Comic Book Review – Superman: Space Age

Superman: Space Age (2023)
Reprints Superman: Space Age #1-3
Written by Mark Russell
Art by Mike Allred

In 2019, there was a lot of buzz around DC Comics’ next planned reboot. It would have been the fourth (Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint/New 52, Rebirth, and this one) during editor-in-chief Dan Didio’s tenure at the company and proved to be an idea that didn’t come to fruition. The comics website Bleeding Cool has a series on the plans we are aware of and how dramatically they would have shaken up the DC Universe. The concept was to make Wonder Woman the first official superhero in the timeline, inspiring the mystery men & women of the Golden Age. Superman would have come along during the Kennedy administration, as would Batman. Eventually, Warner Bros. was bought out, and leadership at DC was drastically altered, leaving DiDio without a job. 5G was scrapped though pieces of it have been used in small projects like Future State, Superman & the Authority, and this Black Label mini-series.

Superman: Space Age is set on one of the parallel infinite Earths in DC’s multiverse. Clark Kent is a young man still living in Smallville, working on his family’s farm. The assassination of President Kennedy puts the States on high alert, and Clark feels he must do something. This results in a failed debut but leads him to remnants of his home planet in the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, millionaire Bruce Wayne plans to unveil his persona of Batman. Lex Luthor seeks to make a fortune through arms dealing but needs to stoke more conflicts to increase his bottom line. While this comic may have Superman’s name in the title, it’s just as much about Luthor and Batman as it is about him. Told over decades, we follow these three as they develop into versions of the characters we are familiar with. In the background, a version of Brainiac seeks to save the multiverse from the pending threat of the Anti-Monitor, all leading up to a retelling of Crisis on Infinite Earths. This is a very strange but nonetheless fascinating comic book.

One of the strangest things about this three-issue mini-series (besides a five-month publication gap between issues 2 & 3) is how unfocused it is. That doesn’t mean it’s poorly written, more that it is confusingly structured. It opens in 1985 with the events of the Crisis on the verge of destroying Superman’s world. He huddles in the Fortress with his wife Lois and son Jon. Then we flashback and get lots of events outside the purview of Superman. There are flashbacks to Pa Kent’s tour of duty in the Pacific during World War II. There are asides to Brainiac encountering another reality’s Superman. There’s even a weird twist on the Joker in this alternate reality. But it’s hard to say all these pieces ever fit together. It’s more like a condensed history of this particular reality. There’s a subplot that introduces the other familiar superheroes of the DCU, and eventually, they form the Justice League…which doesn’t seem to play a significant role in anything. 

All of this highlights why Space Age struggles to work because the usually reliable Mark Russell seems intensely scattered. This is partly due to this initially being a story that would have served to retell the events of the DC Universe when 5G went into effect. It’s been reported that Didio wanted to use the late Darwyn Cooke’s stellar Elseworlds mini New Frontier as the basis for his reimagined universe, and you can see the faint strands of DNA from there to here. Instead, what we have seems to be the ideas of what that timeline would have looked like recycled into an ultimately inconsequential What If? type of story. But without any clear theme running through the three issues. 

That said, this is a fascinating take on Superman, at least what we get of him. There’s a big emphasis on Clark Kent’s job as a reporter, an aspect of the character that seems sidelined these days. He’s a Superman thinking about big things but not morose & angsty like Zack Snyder’s take on the hero. It’s a good blend of Silver Age sensibilities with more contemporary adult reflective writing. He’s a Superman capable of doing those epic, cosmic-level things from the 1960s stories but also everything you loved about the compassion of Christopher Reeves’ performance in the 1978 film. It does make me want to see Russell on the character with an ongoing title. He certainly understands why people love Superman better than most. Adding onto that, there are some well-written encounters with Pariah, a character important to the original Crisis story. Superman meets with him regularly over the decades as Pariah tries to brace for the pending catastrophe. Pariah serves as an excellent foil to Supes, always remarking how Earth people assume they can solve every problem, but maybe there are some you just have to endure.

Mike Allred’s art is a perfect match for a story like this. I can’t say I have ever loved Allred’s work; it is an acquired taste. He does well on weirder books; his X-Statix run is him hitting on all cylinders. He wouldn’t have been my first pick for Superman, but he makes it work. The art ended up being one of the things that kept me reading when the story became disjointed and unable to find a character it wanted to settle on. 

Space Age does give readers a complete story, but it’s impossible to say how each reader will react. It’s a great Superman story when he gets a spot in the book. However, other characters are given minor to major supporting roles that feel confusing. I never really got what Russell was doing with the Flash or Green Lantern. It felt like something was being set up but then getting tossed to wrap things up in three issues. The final chapter is hugely rushed as the co-creators rush to the finish line. This is certainly not a terrible comic; just as I said at the start of this review, an incredibly odd thing.


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