Ever since the death of Superman and the pre-“Flashpoint” version of the character replaced him, both “Superman” and “Action Comics” have primarily focused upon the struggle of a Superman from another universe trying to fit in to the present-day DC Universe. But while up until now the struggles have involved the people in both Superman and Clark Kent’s life trying to adjust to this switch, “Superman Annual” #1 heads into brand-new territory. Here, the problem is global, literally, with the Earth rejecting Superman.
Tangled Up in Green
At first, “Superman Annual” #1 presents itself as a comic with a conflict brewing between Superman and the defender of the planet, Swamp Thing. Clark’s fields are drying up, the crops are dying, and the problems are radiating out from his farm. What he quickly discovers, though, is Swamp Thing’s form rising out of the disturbance, with a startling proclamation: “You don’t belong here anymore.”
Up until now, the personal changes that Superman’s discovered between the two universes have been relatively minor. The technology that brought him back to life after his death at the hands of Doomsday is nowhere to be found in this universe, for example, and his adoptive parents in this reality are deceased. This is a much more serious shift, though. As Swamp Thing explains, there’s a “vibrational aberration” around Superman, somehow connected to the way that Superman draws solar energy from the sun. It’s different than the deceased Superman’s method of doing so, and it’s causing a massive disturbance within the Green, the life force of the planet’s plant life that Swamp Thing is the champion of.
This off-kilter nature that Superman brings to the planet is brought forcefully to light when Superman touches Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing’s form fills with a blue Kryptonian energy field and his words switch solely to an ancient dialect of the Kryptonian language. (No doubt an enterprising fan is already cracking the code as to what Swamp Thing is saying in the issue.) And while diving deep into the Green ultimately resets Swamp Thing’s form and mind, it doesn’t change the fact that this Superman is drawing down more solar energy than the other Superman did, and that it’s causing genuine damage to the planet.
“Superman Annual” #1 ends up serving as much as a meta-story about the swapping of Supermen as it does the fact that Superman’s presence is destabilizing the DC Universe. Swamp Thing’s explanation on how to minimize the damage is that Superman is still holding onto, “an Earth you are no longer part of.” Essentially, he has to worry less about the past (while still recognizing that it happened) and focus more on building towards the future.
Considering that Superman’s touch is literally transforming the world around him, it’s an interesting tactic for Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s story to take. It’s positing that after all of this concentration on Superman being an outsider, it’s now time for both the characters in the comics and the readers to focus on moving forward, accepting his presence, but worrying more about what he’s doing now rather than what he’s done before. It’s an ethos that fits in well with the overall remit of DC Rebirth, and when Swamp Thing and Superman successfully attune this Superman to the present-day Earth, it comes across as an attempt to draw a line and move on.
Superman’s presence in comics has been actively disturbing everything around him, and this is a chance to redress that fact. Considering that the Superman books are now focusing more on Lex Luthor’s threat to the future and bringing in new characters to interact with like Frankenstein, the line as a whole seems poised to follow this suggestion. There could still be more surprises ahead for Superman fitting in. But for now, Swamp Thing’s suggestion that Superman truly becomes the Man of Tomorrow feels well underway.