As a prologue of sorts to “Superman” #1, “Superman: Rebirth” #1 answers some necessary questions but doesn’t create the necessary drama. The creative team offers moments of real pathos as New 52 Lana and pre-“Flashpoint” Clark Kent deal with the aftermath of “Superman” #52, but they don’t meaningfully preview the series to come. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s script spends most of its time on logistics, while artist Doug Mahnke and inker Jaime Mendoza are left to draw a whole lot of chats in indoor spaces. There’s nothing poorly executed about this issue, but it didn’t me leave me excited or curious about Superman’s future. For all its answers, “Superman: Rebirth” #1 doesn’t provide a strong sense of what Superman’s upcoming titles will be like.
In this issue, pre-“Flashpoint” Clark and New 52 Lana run into each other at New 52 Superman’s memorial. They’ve got some very different ideas for what to do with his remains, and they talk through the possibilities for regeneration, respecting his legacy and protecting the Earth. Tomasi and Gleason deserve credit for providing concrete answers to a potentially confusing event and resisting the urge to hand-wave too much away. The matter-of-factness of this issue shows some respect for the readers’ inevitable questions.
In addition, they draw the characters credibly. It’s interesting to see the similarities and deep differences between Clark’s respect for his fallen alternate and Lana’s grief for her lost friend. In addition, with lines like “Two young Clark Kents on two different worlds were very lucky to have Lana Langs in our lives” and some poignant modifications to the Fortress of Solitude, the writers make effective tributes to the values and characters that have been consistent across the two Supermen.
Mahnke and Mendoza have to carry much of the emotion in this issue, and they handle it well for the most part. Lana’s giddy, friendly grin as she hugs what she thinks is her Clark is devastating; pre-“Flashpoint” Clark’s almost-flat facial expressions convey how carefully he measures his words. The artistic team also handles the ever-tricky task of homaging “The Death of Superman” without generically recreating it or reframing it sans dramatic power. However, I found myself wishing for a greater variety of scope. There are many tight panels, and even the Fortress of Solitude never gets a wide enough shot to feel epic. Some of the issue’s most striking images seemed cropped too close or pushed into too-narrow panels. I’d love to see what this artistic team could do with some more breathing room — not just in splashy flashbacks, but in the present day.
Despite the many things it does right, “Superman: Rebirth” #1 didn’t give me a strong sense of Superman’s next adventure. The themes in the solicits — family, responsibility — don’t appear here at all, and the claustrophobic panels and focus on logistics felt quite post-mortem. I’m not suggesting that we measure an issue (or any art) by its faithfulness to marketing materials, but an ideal prologue provides some sense of the story to come. This creative team’s more clinical approach — balanced as it is by poignant moments — ultimately feels more like a primer on the facts than a preview of the series. For many readers, those facts may be enough of a tease to intrigue them for “Superman” #1; for me, it was underwhelming.
Whatever my emotions at issue’s end, “Superman: Rebirth” #1 does the work necessary to set up the character’s post-“Rebirth” series. With much of the exposition handled clearly and kindly here, “Superman” #1 and “Action Comics” #957 should be able to kick off in style.