Review: Superman #31
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Sean Lewis
Artists: Scott Godlewski, Norm Rapmund, Sami Basri
Colours: Gabe Eltaeb, Ulises Arreola
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Superman #31: “The One Who Fell” part two! Thought to have been defeated long ago by Superman and his allies, the ancient Shadowbreed have returned in a horrifying new form, and Superman’s oldest ally has been assimilated into their ranks. As Jon and the besieged new Thakkramite leader search for the key that will help them defeat the creatures, Superman returns to the site of his first historic victory over the Shadowbreed in an attempt to warn the Thakkramites of the incoming threat. But Superman’s old allies kept terrible secrets from him, and both he and Jon are more vulnerable against the Shadowbreed than they know.
And in the backup story, Jimmy Olsen’s plan to build a backup squad to help out his pal Superman looks like it’s already falling apart when two of its members, Loose Cannon and Gangbuster, would rather fight than be friends.
The main story in Superman #31 continues Clark and Jon’s struggle to save the denizens of the planet Thakkram from the Shadowbreed. This seems to be a fairly typical Superman story on the surface, but the subtext of the story is what sets it apart from other stories. The true core of the series is the relationship between Superman and his son.
Superboy feels intimidated by being compared to his father. Superman has set an example that seems impossible to live up to. However, Superman is humble and feels that his reputation is undeserved. He states, “your friends in the Legion saw me as a larger-than-life figure who had done it all, who had the answer to everything. I probably failed to express how strange that was for me to hear, and how undeserved I find that assessment to be”.
Also, Jon fears having to someday succeed his father. He states, “I think he brought me here to teach me ‘how to be Superman’. But he doesn’t get it. Superman’s not a title. it’s him”. He sees his father as ultimately irreplaceable.
However, Superman feels that Jon is undervaluing himself. And we see some sign of that in the story. One example comes when Jon reveals that he has developed a new way to use his heat vision that had never occurred to his father. And when Superman falls into the Shadowbreed’s trap, it’s now up to Jon to save both him and the Thakkramites. Johnson has put Jon into a position where he will have to prove his worthiness to bear the name Superman.
In the second story, “Tales of Metropolis” continues with a story that pits Loose Cannon in a fight against Gangbuster. Loose Cannon takes exception to Gangbuster’s overly violent takedown of a villain named Division. Projectress uses this disagreement to manipulate Loose Cannon into attacking Gangbuster, severely injuring her and knocking out Bibbo.
I like that there is a strong retro vibe to this story. Loose Cannon was introduced in during the Bloodlines event in 1993, while Gangbuster is the niece of Jose Delgado, the original Gangbuster from early in John Byrne’s Superman reboot. Steel and Bibbo, also introduced in that era, also appear in the story. And Ambush Bug appeared slightly earlier in 1982. Sean Lewis’ story seems like a throwback to the comics of my teens and early 20s.
I am curious to who the superheroine in the black and green costume on the final page is. I don’t recognize her. However, considering that the overall story brings different members of Jimmy’s group to the forefront each issue, I am sure that we will learn more about her when she becomes the focus of an upcoming chapter.
Overall, it’s a series that has an offbeat charm and strikes a nostalgic note for longtime Superman readers. And I can’t help but love any story that has Ambush Bug in it, even if he is only seen in the background this issue.
I have some concerns about the general direction DC seems to be headed with Superman and his family. It seems to me that DC is rushing too quickly to having Jon succeeding Clark as Superman However, Johnson is doing a great job of setting this up in time for Tom Taylor’s Superman: Son of Kal-El series that will be replacing this title. I am left with conflicted feelings, but I am hopefully optimistic about the future of the Superman titles.
As for Sean Lewis’ backup story, my only complaint about it is that it needs more Ambush Bug.
Superman #31 is another great chapter in Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s father-son story. Johnson proves that he has a strong grasp on the relationship between Superman and his son. And Sean Lewis’ “Tales of Metropolis” continues to be an entertaining romp that brings some underused favourite characters back into the spotlight.