With a scripting assist from Tony Bedard and colors from Alex Sinclair, Neal Adams returns to the Man of Steel with a decidedly classic take on the character in “Superman: The Coming of the Supermen” #1. The issue introduces three new human-looking, muscle-bound aliens who appear out of nowhere, looking nothing like the hero they imitate but all dressed in duplicates of his costume — and they arrive just in time to go up against Kalibak and a horde of parademons from Apokolips. Adams’ story is a mildly refreshing throwback to a traditional incarnation of the character, albeit a bumpy one riddled with dated touches and some disappointingly rushed artwork.
In addition to its deliberate and sincere retro vibe, there’s a quirky kind of charm to the weaknesses in Adams’ story. Adams doesn’t try to replicate any kind of past storytelling technique; instead, he applies one that comes naturally to him, from an era that contains his best-known work. At the same time, many of the stories from said era — while fondly recalled by many — aren’t generally commended for their literary greatness. It was a time where the character had become stagnant, and Adams’ story here reads like those he drew back in the time; it’s fun enough, sure, and Adams’ dynamic, off-the-page layouts are as terrific as ever, but they’re akin to a top-notch paint job on an old car that needs some maintenance.
The trio of imitators who show up evoke the kind of old school stories that had to rely on external hooks and gimmicks because Superman had become such a difficult character to write. Superman is a bystander for a large part of the story, because there’s not much to explore with his character as much as there is with these three newcomers; even Kalibak’s arrival carries more intrigue. While these Supermen serve their role as a genuine attention grabber, the issue’s reliance on such classic-style elements gives it an openly dated concept. References to modern technology put the story in present day, but Clark Kent’s drab navy suit and Lois Lane’s own John T. Malloy sense of fashion place it in the 1980s.
Adams uses Lois mainly as a talking head, conveying to television viewers the breaking news of these new Supermen as well as Kalibak’s arrival at Lexcorp. There’s no reason Lois can’t or shouldn’t be used in this manner, but Adams’ repetitious angles and panel construction during her scenes are weak, bordering on sloppy. The strength of Adams’ layouts is also diminished by some atypically rough finishes; Superman looks plenty imposing close up, where Adams takes the time to smoothly delineate his features, but — when he pans back — Supes and other characters seem a little more rushed to completion.
As a tribute to the Bronze Age, “Superman: The Coming of the Supermen” #1 delivers, but it’s with all of the warts and blemishes of the era. As a modern comic, its dated feel is somewhat offset by Adams’ always-welcome big screen touch, but it only gets set back again by its artistic lapses.