By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
For John Romita Jr’s big DC Comics debut, he and Geoff Johns have pulled an “alternate Superman” story out of their hats. At face value that’s a bit of a let down, just because we’ve seen so many of those. Hell, Scott Snyder and Jim Lee are essentially doing that in Superman Unchained. Thus, the pressure’s on our creative team to give this “The Men of Tomorrow” story a completely different feel than Snyder and Lee’s story…
Ulysses, a.k.a. Neil, was transported from Earth to an alternate dimension as an infant. His parents, two scientists at the Ulysses Research Center in Nebraska, had feared the impending destruction of Earth. Upon returning to Earth, Ulysses is shocked to discover that didn’t happen. He’s quickly taken in by Clark Kent. But getting Neil accustomed to Metropolis, and teaching him certain boundaries will prove difficult. All the while, Superman investigates what has become of the Ulysses facility, and sees what he can learn about Neil’s past.
One thing “The Men of Tomorrow” has going for it thus far that Superman Unchained doesn’t is that we haven’t seen Batman, Wonder Woman (aside from a brief phone conversation where we don’t actually see her), or the Justice League. What frustrated me about Unchained from the start was how Batman kept being unnecessarily shoe-horned into the proceedings. Hell, half of the most recent issue consists of the Batcave being destroyed in a fight between Batman and Wraith (that story’s alternate Superman). Johns and Romita haven’t done anything like that yet. They haven’t fallen victim to the “over-Baturation” trend. They’re not taking the cheap route. They’re on Superman, and they’re using Superman characters. That’s a very respectable move.
Another plus? This story is being published in the ongoing Superman series. Obviously, big name creators reinstate that sense of value to staple books like this, in contrast to some prestige format series that abruptly ends when the creative team has told their initial story. Yeah, my Superman Unchained review is going to be a bit…volatile.
As for Romita’s art, he continues to give us what we came to see: His take on Superman’s world. In this issue, he gives us Clark Kent, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, The Daily Planet building, and a bit of Lois Lane. However, in my experience every John Romita Jr. story has at least one panel that’s drawn awkwardly. This issue has such a panel, and it’s a close up shot of Neil’s face. Unbeknownst to him, Neil is about to come face to face with a huge part of his past. Before the reveal, Romita gives us the panel at left.
From a writing standpoint, Johns makes abundantly clear that Superman is looking at Neil’s life and asking: “What if?” He uses an old photo of Jonathan and Martha Kent as a storytelling tool, although they don’t look like the people we saw in Action Comics, or even Batman/Superman. Still, the advantage Ulysses has over other “alternate Supermen” is that he’s easier to relate to. He’s human, and as such it’s that much simpler for readers to project themselves on to him. This also plays up Superman’s alienation from humans, literally and figuatively. He’ll never truly be one of them, and his parents, the two people who made him feel most at home on Earth, are gone. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how start to tell an emotionally gripping Superman story. Mind you, it’s merely a start. Lord knows we may venture off into all sorts of crazy directions at any point.
But at this point, I’m willing to trust Geoff Johns with Superman. He’s done well with the character in the past (See: Superman: Brainiac, Superman and the Legion of Superheroes), and has a firm grasp on how to write Superman as the compassionate idealist that he should be, without making him into a wuss with a cape. That’s the kind of Superman I want to see, and that’s the kind of Superman that’s worthy of a John Romita Jr. pencil.
Front page image from blastr.com. Image 1 from blacknerdproblems.com. Image 2 from author’s collection.
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