Superman #28
Superman #28 By Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Scott Godlewski
Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason present an uncharacteristically boring story of the Kent family traveling through America. The comic places too much emphasis on history, and not enough on storytelling.
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It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's... a History Lesson!!
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Using a comic book to teach a history lesson is never an easy challenge. It requires deft maneuvering and avoidance of getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. When it’s done right, a historical setting can be used to evoke the essence of the hero. This is the case with the WONDER WOMAN movie. Set during WWI, its commentary on the horrors of warfare progress quite naturally and effectively. It’s much harder to tell this kind of story from the present, narrating about the past.

Such a method has the unfortunate side effect of seeming overly preachy; particularly when there’s nothing dramatic to drive the narrative forward. Unfortunately, this is the case with SUPERMAN #28, which concludes the Kent family’s two-part Winnebago ride through the U.S.A. Like the previous issue, the storytelling puts all its effort in using Lois and Clark to narrate stories of America’s wars. This leaves Jon in wide-eyed awe, and the reader feeling like they’ve been sent back to American History 101.

Courtesy of DC Comics

In part 2 of the “Declaration” arc, Clark, Lois, and Jon hit several iconic American monuments. This includes the capitol building in DC; the World War II, Korean War, and Lincoln memorials; and Gettysburg National Military Park. Throughout these visits, Clark and Lois offer plenty of historical narration for Jon’s benefit. They fill him in on both the victories and tragedies of American warfare. There are a few moments of personal poignancy too, such as when Lois finds the name of her uncle on the WWII memorial; or when Superman discovers the body of a long lost Civil War veteran, which he then returns to the soldier’s descendants. But these moments are few and far between. The Kent family has very little to say that adds to our experience of America’s wars.

I completely understand writers Peter J. Tomasi’s and Patrick Gleason’s impulse. They wanted to use Superman and his family to tell a story about American history. After all, in DC’s pantheon, there’s no hero more quintessentially American than Superman. Given America’s current political turbulence, now is a great time to get in touch with the values that have defined the country for generations. On paper, this is a great topic for a comic to explore, and Superman is definitely the character to do it. The problem is that neither Superman himself, nor his family, have any personal connection to the stories they’re telling. And these are LONG stories. Again, the only personal moment in SUPERMAN #28 comes from Lois’ discovery of her uncle’s name. The moment is far too small to justify the amount of time spent recounting old soldiers’ stories.

READ: Catch up on the “Declaration” two-parter with our review of SUPERMAN #27! 

If you’re going to throw Superman into a story about American history, you need to actually make use of his character. It’s not enough for Clark, Lois, and Jon to simply wander around American monuments and talk about them. It’s a mistake to assume that Clark narrating off a museum plaque will be engaging for the reader, just because Clark is Superman. If it had been Batman or the Flash on this American history tour, the comic would have read nearly the same.

This would have been easily fixed if Tomasi and Gleason had simply given Superman a personal connection with the monuments. Perhaps Superman could have read Jon a story that had inspired him as a kid. Perhaps one of the many tragic accounts discussed in the comic could have had a personal significance to Superman. Maybe that account could have even driven him to become a hero. This could have provided a real emotional reason for Superman to be here, and another point of connection between father and son. Clark could have passed his experience on to Jon, thus deepening their relationship. This would have continued the father-son storytelling dynamic already wonderfully established by Tomasi and Gleason in the pages of SUPERMAN.

Courtesy of DC comics

An action interlude also really could have helped SUPERMAN #28. The only time Superman has anything really Superman-y to do is when he uncovers the body of the Civil War veteran in the river depths, where no one else could have found it. It’s a lovely moment and luckily ends the issue on a relatively high note. But the dragging comic could have benefited from more such moments.

Last issue, Superman found the WWI monument in Central Park covered in graffiti, and quickly restored it. SUPERMAN #28 could have built upon that action, perhaps with an attacker attempting to destroy one of the monuments, and Superman flying in to stop him. It seems like Tomasi and Gleason intended to take a break from action with this vacation storyline. But still — this is a Superman comic. Even a small moment of action would have helped spruce up the pacing. Plus, Superman would have had something significant to do.

READ: SUPERMAN #26 told a classic father-son story — read all about it in our review! 

Luckily, where the storyline of SUPERMAN #28 falls short, the artwork by Scott Godlewski fills in the blanks. He renders each of the national monuments with painstaking detail. He often draws them in impressive scale, highlighting just how small Clark and his family are by comparison. Even with the Kent family serving as non-essential vessels for the story, there’s still something special in seeing this iconic American super hero walking beneath the specter of real American heroes.

Godlewski’s two-page spreads are particularly moving in this regard. For example, Superman, Lois, and Jon walk beneath the WWII memorial, an American flag and a superimposed WWII Veteran portrayed proudly in the background. Clark walks in casual red and blue shorts, in a clever nod to his regular colors. His clothing reflects meaningfully off the red, white, and blue colors of the flag above him. Artistic moments like this wonderfully demonstrate the American iconography of Superman that the writers so clearly sought to create.

SUPERMAN #28: Final Verdict

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason made a truly admirable attempt with this two-parter. Clearly, they wished to portray how important American history is to the legacy of Superman. In the realm of pure, dry fact, they succeeded. But in the realm of character-based storytelling, they fell drastically short. In retrospect, “Declaration” probably should have been one issue instead of a beleaguered two-parter. Condensing the narrative would have helped the pacing tremendously.

Still, Scott Godlewski’s striking art helps to visually create the poignant parallels between Superman and America’s heroes. It’s unfortunate the writing couldn’t quite emulate these parallels. Superman is the hero America deserves. But this truth is best represented through metaphor and symbolism. Cold, hard fact saps the “Super” out of Superman.

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