Do you know what that red “S” on Superman’s chest means? Surely you do. Every property iteration of the Man of Steel makes a point of explaining that it’s not a reference to the 19th letter of the alphabet, but a Kryptonian symbol meaning “hope.” However, readers looking to Superman Rebirth #1 for hope that this event will usher in exciting changes to the DCU will instead find a story almost painfully symptomatic of the terminal lack of creativity that’s allowing Marvel to trounce DC in nearly every medium.
For those unfamiliar with what’s been going on with Clark Kent (you lucky bastards), New 52 Clark recently died during an epic battle to save the world. The story isn’t necessarily new. The Man of Steel kicks the bucket every once in awhile, most recently in SPOILER Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and most notably in the early ’90s arc Death of Superman. He never stays dead for long, of course, so you don’t expect that to happen here either—and neither do the characters. One of those characters is Clark Kent himself. However, it’s not New 52 Clark, but the Clark who was resurrected post-DOS and showed up now thanks to whatever timeline convergence allowed Rebirth to happen in the first place.
Anyway, when Lana Lang appears at the Superman monument/grave in Metropolis to steal Clark’s dead body and rebury him near his parents in Smallville, Post-DOS Clark assures her there’s no need. He has firsthand experience that this death is only temporary and the audience expects the narrative to perform whatever acrobatics necessary to bring Clark back. That’s what comics do. Yet that belief, shockingly, turns out to be unfounded. New 52 Clark is well and truly dead and all that’s left is a version of the character from 20 years ago that many readers may know nothing about. On some level, that’s a pretty audacious storytelling move. But it’s also ultimately a disappointing one.
There is a moment near the end of the issue that perfectly sums up the whole-scale lack of creativity that drives not just this Superman reboot, but maybe DC’s entire output at the moment. When Lana and Post-DOS Clark go to New 52 Clark’s Fortress of Solitude and try to use the Crystal Font (you know, that cool crystal computer) a recording of New 52 Clark appears. Wrongly assuming the Kryptonian DNA that activated the Font belongs to his cousin Kara Danvers aka Supergirl, Clark tells her that it’s up to her to protect the Earth in the event of his death. In that moment, a new possibility opens up. DC could have pulled a Thor. It could have seen beyond the traditions of its characters and stollen one of Marvel’s best moves to revitalize its larger universe. Instead, Post-DOS Clark flicks off the projection and dooms readers to a future spent with a Superman stuck in his early-’90s emo phase.
Admittedly, there is a cleverness to what writer Peter J. Tomasi is doing in really killing Clark Kent and replacing him with an earlier, truly rebirthed version of the character. It’s very meta. Yet there’s also a disappointing lack of daring. The changes Superman underwent during the New 52 were profound. Not least of them was his romance with Wonder Woman. New 52 Clark was ready to marry Diana, but bringing back post-DOS Clark also brings back the classic Superman-Lois Lane romance without the slightest need to actually deal with pesky things like characters or emotions or even continuity. That’s not to say the shipping factor was the sole reason behind the choice, but given the way Rebirth #1 equates the loss of certain character romances because of the New 52 with tragedy, it’s a possibility. So, just saying, even though that “S” is supposed to mean “hope,” right now, it actually means “pandering.”