I had a dim view of the Rebirth Superman Vol. 5: Hopes and Fears ahead of reading this volume, as I knew it only contained one story by series creative team Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. The rest would be fill-ins, seemingly to let the Superman title step out of the spotlight roundabouts the time that Action Comics would be entering into "The Oz Effect." Indeed Hopes and Fears is no great shakes, but what redeems it for me are two Superman team-up stories with some continuity notes, which I always get a little joy out of even if the stories themselves aren't stellar. Also, Tomasi and Gleason's "road trip" story is an impressive feat itself, a charming two-part civics lesson that hopefully DC is intending to collect on its own for schools and the like.
[Review contains spoilers]
There's an extended sequence at the top of Tomasi and Gleason's "Declaration" (followed by part two, "Independence Day"), in which all of the Kent family doze off -- including Superman, while flying. That's a strange enough incident that seasoned fans might be looking for some nefarious implications, the presence of Doctor Destiny or some such. But instead it's Tomasi and Gleason's indication that the Kent family needs a vacation, and that while some of the matters discussed will be serious, this is not a story that will take itself too seriously. At times I've decried that DC does this kind of thing with the Superman character at all -- relegates Superman to often all-ages domestic adventures while Batman still gets to knock around city-leveling drones -- but Tomasi and Gleason's story is so charming, so well put together, and so fun that the opposite becomes true -- that this is a quintessential Superman story, of the kind DC couldn't tell with any other character but this one.
Tomasi and Gleason's story is part walking tour of American military and governmental sites, part exploration of war, peace, and equality. Real-life places visited and narrated through by the Kent family are Independence Hall, the Air and Space Museum, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In itself making this kind of tour book comic accessible and enjoyable is tough (only one really text-heavy page, but lavishly drawn by Scott Godlewski), but then the authors also work in story vignettes.
Lois explaining a "Coexist" bumper sticker to son Jon demonstrates right away this story's larger value -- what might be obvious to adults might not be such to children. There are a couple pages set during the Civil War, and Superman finally bringing home a soldier's lost body, that are affecting, but I thought the best of the writers emotional moments was toward the beginning, when Jon witnesses a homeless veteran face discrimination. The story's only blindspot is the lack of any non-white characters or reference to racism among talk of equality, free speech, and freedom of religion; still again this two-parter seems a lock for being bound together and distributed to school social studies classes.
The book's second story sees Superman battle the Parallax entity and then get captured by Sinestro, written by Keith Champagne and with art by Doug Mahnke and Ed Benes among others. That's a solid B-team all told and it's fun to see Mahnke draw Parallax, especially. The story itself is a tad confused however, involving a Parallax that seem to have possessed Superman and then not, and then who body-hops in a manner that doesn't line up with what we've seen of Parallax previously. The story also takes place in a strange space in between the pages of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, given that title has so far purposefully kept in the shadows the hale and hearty Sinestro who's shown here matter-of-factly.
The third story pits Lois Lane, and then Superman, against Deathstroke. The writer here is James Bonny, formerly of the DC You Deathstroke series, which gives this some authenticity, except I found the dialogue in that book often trite, and here as well. Bonny's question of whether Deathstroke might drive Superman to kill lacks any suspense, since we've seen this plenty times before and we know that won't happen. What Bonny does well is offer a Lois Lane newspaper story; the Rebirth Superman and Action have done this a couple times but Bonny's is nicely procedural with the interviews, the writing and so on.
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Nothing in Superman Vol. 5: Hopes and Fears moves Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's overarching Superman story forward at all. That might be problematic except that we've got two volumes of dedicated work still to go and at this point with the hype around Action Comics #1000 and Brian Michael Bendis's arrival, the ending of Tomasi and Gleason's run feels acceptable, even necessary. And unlike other "fill-in" volumes, the scope of Tomasi and Gleason's story plus two semi-relevant team-ups make the space feel not wasted -- these stories still happened, they contribute to the lore of one title or another. Casual fans could sit this one out but I was more satisfied than I expected to be.
[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]
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