When is it okay to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle? Is it even possible to accomplish this without destroying the bottle and everything else within a five-mile radius? That radius may be much wider when Superman is involved. It may also involve more than one bottle. It sounds confusing and it certainly is. It’s a major reason why the events of DC: Rebirth are affecting Superman more than most, but not because of anything Doomsday or Lex Luthor are doing.
DC: Rebirth decides with little to no depth that the genie needs to go back in the bottle. Superman needs to go back to his pre-Flashpoint method of operation. That means every meaningful change from the New 52 has to be nullified, rendered meaningless and pointless in the grand scheme of things. It gives the impression that the narrative of Superman and Action Comics is inherently shallow. It’s not that nothing really happens. It’s that nothing can happen that has any lasting impact on Superman.
Dan Jurgens is tasked with crafting a meaningful story with this narrative in the first post-Rebirth arc of Action Comics. However, the meaning is often lost in the confusion of all the contrivances attempting to purge New 52 impacts and the all-too familiar clashes with Doomsday. It can’t acknowledge that Superman fought Doomsday on multiple occasions during the New 52 era. It can’t acknowledge any dramatic entanglements that may or may not have occurred in that era either. It doesn’t just limit the story. It flat out ignores the context.
If there’s a strength within this confusion, it’s Jurgens’ efforts to re-frame Superman’s story as a husband and father. Action Comics #962 tries to use this strength to complete an arc that relies too much on contrivances and disaster porn. It isn’t enough to circumvent the flaws that inevitably emerge when putting Superman back into the pre-Flashpoint bottle, but it does keep the story from falling flat.
Any battle involving Superman and Doomsday has to be destructive. It has to be epic. This is the creature that actually killed Superman at one point. It can’t be ended by one punch or by some secret gadget in Batman’s utility belt. There has to be destruction, danger, and desperation every step of the way. Jurgens definitely goes the extra distance in capturing these elements. Stephen Segovia’s artwork goes just as far in capturing the visuals.
Things blow up. Mountains crumble. The laws of physics are strained in ways that would make Einstein cringe. The aesthetics are definitely there. They help distract from the fact that this is a battle we’ve seen before. It’s a battle that doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Other than Superman having a wife and son, there isn’t much in this battle that hasn’t played out before. It feels slightly more novel than seeing Batman punch the Joker again, but not by much.
Beneath the aesthetics though, there are still flaws. There’s still a sense that this story has to ignore, negate, or undermine the stories that came before it in order to function. The substance of a battle between Superman and Doomsday may check all the right boxes, but the circumstances of that battle have too many blanks and details have some distressing implications.
While the outcome of the battle is never in question, the effects it reveals along the way are telling. It basically pulls back the curtain and shows the actual process of putting Superman’s various genies back in the bottle. The revelation of his secret identity is undermined. His romantic history with Wonder Woman is flat out ignored. Lex Luthor’s efforts at being a superhero come into question in a way that’s fairly predictable. Ignoring circumstances may work with the Joker, but it doesn’t work with Superman.
There’s little mystery. There’s tension. The purpose and goal of this new era of Action Comics is clear even if it’s stated indirectly. Superman is going back to the way he was before the Flashpoint reboot. The only difference now is that he has a kid. That may keep the story from feeling regressive, but it still comes off as contrived.
That said, Jurgens manages to make the most of Jon’s presence. His personality and youthful charisma add some much-needed novelty to the story. He also creates an extra dimension of drama with Superman. Him being a family man on top of being a superhero helps add some new dynamics to battles that have played out before. He’s able to make those dynamics work in Action Comics #962. Peter Parker would be wise to take note.
As a concept DC: Rebirth works because it doesn’t try too hard to be edgy or modern, anymore. After years of trying too hard to make every character more like Batman, this initiative attempts to re-focus on the basics. The approach works when it happens organically and naturally with the characters. With Action Comics and the Superman comics as a whole, there’s too much force behind the effort. Superman defines himself by being careful with his vast powers. It’s a lesson that DC Comics would be wise to heed.
In this case, putting the genie back in the bottle causes the bottle to crack and fracture. At the very least, Action Comics #962 keeps it from shattering completely. There are one too many predictable plot lines, but there are also new and interesting dynamics emerging within the story. It doesn’t prevent some parts of that story from being inane at times, but it still finds a way capture the heart of what makes Superman so iconic.