. It updates the friendship and allows them both to age somewhat, all while organically introducing more conflict within their own books and in crossovers like this one. Seeing an angry demi-god storm the Batcave ready to kill to save his son is chilling.
Naturally, this does eventually lead to some bonding for the parents, but very little is resolved between the sons. Their rivalry is naturally adolescent: highly competitive and based on their own insecurities more than anything else. By adding Nobody (more on her later) to the mix, there’s also the burgeoning desire to upstage the other and impress the girl, who, naturally, has developed faster and is already on to their obvious contest.
Reliable storytellers who focus on character to create conflict, writers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are unsung heroes in DC. World’s Smallest is steeped in ridiculous action but grounded in an oddly realistic depiction of parents and their children.
14 Having to Deal with a Different Lex Luthor…
Lex Luthor’s never going to be a good guy. He’s too interesting for that. Thankfully, his vanity and desire for adulation places him in a fun gray zone. Having recently saved the Earth from the Crime Syndicate and Darkseid, Lex is (relatively) beloved by the public and was a member of the Justice League. Meanwhile, Superman is now mistrusted because, well, they know he isn’t the one they're used to. The whole thing is pretty meta.
This new dynamic is a wonderful inversion of their relationship. Not only has the role reversal created a new problem for Supes to deal with, but it’s given us a look at what Lex has always wanted: for people to see the world the way he does. Now they’re all parroting the things he’s said over the years: Superman is too powerful, we don’t know him, how can we trust him? The consideration of xenophobia has never been more relevant.
It harkens back to the earliest days of Superman comics without being repetitive or forcing us into another Year One-styled origin piece. But, for all of the distrust he’s experiencing, at least his friends have his back.
13 …and a New Trinity
Nothing quite like having a billionaire leather fetishist and a woman who slept with your identical twin over for dinner with your wife and young son. Lois is behind this idea, and apparently has a metagene that allows her to feed on uncomfortable situations. Oh, and then Jon shoots Bruce and Diana, thinking they’re intruders.
This is going great.
The new Trinity series luxuriates in the new mistrust between comics’ greatest icons while also adding a wistful, sad nostalgia for both Clark and Lois. They’re surrounded by familiar faces, but it’s all new again too. He tells an embarrassing story about Bruce, but it’s about the Bruce from the old universe. The incident never happened here.
Diana then talks to Lois about being involved with the previous Superman; the awkwardness that it entails, the longing and the sadness. Altogether, the story deals with a silly comic book situation but with honest, true adult emotion. It’s a surprising development, but very well appreciated.
Okay, so, things are still being worked out between Supes and his oldest and dearest friends. But at least his other colleagues like him, right?
12 Superman vs. Aquaman
Damn it, Arthur.
Admittedly, things have been tough for Aquaman of late. It looks like Atlantis is responsible for a terror attack on the surface world, and there’s a warrant out for Arthur Curry’s arrest. He’s always been the outsider of the Justice League (which is odd when you remember that there are at least two aliens on the team, but there you go), and considering Superman’s own current status as an outsider also, this is a perfect opportunity to have these two interact in a fresh status quo. They might even find some common ground they never had before.
Spoiler: They don’t. Aquaman, the ruler of Atlantis, accuses Supes of being a government stooge. Strangely, the irony doesn’t kill either of them on the spot. While Arthur does manage to sort things out with the big guy, it’s after the requisite fistfight. The point, however, isn’t just to have our own BvS cake and eat it too, but to highlight the conflict of interest that Superman and Aquaman have both politically and on the Justice League.
For Clark, his protective nature is even stronger now. Not only does he know the loss of Krypton, but now the Earth he grew up on. Stranded on this new Earth, he’s determined not to let this one fall—even if it means fighting his friends.
11 Restoring History
A recent two-parter sees the Man of Tomorrow and Jon launched into the past to just after the events of World War II. They encounter Captain William Storm of The Losers, who is stranded on Dinosaur Island. Admittedly, the story itself is a play-by-the-numbers time travel adventure. There aren’t any surprises in it. In truth, it’s just an excuse to pay homage to the late, great Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier series. However, “Escape from Dinosaur Island” is still a great story. For god’s sake, we see Storm ride a Pterodactyl while firing a machine gun. Who wouldn’t want to read this?
Besides the dinosaur taxi service, the thrust of the narrative is focused on Jon. It’s through his doe-eyes that we experience the wonder and the terror of the island. It keeps the familiar elements fresh and explores Jon’s character.
At its core, it’s an exploration of Clark and Jon’s relationship. Until then, most of Superboy’s character work had been delivered via his relationship with Lois. Now that his powers are developing, the father and son have a unique common bond, allowing writer Peter J. Tomasi to explore a realistic father-son relationship through the fantastical means of comics.
10 A Multiplicity of Supermen
Grant Morrison’s Multiversity and Mark Millar’s Red Son are two of the best-reviewed stories of the last fifteen years. Thanks to criminally underappreciated writer Peter J. Tomasi, now there’s a follow-up to both, and it all starts with Superman nearly hitting his communist counterpart with his car.
With DC’s interest in expanding its history and embracing its legacy again, reasserting these stories back into the mainstream is an important step. The idea of using this as a catalyst for the first full-on dimension-hopping, multiverse-exploring, sci-fi Superman stories since Morrison’s Action Comics run in 2011 is beyond exciting.
Early highlights are subtle nods that fans will appreciate. From Clark’s exhausted “I’m familiar” response to being asked if he’s ever heard of the Multiverse, or the cameo by Captain Carrot of the Zoo Crew (he’s back!), there’s a sense of scope that spans dimensions.
However, it’s the team-up between the Supermen that’s most rewarding. Red Son Supes drives the plot forward. It’s his mission to warn the Supermen of the Multiverse that there’s a target on all of their backs. It shows that spark of selflessness that’s present in nearly all versions of the character. It makes him universal and implicit, and it deepens the legacy. Even under all that despotic snow, even the commie has a heart. He’s Superman.
9 Superman is Integral to the DCU Again
There’s a great line in the 2005 story Infinite Crisis. “Superman, the last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead.”
It’s a brutal but effective line. At the time, his role in the Justice League had lessened and his efficacy was marginalized by Lex Luthor’s presidency. Despite some efforts, however, the Man of Steel's importance in the DCU has decreased over the last decade.
Batman has taken Superman’s place as the central figure in DC Comics. The old Superman/Batman title was re-branded as Batman/Superman. Most of DC’s recent events like Darkseid War and Forever Evil — not to mention the main Justice League series — have made Batman the central figure. Supes had been relegated as the muscle, for the most part. But no longer.
Between the little mysteries like the glowing blue hand-print on the New 52 Superman’s grave, to Mr. Oz contacting our Superman about his appearance on New Earth going against “the plan,” or the recently begun Multiverse story, along with his prominent placement on Rebirth's title, he's becoming relevant again...and possibly on a collision course with Rebirth mastermind Doctor Manhattan.
8 Lois & Clark: World’s Finest Parents
It’s a good idea to not kidnap Superman’s son or hold the history of his people hostage. Eradicator did both. Clark responded poorly, and Lois responded worse. The fight to save Jon ended up on the moon (naturally) where Lois wanted to do more than rescue her son. While the Kryptonians tore up the Justice League moon tower, she donned the Hellbat suit, the armor Bruce wore when he stormed Apokolips (the one that was killing him as he wore it). Yeah, Lois put that thing on, and proceeded to light Eradicator up.
There are plenty of metaphors for it in real life — “lifting the car” comes to mind — but in a comic book world, metaphors can be literal, and having Clark and Lois do the impossible for Jon is a great payoff for parents who understand the feeling. Even readers than don't have children can get a visual rendering of the feeling and understand that a little better themselves.
Come to think of it, Jon has been kidnapped twice in the last two months, and 2016’s Lois & Clark miniseries also featured a kidnapped Jon. Maybe they should get Jon a puppy tracking chip?
7 A New Arc for Lois
In this universe, superheroes and metahumans haven’t been around for very long. The older Clark and Lois, having come from another Earth where this was the norm for well over fifteen years, are basically experts on all this crazy crap. This has given Lois some extra kick in dealing with threats that have cropped up recently. Since being folded into the Rebirth era, she’s used the aforementioned Hellbat suit, struck Poison Ivy with a truck, stole Frankenstein’s ship and mowed him down with it (there’s a theme here…), and beat up an alien criminal who had kidnapped her friend.
In pre-Flashpoint universe, Lois wasn’t this aggressive. As with Clark, at this point, Lois has seen her fair share; in Convergence, they saw their Earth wiped from existence. There’s very little for her to fear, but plenty she wants to keep safe. She understands the threats that are out there, and she’s ready for them.
Lois and Clark are the most experienced people on this Earth in dealing with metahumans and alien invaders. She’s no longer just a reporter, she’s a resource who knows how to navigate this brave new world better than any other human on the planet.
6 Renewed Moral Complexity
In the recent Trial of Lex Luthor arc, a pair of aliens named the Godslayer and Zade come to Earth to kill Lex for crimes he’s going to commit in the future. At first, neither Lex nor Superman take them seriously. Replete with shoulder pads, big guns, useless pouches, and light-up parts cannibalized from LA Gear sneakers, the alien duo are more of a Liefeldian acid flashback than a credible threat.
Regardless, Supes is placed in a situation where he has to defend Lex from these possible future crimes; their premonitions of universal genocide could be one of a myriad of possibilities. Then, he also considers the crimes Lex has gotten away with. Would letting him die for a future crime be justice for the crimes he has committed? And what about Lex’s recent turn as a good guy? Can Lex balance out the bad he’s done? Can he be redeemed?
The fact that Superman holds his beliefs of guilty until innocent sacred and still applies them even to an enemy — to the point of defending his archnemesis —is indicative of the kind of unbiased, moral strength we should all aspire to. The story, which is still going on, is highly recommended.
5 The New Superboy
DC’s toxic stupidity damaged Conner Kent’s character to a remarkably impressive degree. After cancelling the title and killing him off after writer Aaron Kuder had finally rescued the series, there was no active Superboy in the DCU for a few years.
Now, Jonathan Samuel Kent, Lois and Clark’s ten-year-old, has taken on the mantle.
Jon’s journey is one of discovery and adolescence. He has the earnestness and sense of wonder of Clark, along with the shrewd stubbornness of Lois. He’s also the youngest version of Superboy DC has ever presented (Superbaby notwithstanding). Jon’s accessibility is two-fold; a younger audience will identify with Jon as his own social and physical evolution begins, reflected by his own experiences in going to school and talking to girls, with the growing burden of his powers being a metaphor for puberty.
While still fairly new, his standout moments are focused on his relationship to the outside world, as he discovers he’s not quite the same as the other kids at school — or even his parents. In a recent adventure, Jon was brought to tears at the idea of never seeing his mother again, a rare underlining of how young he is to be undertaking such responsibilities.
Sometimes symbolism says more than words ever could. Before making his return to public life, Clark was working in the shadows, using his old black suit and sporting an impressive depression beard.
After the New 52 Superman’s death, Metropolis was left without its savior. At virtually the same time, Lex Luthor stood up, wearing a power suit sporting the S and the fallen hero’s cape and declared himself the new Superman, while Doomsday showed up across town
because the story required it for a perfectly good reason.
Galled by Lex Luthor’s actions and worried for the safety of Metropolis, Clark silently runs to the bathroom to shave. His eyes are certain and fixed. There’s determination, but also a feeling of things finally settling into place. He then picks out some familiar red and blues (his uniform, not pharmaceuticals) and goes to Metropolis to save lives.
The preparation could easily have been glossed over, but it created an important moment. It signaled that through reboots, retcons, and awful editorial mandates that would make you wonder if these people were secretly working for Marvel the entire time, Superman — the Superman we knew and loved, the Superman that Clark himself missed being — was back. And he was still somehow not melting the mirror with his heat vision.
3 Restoring the Good Man
When Lex Luthor was elected president, Superman punched a planet in half. His physical capabilities are meant to complement his warm heart and thoughtful nature, and it was definitely missing in the New 52 incarnation.
From heart-to-hearts with his son, the olive branches he extends to everyone, to his violence-as-an-absolute-last-resort mindset, it’s refreshing to see Superman again be a hero to look up to. Finally, he was inspiring again, and not brooding over losses, driving motorcycles, or dealing with his failing superpowers. It’s his humanity that’s key to the Man of Steel’s character. He faces every challenge with empathy and curiosity, and always wants peace to prevail.
A sweet, minor scene finds Superman meeting Nobody (Maya Ducard), an agent of Robin. While their introduction is less than pleasant (she kicked his son’s ass a little), the optimistic country boy is all class about it. He immediately identifies Maya as a wayward kid, but also sees the best in her. It’s a quick little line (see above) but it is a perfect microcosm of what Superman is, and everything the New 52 Superman was rarely allowed to be.
2 The Return of the Immigrant
As told by his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the story of Superman is the story of an immigrant. A lone foreigner in a strange new land, Kal-El deals with a culture that’s suspicious of him as he struggles to understand his own place in the world. Shifting back and forth between the Kryptonian culture he left behind and the human one he’s been exposed to, he finds a balance and identity in between the two disparate value systems. Eventually, he finds acceptance from others, and the two cultures meet in the great melting pot of human philosophy.
After Convergence, Clark, Lois and their son Jon are stranded on an alternate Earth, and the immigrant story is renewed as a refugee story in a time (where it is more relevant than ever). To Lois and Clark, this Earth is familiar but foreign. They’re uncertain they want to stay. None of the superheroes wear their underpants on the outside here.
On the other side of this, the Justice League is mistrustful of him. This guy wasn’t their Superman. This disconnect plays into the growing relationship between both sides, and it feeds the ongoing uncertainty Lois and Clark feel. They don’t belong on this world and they know it. When the mysterious Mr. Oz comes to their house and tells them as much, it reads as a potent reminder to the way early immigrants feel as much as it is a means of pushing the story forward.
There aren’t many new stories left for characters who are almost eighty years old. That fatherhood for Superman wasn’t an already well-explored avenue is a surprise, but then, superheroes aren’t usually allowed to age, are they? Now, the Man of Steel has a ten-year-old, and it’s actually made him seem younger.
There’s an undeniable sense of fun in the Superman series these days. Jon brings an energy into Clark and Lois’ life. His youthful exuberance is contagious, and seeing them all living on the family farm as Superboy’s powers and personality develop harkens back to Clark’s own upbringing by Ma (MARTHA!) and Pa Kent.
This fulfills Jor-El’s speech about the father becoming the son and the son becoming the father, and gives Clark a deeper understanding of the wonders of life. It gives him personal stakes and urgency; it’s difficult to put the Man Dad of Steel in danger. It’s easy to put someone he loves in danger.
Without his humanity, and without people, he doesn’t have a purpose. Rebirth gave Superman the chance to be Superman again.
Has Rebirth managed to bring back the Superman you know and love? Will the reincarnated version of the character in the DCEU films manage to do the same? Sound off in the comments.