Farewell To A Friend: Say Goodbye To Jeans-And-T-Shirt Superman
This week saw us say goodbye to a hero who fought for truth, justice and the American way. Who fought for the downtrodden and the common man. Who fought against injustice while wearing a t-shirt and jeans. This week saw us say goodbye to The New 52 Superman. Spoilers for the current Superman status quo follow.
Superman died this past week after a combination of deadly adventures took its toll on his immune system, and he saved the world one last time from an imposter Superman hell-bent on taking over his life. While there will still be a Superman in a more recognizable form, the Superman of The New 52 was a unique breed of hero that we don’t see much of in modern superhero comics.
Superman was introduced in the pages of Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales, and their vision for him was very much inspired by the Superman of 1938 who took down slumlords, and was vastly underpowered compared to the character he would become. Morrison and Morales took the title Action Comics to heart and gave us a Superman who was always moving, always doing, always bounding off to the next adventure.
This incarnation was perhaps a bit too young, a bit too brash and a bit too headstrong to ever connect with people the way that Superman should. The classic Superman that most people know and love is more paternal and restrained, but The New 52 Superman didn’t even wait for the superhero to be invented before rushing out to take the fight to corrupt businessmen, corrupt cops, and abusive husbands.
Morrison and Morales brought Superman down to the street-level in a way that never really seemed possible before, and turned him into a Dusty Rhodes-style champion of the underdog. Superman knew what hard times were, and he used his powers both as a superhero and as an investigative journalist to get one over on the fatcats pushing people out of their jobs and their homes.
The new incarnation of Superman struggled to find a foothold for a while because not everyone wanted to write Superman as a --- gasp --- social justice warrior, but that’s always what he was intended to be, and that’s what Morrison and Morales tried to bring back. The Superman books lost their focus for a good portion of The New 52’s five years, and it wasn’t until quite recently that it got it back.
It took a depowering and the outing of his secret identity, but under the likes of Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder, Gene Luen Yang, John Romita Jr and Howard Porter, Superman regained his sense of social justice. He cut his hair short, got on a motorcycle, and went on the run, helping people wherever they needed it like a one-man A-Team.
It was during this time that Superman stood up to police brutality that took place during demonstrations in Metropolis, something that gained widespread criticism and acclaim as America was (and still is) rocked by seemingly daily instances of abuses of power and criminal neglect. Some people argued that Superman should be above such matters, but that’s right where Superman belongs, in the thick of it, fighting with and for the people.
At the heart of the character, Superman is timeless, and unfortunately The New 52 incarnation was a very of-its-time incarnation that was never going to last in any recognizable form. If it wasn’t for the return of the previous Superman, he likely would have grown and morphed into a more familiar shape and shed the specific traits that made him so unique. Superman is for everyone, and always will be, but for five years we had a Superman that felt like he was one of us.