“Superman” #38 is receiving a lot of attention in the media due to a new costume and superpower for Superman, with no doubt a lot of new readers deciding to scoop up the comic. Those who do might be a tiny bit surprised, though. “Superman” #38 is the final chapter to Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and Laura Martin’s “The Men of Tomorrow” storyline, but it’s less climax and more epilogue.
Those looking for the climax to “The Men of Tomorrow” would need to jump back to last month’s comic, where Johns, Romita and Janson detailed the destruction of Ulysses’ adopted home world. While Ulysses tries to get revenge on both Superman and Earth in this issue, that part of the story feels very perfunctory and almost after-the-fact. Sure, it’s the moment where we see Superman’s new power (used to help defeat Ulysses), and it’s full of sound and fury. However, that’s not the part that should grab your attention and, honestly, it feels almost like Johns was less interested in that part of the story.
Where Johns focuses his attention — and rightfully so — is in dealing with the events of “Superman” #37. There’s a page early on in the comic where Superman addresses the throngs of people who are confused and bewildered that their chance to emigrate to a promised utopia has suddenly vanished. Superman’s words to them about needing to look to the world they have for answers and hope reveal a perfect understanding of the character. Superman, at his best, is more than just a guy with blue tights and a red cape that flies around; he serves as someone who is inspirational. His message of hope is what helps him stand apart from so many other superheroes, and Johns completely nails it in just a single page.
Otherwise, though, the comic focuses far more on setting up future storylines as well as wrapping things up from the previous six issues. The final fight between Superman and Ulysses is actually rather forgettable, but Superman’s interactions with Ulysses post-fight, with Jimmy Olsen, and even with Batman is where the meat of Johns’ script lies. An over-sized issue could have easily turned into a huge clash between Superman and Ulysses for the vast majority, but I have to give Johns a big thumbs up for using those extra pages to instead focus more on the quieter character moments.
Where the book stumbles a bit this month, unfortunately, is the art. That’s frustrating, in part because Romita and Janson are normally much more consistent. Normally, I’d say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the main cover for “Superman” #38 is emblematic of the comic’s art in general. Superman’s face doesn’t look remotely recognizable; it’s puffy and distended, to the point that it makes you wonder if this is supposed to be someone else in Superman’s outfit. Throw in his ridiculously long right leg, a face for Ulysses that looks half-rendered and some strange floating heads off to the left that feel slapped in for the purpose of having something to fill that area, and you end up with a less-than-thrilling finished product. Similarly, the final page of the main story (not including the one-page epilogue) where we see Superman’s new outfit looks like Romita or Janson hadn’t drawn it. The trademark heavy inks are gone, and Superman’s face looks very different than the rest of the issue. Even Romita’s normally barrel-chested rendition of Superman seems much slimmer and smoother.
Even the big moment with Superman’s new power is visually underwhelming. The heavy lifting appears to be done by whichever colorist (Laura Martin, Ulises Arreola, Dan Brown or Wil Quintana) tackled those pages. It’s mostly bright yellows and oranges with the barest of lines from Romita and Janson. The images sear onto your retinas, but the lack of solid or thick lines means that the actual moment is obscured by the depiction of the heat pouring off of the characters.
“Superman” #38 is a comic where the script lives up to its duties, but the art struggles to keep up. Those who have read all of the Johns/Romita/Janson issues of “Superman” to date will certainly like the conclusion, although they may also be underwhelmed by the visuals this month. Those who are coming to the storyline for the first time, though, might be a little less excited. Those expecting a climax rather than epilogue might be a little disappointed.