Review: Superman, Vol. 1 – Before Truth by Gene Luen Yang & John Romita Jr

Before-Truth-Cover-201x300The Superman titles have undergone a renaissance recently, sparked by the arrival of Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder on ACTION COMICS, and followed by Geoff Johns’ and John Romita Jr.’s brief stint on SUPERMAN. Now Gene Luen Yang steps up to the plate – the acclaimed writer of American Born Chinese – with Before Truth, the first volume in his run on SUPERMAN. And with Romita Jr. by his side, he’s redefining Clark Kent for the ‘New 52’ generation. Fans rejoice: we’ve finally got a Superman who’s emblematic of the character we know and love, who stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way; but also renewed and rejuvenated under this new stewardship.

Before Truth picks up where Johns’ The Men of Tomorrow arc ended. Superman has discovered a new power – a solar flare that obliterates everything in its radius, but leaves him powerless for up to 24 hours. Why introduce a new power into Superman’s mythology, you might ask? Well, this version of Superman is de-powered; he’s not quite the God-like being readers have become accustomed too, so the solar flare ability is effectively a ‘last resort’ option. When all else fails, when Superman has got to lay it all on the line, he ignites. This allows Yang and Romita Jr. the opportunity to showcase Clark Kent’s misapprehension of the human condition; a few sips of alcohol leave him inebriated, and he’s developed a newfound appreciation for food. These are small touches, but they add layers to a Clark Kent who has been fairly uninteresting since DC relaunched with the New 52.

Before Truth introduces the villain Hordr, who has learned Superman’s secret identity and threatens to expose him to the world unless he does precisely what’s demanded of him. Aided by Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Superman deliberates between his desire to maintain a normal life as Clark Kent and refusal to bow down to the villain’s command. But ultimately, it might be a decision that’s taken out of his hands . . .

Gene Luen Yang and John Romita Jr.’s SUPERMAN is, simply, a rip-roaring superhero tale. They haven’t aspired to redefine Superman’s character or continuity; rather, they’re focused on telling a good story and implores readers to pick up the subsequent volume. There’s no doubt about that. Solid characterisation, rapid pacing, great Romita Jr. art –  it’s all here. A Superman story for readers, old and new, to enjoy.

ISBN: 9781401259815
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224
Imprint: DC Comics
Publisher: DC Comics
Publish Date: 12-Apr-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Superman – The Men of Tomorrow by Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr.

Men of TomorrowJohn Romita Jr. is synonymous with Marvel Comics – his runs on Spider-Man, Iron Man andDaredevil are legendary (and for this reviewer especially, his stint on Peter Parker: Spider-Man, in the nineties, was seminal), so the 2014 announcement that he’d be coming to DC to work on Superman garnered waves of attention. That he’d be united for the first time with DC’s superstar writer (and Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns, was icing on the cake.

Up to this point, Superman’s adventures in the ‘New 52’ universe have been a mixed bag. There’s been some great stuff – Grant Morrison and Rag Morales’s initial issues in Action Comics, and latterly the work by Greg Pak (also in Action), and Scott Snyder’s Unchained – but there’ve been troughs, too. Years back, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank combined to create some of the best Superman comics of the past decade – in fact, possibly of all time – so the outlook following the Johns / Romita Jr. announcement looked positive; Superman fans were being rewarded for their patience with a kick-ass creative team. The Men of Tomorrow is the result.

The story revolves around Ulysses; a strange visitor from another dimension, who shares many of Superman’s experiences. Like the Man of Steel, in order to survive impending doom, he was rocketed into the unknown as a baby, to a place where he developed incredible abilities, and matured into adulthood with the belief his home planet had been destroyed; that he too, like Superman, was the last son of a dead world. When a being from Ulysses’s adopted home attacks Metropolis, Ulysses aids Superman in stopping the threat, and the two form a friendship.  Ulysses is stunned his home planet survived, and with Superman’s help, he seems destined to become another of Earth’s mighty protectors. As the story unfolds, Clark Kent is reunited with his old crew at the Daily Planet – Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Perry White – and begins to manifest a new superpower; one he can’t control, and with possibly devastating consequences. Bad timing; because Ulysses’s intentions mightn’t be as pure as they’d seemed…

John Romita Jr.’s art is exemplary, but won’t be to everyone’s tastes. He is a masterful storyteller, but perhaps not an artist you’d select for a pinup. There’s a workmanlike quality to his style that is admirable; his focus is on the story, and ensuring it’s laid out as functionally as possible. Thankfully, Johns gives him plenty of space to dynamically render the blockbuster scenes; our first sighting of Superman is spectacular, as he careens his fist into the giant-sized Titano.

Johns is on point here, too; though his depiction of Superman and his supporting cast is more reminiscent of the pre-New-52 world. Not a bad thing; it’s nice having Clark Kent back as newshound for the Daily Planet, and interfacing with his pals liked he used to. Still, in terms on continuity, The Men of Tomorrow doesn’t quite fit with recently scheduled programming; perhaps that’s why DC Comics chose not to number this volume.

The Men of Tomorrow isn’t quite vintage Superman, but it’s up there with the best of the character’s offerings from the New 52. It’s great seeing Romita Jr. stretch his wings and play with characters, and a world, he’s never touched before. For the art alone, this collection is worthy of a place on your shelf.

Review: Daredevil – The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.

Man Without FeaIn my youth, Daredevil never ranked highly on my list of super-heroes. I started reading comics in the mid-nineties, and was only ever exposed to the character in team-ups with Spider-Man; and that was plenty. I didn’t seek out any more Daredevil stories, and for many years was contented with my decision. Besides, DC Comics was where my head was at; Superman, Batman and Green Lantern, rather than the Marvel universe.

But as years passed, I began to hear whispers about Frank Miller’s run on the series – a creator I knew exclusively through his seminal work on Batman. Even that wasn’t enough to sway me, though my interest was undeniably piqued. Then came Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the character, quickly followed by Ed Brubaker’s – two of my all-time favorite writers in comics – whose creative powers enticed me into the world of Matt Murdock; and from there, I delved backwards, powered through Miller’s Daredevil work.

I’ve been reading the character ever since.

Lately I’ve been reading several origin stories, purely by happenstance rather than design. THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR was originally a five issue limited series by Frank Miller and perhaps my favorite artist in the business, John Romita Jr, which detailed Daredevil’s origin. The best thing about it is that it’s purely character-focused; Murdock doesn’t appear in costume until the very end. This is the story of the man behind the mask, and the failures and successes that drove him to don the spandex.

Raised by a single father, an over-the-hill prize-fighter whose sole objective in life is to see his son live a better than life than he has, Murdock’s life is irrevocably changed when he’s blinded by radioactive materials while saving the life of an old man. This radioactive material enhances Murdock’s other senses, however – and with the aid of the enigmatic Stick, he learns to control and heighten these developed senses even further. Despite his lack of sight, Murdock is trained, and becomes, the ultimate warrior; but THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR exposes his lack of discipline when an innocent is killed through his actions, and the long path towards attaining it.

Miller utilizes a terse third person narrative in THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR; from the keyboard of a lesser writer, these captions might seem overbearing, but Miller is no rookie, and he encapsulates the perfect tone, hints of noir tinged with a super-hero flavour – a difficult balance. Coupled with Romita Jr’s artwork – which has never looked better – it’s stunning collection, which perhaps doesn’t quite hit the heights of Miller’s ground-breaking BORN AGAIN, but comes awfully close.