Writer: Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Penciller: Barry Kitson
Inker: Barry Kitson and Scott Hanna
Colourist: Gabriel Eltaeb
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics
A review by Sean Frankling
In Superman #39, Tomasi, Gleason and Kitson follow The Man of Steel through a fight with the Demolition Team – a seldom-seen DC supervillain crew – and on to a field trip to the Justice League’s Watchtower with the kids who saw the fight from the Children’s hospital across the street. It’s light-hearted, charming and sweet. And though it may not be an earth-shattering epic, it’s exactly the kind of story mainstream comics have been sorely lacking for a long time.
The action in this issue pits Superman against a team of d-list villains with construction site powers. So no points for guessing who wins that match-up. But what the fight lacks in nail-biting suspense, it more than makes up for in personality. Superman gamely takes the Demolition Team’s best hits with a wry grin and that blue boy scout cheer that lets you know everything is going to be okay. It’s a tone that sits just right for the sunny kind of story this is aiming to be. Barry Kitson’s art conveys a stable, three dimensional fight geography. And along with the construction-themed weaponry, that does an admirable job of making the fight feel kinetic, physical and real. A good way to give a sense of scale to Superman’s powers.
But the primary focus of this issue is on Superman spending time with kids in the hospital. It’s an adorable reminder that being a superhero means more than just showing up to beat up the bad guys and leaving destruction in your wake. As readers of the New 52 will know, that kind of quiet, caring kindness is something DC hasn’t slowed down enough to show in a Superman title for a while now. I’m not going to spoil the best parts of the comic — if this sounds like the kind of story for you, you deserve to experience them fresh. Suffice it to say, the kids’ wonder at spending time with Superman and (little spoiler) the rest of the Justice League approaches critical levels of cuteness.
All through this portion, the art team gives us bright colors, vividly real environments and facial expressions that convey ecstatic joy from the kids and naturalistic — if somewhat dopey-looking — expressions of excitement on the kids. Overall, the art looks friendly and recalls the timeless, classic versions of the Superheroes — good choices to match the story’s tone.
It’s an interesting quirk of comic book history that superheroes first started to explode in popularity during and immediately after World War 2. Maybe it’s not by coincidence, then, that’s when a lot of kids’ fathers would have been going away to the war and — in many cases — not coming back. As a result, if you look at comics of that era, you see kid sidekicks all over the place — Captain America and Bucky, Batman and Robbin, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olson. For those kids who lost their fathers to the war, seeing kids interact with a role model — and let’s be honest, a father figure — was a huge comfort and a big part of becoming the adults they’d one day grow into.
So seeing Superman as a literal father to Jon Kent, seeing him stop to give sick children a reason to hope and wonder, seeing the rise of the superdad isn’t just a sappy interlude. It’s a return to one of the core functions of Superheroes.
Buy It. This kind of role model story is something we should demand to see more of from main stream comics.