My main criticism of the Superman franchise since the start of Rebirth has been its frequent allusions to and emulations of the Dark Age of Comics, particularly the record-selling Death of Superman and subsequent Reign of the Supermen storylines. In recent months, Doomsday has smashed his way through Action Comics, the eradicator has appeared in Superman, a Cyborg-Superman has emerged as the antagonist in Supergirl, and John Henry Irons has received a major supporting role in Superwoman. Even a new Superboy will be joining the fray next month, according to solicitations.
Trinity #2 (DC Comics)
The name Dark Age serves as a double-entendre, referring both to the “grim and gritty” direction comic books took in misguided attempts to imitate Watchmen and to the generally poor quality of comics during the period from the mid-Eighties to the start of the Modern Age at the turn of the millennium. The Death and Return of Superman is dictionary definition of both meanings – the outdated old hero is dramatically killed off, his potential replacements channeling chic youth or urban cultures, or straight from a Terminator movie, and when the original does return it’s as a gun-toting, black-clad, patches-and-pockets-aplenty mullet man. There’s a reason the era carries such a stigma in the eyes of current comic readers, beyond merely the incomprehensible craze of collection and speculation. To see the writers of the Superman family wax nostalgically for such seemed to me more potentially poisonous than Kryptonite. Yet in this week’s Trinity #2 Francis Manapul proves a Dark Age homage can be done well, pulling from and playing with the plot of perhaps the most enduring Superman tale from that time, Alan Moore’s seminal “For the Man Who Has Everything” from 1985’s Superman Annual #1.
Both stories see Superman transported to the past, returned home and reunited with his deceased father, making manifest one of his deepest desires – through ultimately only as a flora-induced delusion. The main differentiating factor between Moore and Manapul’s works is that the former places Kal on Krypton with his biological father Jor-El, while the latter puts Clark in Smallville with his adoptive father Jonathan. This singular story detail speaks volumes as to how each writer conceives of the character of Superman. Moore writes him in a constant struggle to overcome his otherworldly origin and embrace his earthly existence (cf. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”), whereas Manapul depicts him as fully human from the first, deriving from his alien biology his abilities but not his identity.
This is demonstrated not only in the dream worlds in which they wander, but also in their points of departure. Moore’s Superman starts off in his Fortress of Solitude, the closest to Kryptonian quarters its Last Son could simulate. Manapul’s begins on the Smith family farm, as near a substitute for Smallville as the Metropolis Marvel could muster. Moreover, both Supermen are soon joined by the other members of DC triumvirate, Batman and Wonder Woman. Though it took place in an annual of Superman, Moore’s could have easily been from an issue of Trinity had the series existed at the time. In fact, If Manapul is not deliberately drawing on Moore’s earlier tale of the triad, he’s almost certainly doing so unconsciously at the least.
Whether intentional or not, Trinity #2 is an excellent example reverence done right. Instead of merely referencing comics which were popular in the past for the sake of nostalgia and nothing more, as other Rebirth titles have done with the Dark Age’s Death of Superman storyline, Manapul makes use of the same motifs as a truly timeless tale, Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” and juxtaposes such with his own unique take on the character, thereby producing a genuinely novel and worthwhile work of his own.