When a probe from the mysterious Brainiac lands smack dab in the middle of Metropolis, Clark Kent and co. have to act fast. After all, Superman’s got to save the day and Lois Lane has got to get her story! In this fun first issue, Robert Venditti, Wilfredo Torres, Jordie Bellaire, and Dave Lanphear reintroduce Richard Donner and Richard Lester’s Man of Steel to comics readers — and I have to say, I had a great time with it.
Superman ’78, much like this month’s Batman ’89, is one of the most no-brainer film adaptation comics I could think of. And much like Batman ’89 (to a somewhat lesser extent), I’ve always thought it would be fun to revisit this version of Superman and get new stories with this colorful and optimistic cast of characters. In many ways, the original film series displayed so much untapped potential when it came to depicting the rich tapestry of Superman lore on the big screen. Plans to introduce characters such as Mr. Mxyzptlk and Brainiac were swept to the side in favor of Gus Gorman and Nuclear Man (of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t adore Richard Pryor’s performance in Superman III. The script isn’t his fault). With Superman ’78, we finally get to see what it might have been like for Christopher Reeve’s Last Son of Krypton to go up against one of the comics’ greatest rogues. This ultimately works for and against the first issue.
Let’s start with the good, shall we? Superman ’78 absolutely nails the tone of the movies. There’s an earnestness to Venditti’s dialogue and all of the character interactions, making you feel like you can almost hear the likes of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder delivering their lines. Lois indulges in a bit of friendly competition with Clark, letting him know that she sees the talent he has to offer the Daily Planet — and therefore, she cannot cut him any slack. Likewise, Perry White is frustrated with the fact that Clark keeps bringing him fluff pieces, but Clark just wants to make people happy.
This first issue does a brilliant job of staying true to the characters as they appeared in the films, but it also shows an evolution of those familiar relationships. There’s a sweetness to these scenes that brilliantly reestablishes the core of Reeve’s Superman, as well as what I have always thought was the key to making the character work: What if the most powerful man on the planet was also the nicest?
When Superman does have to do battle in the issue, he’s quick and to the point. He stops Brainiac’s drone quickly to minimize the damage to property and bystanders, but there’s still a weight to the fight. It’s obvious that Superman doesn’t want to fight unless he has to, so when he blasts the drone with his heat vision or slams it into the ground, there’s a sense of purpose and intent to every hit he lands. Torres’ posing during this fight scene shows that Superman’s a little out of his depth, but he’s still putting on a calm face for both his enemy and the scared people nearby. This attention to detail, as well as the way he carries himself when out of costume, also sells the reader on this very much being a continuation of the title character as performed beautifully by Christopher Reeve.
But it’s not just the action and the character likenesses that make this issue work for me. Torres and Bellaire also bring the brightly colored fashion and sunlit streets of late-’70s Metropolis right to the page, complete with some fun sight gags that would feel right at home in one of Richard Lester’s sequels. This feels very much like it’s embracing the full scope of Superman’s early film career, and I really enjoyed that aspect as a fan.
On the other hand, there’s not much that sets this comic’s version of Brainiac apart from his mainstream comics counterpart, at least not yet. The same goes for this depiction of Superman’s first meeting with the classic villain, which feels like it’s full of familiar beats. The problem here could be that we don’t quite get enough of Brainiac here, and so it’s hard to fully grasp the characterization of the villain. Even so, the sections featuring Brainiac feel very much like something we’ve seen before, albeit with some lovely nostalgic set dressing.
With that in mind, I’m still totally on board for where this book is heading. This first issue does a spectacular job of capturing the tone and sense of wonder of the Christopher Reeve-starring classics, and I can’t wait to see Superman’s universe get even bigger.
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