When “Superman” #51 was first solicited, it appeared to kick off an eight-part story titled “Super League” which found Superman trying to form a new league of super-powered protectors. To be fair, that may very well be part of what’s to come, but “Superman” #51’s new storyline actually has a very different title. Peter J. Tomasi and Mikel Janin’s first chapter on the title appears to lead directly into this June’s “Superman: Rebirth” with a dramatic, heartfelt chapter.
Tomasi and Janin don’t bury the lead here. On page one, readers learn the truth: Superman is dying. From there, we get the first part of “The Final Days of Superman,” as the damage from his recent “Justice League,” “Superman” and “Justice League of America” storylines proves to be too much. Tomasi’s storyline is as much Superman adjusting to this knowledge as it is setup for the remaining chapters of this story arc. Tomasi also sets a good tone for “The Final Days of Superman,” which has a tinge of somberness but doesn’t stop to bemoan what’s happening. There’s still people to save, even if it’s wedged in between saying goodbye to his oldest friend or preparing to reveal his life story to the world.
For a big storyline’s kickoff, it’s smart to have a big artist, and Janin — who’s been one of the great heroes of DC Comics over the past four years — is the perfect guy to pull that off. From start to finish, every page is lovingly drawn. That first page is stunning; at first, it would be easy to dismiss it as simply a head shot of Superman, but — upon a closer look — you can see just how much care was put into it. Janin’s style is clean, and he gives real weight to the hint of a furrow in Superman’s brow and the creases around his eyes. You can see the worry and fear on his face, even as Janin pays just as much attention to the carefully drawn locks of hair on Superman’s head. That continues the whole way through the comic; just look at the big two-page spread where Superman zooms all over the world saving people. Janin creates a series of images with big moments that jump right out at the reader, but also includes smaller ones that are no less detailed or handsomely drawn. Stopping a runaway train has just the same strong body language as zooming through space or catching people as they fall. By the time we get to Lana working on her yard in Smallville, it’s not a surprise that she’s drawn in a manner that shows the effort she’s putting in, while also making her look very capable and effective. Janin’s just that good.
With new super-powered beings popping up and a Chinese hacker trying to gain access to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, there’s a fair amount of story still to come, even as Superman continues to deal with the fact he’s not long for this world. Tomasi and Janin have found just the right balance for this opening chapter, mixing that heartfelt drama with threads of adventure. If the remaining installments can keep this up, it’ll be a strong note for the New 52 Superman to go out on. So far, so good.