Issue #1 of Superman: Space Age was nothing short of an accomplishment — if only because it nearly made me a true believer.
Across that giant-sized issue, creators Mark Russell and Michael Allred told a prolific Superman story that both deconstructed the Man of Steel while contextualizing his value and character in the grand scheme of the 20th century. It was the sort of awe-inspiring tale of heroism and bravery I’ve heard endlessly celebrated by fans my entire life — only now I mostly got what all the fuss was about. But the question begs, can issue #2 keep my “conversion” going forward, or am I doomed to be a Superman denier for ever?
As it turns out, my eyes are open wider than ever before.
As great as issue #1, it was mostly razzle-dazzle. Poignant, well-plotted, and hugely thoughtful, but nonetheless meant to excite and tantalize. It ultimately used a lot of solid gimmicks — like the aforementioned focus on placing Supes in the context of huge historical moments — to whip the reader into a frenzy. And this is no judgment — I bought it hook, line, and sinker because it was a deeply compelling way to explore the giant-sized mythos of Superman, and to contextualize his place as a hero in a really deliberate manner.
But issue two slows things down — not only in terms of pacing but focusing on one specific time period (the mid-’70s-ish, or more or less the time of Watergate). In doing so, the creative team maintains a laser-like focus on the moral explorations that comprise this series. It didn’t feel quite as exhilarating, but it nonetheless worked to expertly hone in on important moments of character development and revelatory thought experiments.
There were still a few great “gimmicks” or devices used — just wait greater efficiency and effectiveness. They included:
The Trolley Problem: Here, we get a chance for Superman and Batman to explore this long-standing philosophical quandary. It proved to be a quick and effective way to show why Superman wants to save everyone and why Batman would rather address the problem in another, decidedly ingenious manner. Sure, it’s another ploy, but it works so well in the confines of this story by trying to let characters work out how they see and engage the world at-large.
The Meteoroid Dilemma: Several times in the issue, Superman notes how he’d saved the planet from a meteoroid. Its subtle but regular use becomes the clearest way to see Superman’s role in the grand scheme of things. It’s a kind of declaration of strength and an acknowledgement of his focus (or lack thereof) — the latter of which is a major thread throughout this story. It was another perfectly funny and thoughtful way to get these characters thinking about how they operate as heroes and what that actually does for the rest of us.
Flash’s Bombs: I don’t want to spoil too much of this bit, but it involved bomb disposal and proved to be a massive moment in understanding this version of the Flash (both jokester and understated secret weapon). Plus, it nailed those larger ideas of how heroes can adapt to a changing world and make larger impacts (socially, logistically, etc.).
And I think this one-two punch — a more deliberate timeframe and some really excellent plot tricks — made this entire issue feel truly solid. It wasn’t about gimmicks (though they were used to really grab the readers’ eye and overall attention); it was about making these big, hugely philosophical questions ring utterly true. They’re not just questions posed in passing, but they became an integral part of the larger storyline and how characters bounce off one another. It’s character development as plot, and vice versa, and in terms of Supes and Bats particularly, we got a chance to see into their heads as they operate in a moment of massive social upheaval to try and sort through big ideas about their value, their tactics and techniques, and the depths they must go to really make a difference.
There’s so much more I could go on about. Like the perfectly twisted turn Batman takes in his role in saving a Gotham suffering the fate of the ’70s economic downturn (it’s such a great choice, and contrasts brilliantly with Superman’s “arc”); the picture-perfect interactions and conversations between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane about so many of these core themes and how that’s reflected in their multi-layered relationship; and even the big bad of this book debuting in the form of a very interesting take on the classic Brainiac. (I didn’t love the moments when the book deviated from character exploration to a proper story — weird, right?! — but it was still a very gimmicky threat done in line with the same kind of intellectual heart of this book.)
Yet I don’t have nearly enough time to gush about all the sheer greatness of this book. I will, though, say all of it ties together perfectly, and the whole 80-plus page tale breaks every idea and character and interaction down into their most essential. And in those dissections we see not only why these characters matter, but the spark of love and joy we all find in having read them for decades. It’s not so much a meta experience, but this whole story so far is both a powerful narrative of societal change and how that impacts the people in it as well as a series of moments for reflecting on the subtext of the superhero genre. In that sense, it’s both a living story and a place to sit and ponder.
Before I run out of space, though, I need to mention the art. The whole creative team — Allred, colorist Laura Allred, and letterer Dave Sharpe — once more killed it in creating 1) classic but updated designs; 2) a fully fleshed out world; and 3) deeply expressive characters. It’s gorgeous and uplifting art that adds another layer to the experience. It’s a moving and hugely effective translation of the endless humanity, deep moral nuance, and robust emotions that comprise the narrative itself.
It’s all proof of the magic that emanates from this book, which makes not only a strong case for our love of Superman but how we can all be heroes in our own right.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!