DC Rebirth: How being a dad changes Superman
Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Doug Mahnke discuss their new 'Superman' comic series
Last spring, DC Comics started over again. Under the Rebirth banner, the company relaunched its main books and reinvented its famous characters. This kind of event has become rather common among the two main superhero comics publishers in recent years: Marvel shook up its storied continuity with the Secret Wars event in 2015, and DC itself just did a huge relaunch in 2011 called The New 52. But where The New 52 had experimented with radical new directions for its characters (Superman dating Wonder Woman! No sidekicks for The Flash!) to mixed results, Rebirth aimed to bring its characters back to their core elements while simultaneously looking to the future. It’s been a huge success so far, both commercially and critically.
Now that the first collections of the Rebirth line are rolling out, casual fans have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. To figure out how Rebirth came to be such a success, EW spoke to the creative teams behind five of DC’s biggest books (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) about how they freshened up their famous characters while still paying homage to past classics.
How do you make Superman cool? This question has plagued DC Comics creators for decades, as they’ve struggled to keep Superman (and his honest representation of classic American values) relevant amidst an ever-darkening cultural landscape. In 2011, DC tried making Superman younger and angstier as part of its giant New 52 reboot, an interpretation that then carried over to Warner Bros. blockbusters Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It never quite clicked with audiences, however, and DC has now gone the opposite direction with its new Rebirth initiative. The New 52 Superman has been killed off, and his older, more mature self has returned to replace him. But this time, he’s not alone. This new-old Superman is accompanied by his loving wife, Lois Lane, and their son Jonathan. The result is a version of Superman fans haven’t seen in years.
“The New 52 Superman was impetuous, a bit more knee-jerk, more of a rush-to-action kind of thing. He was younger; it really boiled down to that,” Superman co-writer Peter J. Tomasi tells EW. “When you’re younger, you tend to jump in and react on your first instinct without thinking things through. That’s really the main difference between that Superman and this Superman. He’s a bit older, and he has a son and wife. That dynamic changes your entire life. It’s sort of a real clear line in the sand between the New 52 Superman and the Rebirth Superman.”
Tomasi co-writes the series with his longtime collaborator Patrick Gleason, who also splits art duties with comics veteran Doug Mahnke. This trio has had a lot of experience working together on different books over the years, so by the time they came together to figure out how to refresh Superman, they were mostly on the same page.
“All the things we know Superman stands for — truth, justice, and the American Way — we really wanted to play that up again,” Gleason says. “Especially in this day and age, where it’s hard to do, we really wanted to make him stand for what he knows is right and to have that sense of hope, even if it seems a bit naïve. Everyone’s familiar with that aspect of Superman, but we really want to put that right front and center. With the new family, all those things really get put to the test when you’ve got a kid looking up to you and a wife working with you as a team to raise the kid. Can your actions back up your words? And how does that translate in the eyes of their son, especially when his life is getting complicated with powers? It’s a simple thing, but to us, really the most interesting aspect of the story is the family relationship.”
In many ways, Jonathan is the key to the book. Even when he isn’t on every page, his presence is felt throughout. Superman has dealt with monsters and aliens and Kryptonite, but raising a family is a new kind of challenge. Jonathan’s perspective also helps Tomasi, Gleason, and Mahnke underline their depiction of an older, wiser Superman, as good with a piece of fatherly advice as he is with a superpowered punch. After all, Superman doesn’t need to be an angry young hero finding his way — there are plenty of those out there. Superman is the original superhero, and it feels natural to view him as a father figure.
“His son Jon allowed us to view Superman through new eyes,” Tomasi says. “It’s how I looked at Superman growing up. The idea of Superman as your father, people really seemed to connect with that.”
But while Superman is able to help Jonathan master his growing Kryptonian superpowers, Lois is helping take care of the family in other ways, even as the Kents have retreated from the hustle and bustle of Metropolis to a Midwestern farm like the one Clark Kent grew up on. The creators made sure that Lois was just as important to the book as the actual superheroes in her family.
“Lois is not a character who sits idly by and lets her family go through dangerous situations. She enters the fray several times in cool and big ways,” Tomasi says. “Everyone knows Lois Lane, but this setting is so different for her. I like that she adapts to it. We didn’t want to make it like she’s a fish out of water or she can’t handle it. She’s a mother and it doesn’t matter where you are, your family is your family. They’re a very loyal, tight-knit family, and that’s what we wanted to have right at the center.”
Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman is on sale now.