Way back in the dim and foggy past — as in, less than five years ago — DC rolled out their “New 52” publishing initiative, and while the then-new line was understandably heavy on books that fell under the loosely-defined “Superman Family” and “Batman Family” umbrellas, a certain amount of space was also carved out for “weird” or “offbeat” titles like Dial H, Frankenstein, Agent Of SHADE, Justice League Dark, I, Vampire, OMAC, All-Star Western, and others that trod a path somewhat less beaten. It was something of a gutsy call, and while most of these series were given a pretty short sales leash (with a good many of them biting the bullet sooner rather than later), I gave ’em props for being willing to throw a lot of shit at the wall in order to see what would stick.
And what stuck, of course, was the tried-and-true, an inevitability that was as depressing as it was unsurprising — yet even that started to run out of gas, and when the time came for DC to “start all over at number one again” this year with Rebirth, the list of “new” comics was decidedly heavy on Super-,Bat-, and Justice League-themed books, with nary a “marginal” offering to be found. Clearly, then, if somebody wanted to do something a little different, they were going to have to find a way to do it within the confines of one of DC’s extended super-hero “families.”
You can forget the Bat-books, of course — there was simply no way that Warner was going to risk the surest thing their comics imprint has to an ATM machine in any significant fashion. And other top-tier heroes like The Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern were all promising a “back to basics” approach to boost their lagging sales, as well. So I guess that left only Superman’s corner of the universe as one which might see some significant infusion of the new.
Old Supes’ status quo was certainly ready for a shake-up, given that his “New 52” iteration was so unpopular that they actually went ahead and killed him, and in the wake of that no-doubt-less-than-final demise a pretty convoluted situation was left : the original, “pre-New 52” version of the character (you know, the one married to the Lois Lane of “his” Earth, and with a ten-year-old son named Jon) would assume the mantle he’d been eschewing while living with his family in secret and watching that other guy risk — and eventually lose — his ass, while the powers that the now-“dead” Superman had would be passed on to others via some sort of “solar flare” that occurred at the moment of his purported “destruction.”
If all of this sounds confusing, rest assured that it is: I guess what it all boils down to is that we had two Supermans/Clark Kents, two Lois Lanes, and one kid named Jon. And when the “Rebirth” line-up was announced and titles like New Super-Man, Super Sons, and the book we’re looking at today, Superwoman, were in there, the picture became even less clear — but more interesting. I mean, we didn’t even have a solid idea of who the main characters in most of these books were.
Now, of course, thanks to the pre-release publicity machine that never stops cranking, we have some idea: that new “Super-Man” is a cocky teenage kid in China; the “Super-Sons” (who we now won’t be seeing in their own book until sometime next year) are Jon Kent and Damian Wayne; and the latest version of “Superwoman” — a name that any number of characters have adopted for short spells over the years — is “New 52” Lois Lane.
Or is she? The title of the opening story arc for this series, “Who Is Superwoman?,” seems pretty apt given that there first appears to be one woman (Lois) who absorbed some of Superman’s powers — then we learn there were actually two (Lana Lang being the other) — and at the end of the first issue we might (or, hey, might not) be back down to one, given that one of them supposedly (again with the air-quotes because its permanence in comics is always an open question) “dies.”
And if that isn’t enough, the chief villain in this issue is yet another Superman — of the self-declared variety, mind you, since none other than Lex Luthor has constructed a “battle-suit” with a big old “S” on the chest for himself and assumed the role of protector of Metropolis because, hey, that’s what bored rich guys can do.
Veteran “steady hand” Phil Jimenez is taking care of both the script and pencils on this monthly (thank God!) title, and while it was a given that the book would look great, he’s largely untested as a writer, so it was anybody’s guess how it would actually read. Fortunately for us all, we can say “so far, so good” on that front, given that he’s served up an opening salvo that, while admittedly “text-heavy,” doesn’t get bogged down with too much exposition despite, frankly, needing to cover a whole lot of ground before he can even get the action started in earnest. And once the action does get going a mere few pages in, it’s brisk, believable (as far as these things go), and thoroughly satisfying. Jimenez has a real knack for rapid-fire characterization, his dialogue is crisp and authentic, and he controls the pacing of his story — alternating between flashbacks to the recent past and “present-day” trials and tribulations on Luthor’s new fucking battleship (that he built, of course, to “safeguard” his city) — with masterful ease. This is a substantive comic that packs a lot into its 2o pages of editorial content, but it never feels “weighty” or “overburdened” — in fact, it just feels like you’re getting solid value for your $2.99, a rarity these days.
Matt Santorelli’s inks and Jeromy Cox’s colors combine to give the finished pages a very clean and polished feel that complement the goings-on quite nicely, and if this team can hold together for the foreseeable future, all indications are that we’re most likely in for a fun and even memorable ride here. We may not know, strictly speaking, who Superwoman is yet — or, to be more specific, how many of them there are — but I’m game to find out, that’s for sure.