Action #976 Resets DC Continuity Again, and It’s Best Not to Think Too Hard About It
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Christian Alamy & Trevor Scott
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
I don’t want to say that DC Comics reboots too frequently, but the fact is that “Rebirth” is premised on a soft correction of continuity in Convergence which itself cleaned up a massive change of continuity in Flashpoint. The latter of which followed many a grand tradition of reboots, hard and soft, with prior events like Infinite Crisis, Zero Hour, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and many little tweaks to continuity here and there.
Somehow, all of this is intended to flow quite smoothly. Readers are supposed to be aware that events hard and soft occasionally mess with a character’s established history, but somehow, we’re supposed to keep going from issue to issue and just be OK with this. And often we are. Superman was effectively the same character from 1938 through the early Silver Age, up until one day where DC retroactively determined that the original stories happened to an older, alternate Superman on Earth-Two. Philosophically, it’s hard to judge which of those two characters was the “real” Superman–both are the same essential person, but while one had the original adventures and claimed credit to Action Comics #1, readers were keeping up with the other guy.
This happens again and again. Crisis on Infinite Earths replaced the cosmic-level Superman with John Bynre’s more Earthbound version of the character, a very distinctly different version of the characters. Readers who’d been following Curt Swan’s definitive version of the character up to Superman #423 had to deal with a massive shift the following month with Adventures of Superman #424 and Byrne’s altered version of the character. Fans just had to roll with it: it was the same guy, but totally different; what happened the month before never happened, except it totally did, but anyway, let’s move forward.
This kind of thing happens all the time, although many of the alterations between Crisis and the “New 52” were smaller in scope. Post-Zero Hour, Superman’s history was mostly unchanged, but the villain Conduit was added to his past. Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly toyed with working back in the Silver Age elements in the late 90s; it didn’t quite happen, but Krypto was re-added to the story. Harder changes to his continuity came in stories like Birthright and Infinite Crisis, but the overall validity of Byrne’s reboot wasn’t altered.
The New 52 and Convergence. Post-Flashpoint, Superman was reworked into a gruffer, armored version of the character who really wasn’t into Lois Lane. Convergence and beyond revealed that the 1986-2011 version of Superman and Lois Lane survived Flashpoint‘s changes and snuck into the current DC Universe. That Superman and Lois, now with a child, managed to replace the New 52 characters when they died. It’s known that they’re not the “existing” Clark and Lois, but readers did seem to enjoy the “Super parents” as callbacks to an earlier, classic DCU who carried over into the less-liked New 52.
So, brace yourselves, because the conclusion to “Superman Reborn” messes with readers once again, although the end product is, well, tolerable. The Superman creative team has now revealed that the “post-Crisis” and “New 52” versions of Superman and Lois are the same people, split in two, and they needed to be worked back together. It’s a little unclear how this is possible, since Convergence seemed to conclusively state that earlier versions of the DC Universe continued to exist after reboots, and this Superman and Lois are holdovers. On the other hand, last summer’s DC: Rebirth special suggested that the universes really are transformed in succession–Wally West remembers the post-Crisis DC Universe, but his history has been reworked by the Flashpoint. Same guy, altered history. Clark and Lois have been anomalies in being allowed to be both, so we’ve had two Supermen and two Loises existing at once, with one set replacing the other when they died.
Confused yet? It’s about to get worse. “Reborn” concludes with the “classic” Superman and Lois somehow deleted again from history and replaced with a returned New 52 Clark and Lois, who don’t remember their son Jon (because he’s not theirs). Jon, through the power of, I don’t know, love, manages to bring his post-Crisis parents back as blue energy globs and convinces the post-Flashpoint versions to merge with them. Yes, somehow it seems that Jon Kent doesn’t just have shades of his father’s powers–he can also mend alternate-universe paradoxes. The story ends with the revelation that both versions of Superman and Lois now have a merged, unified history with elements of both, though certainly bearing a heavy resemblance to the post-Crisis version. We’ll have to see in the coming months and years exactly what this history looks like.
This is not easy to comprehend, mainly from an ongoing reader’s perspective. Does this mean that the past 20 issues of Superman and Action, along with the New-52 history of Superman, now somehow invalid? Well, yeah. And no. As readers, we know those comics “happened.” We read them and they’re a clear prelude to everything that happened up until this point. But at the same time: yeah, they’re kind of going to be disregarded, because Superman will now have had one history going forward.
From a marketing perspective, this kind of had to happen. For some time now, DC Comics has been at the mercy of the mass-media versions of its properties–and probably rightly so, because that’s where you get new readers in. Views of Henry Cavill’s Superman will want to see the film version of the character more or less translate into the comic. That’s going to be difficult to do when they’re told that Superman and Lois died and were replaced by older duplicates from a parallel universe who brought a child with them. This is comprehensible to us steady readers, but not so accessible to someone who wants the streamlined version from the movies.
Ar least we’re given the sense that the “Rebirth” version of “Superdad” is mostly intact coming out of “Superman Reborn.” Doug Mankhe’s penultimate page showing the restored Superman mostly resembles the version we met last summer, now in a slightly snazzier costume that’s as close as we’ve gotten to the pre-2011 outfit. The red trunks still aren’t back, but this is probably as good as it gets, and it works.
Moreover, it looks like it’ll be a clean continuation of what Jurgens and Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have been doing on their books to date. At the issue’s end, Lois and Clark are still married, still have a son named Jon, and still radiate the positive, family energy that we’ve seen over the last year. It’s just that now they have a steady, reworked background that makes them fit a little better into the current DC Universe. The past as we understand it may be fractured, but the future going forward appears to be fresh yet familiar.
Action #976 is a difficult read of an issue, as the wrapup of all the continuity confusion really never comes together as a whole. That may be forgiven by the final pages which remind us that Superman and Lois are a constant which will continue to work effectively going forward, and their son will keep going with them. It’s a choppy issue, but one which turns out alright in the end.
Rating: Three capes out of five.
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