The first page of this comic is an uncomfortable close-up on Superman’s distressed face, as he seemingly looks the reader right in the eyes and says “I’m dying.” Grant Morrison’s long-awaited Wonder Woman Earth One graphic novel comes out today, but it’s Superman #51 from Peter J. Tomasi and Michael Janin that is reminiscent of perhaps his best work, All-Star Superman.
Yes, this start to the eight issue arc “The Final Days of Superman,” which will feature two issues from each Superman comic currently running, implements what is starting to become a cliché in Superman storytelling: killing him. The book might be a bit too derivative of All-Star, but the ceiling on how problematic being overly similar to such a masterpiece can be isn’t very high. This first issue to the arc that DC promises will lead into their “Rebirth” line of relaunches is solid.
Like in All-Star, Superman knows he is going to die and pledges to use his last days to do as much good as possible. Tomasi maintains an expert understanding of Superman just as Morrison did, characterizing him as good-willed to a fault while still very much human. Superman confides in his dog as if it can truly understand what he is saying like any man raised on a farm in Kansas would, and he gets truly frustrated and angry with his fate. Like the true Samaritan he is, he is upset not because he doesn’t want to die, but because he doesn’t want to lose his ability to help people.
There is a two-page splash montage of Superman saving regular people in this comic and it’s wonderful, not just because it sets aside time for Superman to save people amid existential conflict like most great Superman stories do, but because it displays Janin’s gorgeous art. The environments contained in these panels appear sprawling, and the intricacy of the facial work here is stupendous, allowing for nuanced expression. This man is the real deal, delivering bold art work rivaling modern masters of blockbuster-like comics such as Jason Fabok and Ivan Reis.
The advertised premise for this arc promises Superman looking to form a league of supermen. While this is likely yet another idea inspired by Morrison’s work, dedicating an entire series to it and placing it in modern continuity certainly has the potential to be fresh enough. For the time being, the league of supermen concept is only teased, so just how interesting it will be remains to be seen.
For the time being, Tomasi and Janin do use this comic to create Superman moments they can certainly call their own. A visit to Lana Lang yields loads of excellent, original storytelling, ranging from the joyful to the distressing. Another scene with Lois Lane is pleasant, culminating in an unabashed reference to one of the most uplifting and whimsical moments in Superman’s decades-upon-decades of history. Sure, it’s referencing another work, but it’s lovely and well-done enough to warrant applauding the creativity at work here.
Unfortunately, that is the only bit of utilizing old Superman stories that doesn’t come off as a touch lazy. With that being said, Superman #51 is a success. It’s well-crafted and drawn beautifully, and after Batman v. Superman showed a Superman actually annoyed by the expectation to help people, a reminder of All-Star isn’t exactly the worst sin a Superman comic could commit.