For a lot of people, Superman is one of those characters that they know is important, but they aren't all that interested in reading about him. The chief creative officer of DC Comics, Geoff Johns, is trying to change that.
Johns took over "Superman" almost a year ago and immediately set about re-establishing the Clark Kent we know, emphasizing his relationships with Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and — although not his girlfriend these days — Lois Lane. It felt pretty natural, and all the changes of recent years by other authors to freshen up the mild-mannered reporter felt less intrusive.
On the Superman side, Johns presented the Last Son of Krypton with someone entirely new: The Last Son of Earth! Stumbling onto our planet from "dimension 4" was Ulysses, a character who may be as powerful as the Man of Steel, and who has an eerily similar origin. His scientist parents, it seems, thought the world was ending 25 years ago, and rocketed baby Ulysses to another dimension where they hoped he would gain super powers and come to be its champion.
Could this possibly be true? Could this strange visitor really be what he appears to be? It seems so implausible, and yet these "Men of Tomorrow" do discover Ulysses' parents, who survived the calamity he remembered. And he does seem rather heroic. It takes him a while to understand this whole "secret identity" thing, but he proves to be very useful in Superman's mission.
To draw this story, DC Comics tapped John Romita Jr., a popular artist they lured away from Marvel Comics, where Romita's father is something of a legend (he was the second artist to take on "Amazing Spider-Man" and served for years as art director). Romita's big-screen, in-your-face, kinetic style was a perfect match for this story.
And now the story has reached its climax — and been collected. "Superman Vol. 6: The Men of Tomorrow" ($24.99) includes Johns' entire run on "Superman" — eight issues — which presumably sets the stage for a Super-renaissance. Which only works if "Men of Tomorrow" gets us all interested in reading "Superman" again. Will it? There's only one way to find out — and it's not by getting rocketed to another planet.
While "Superman" often tells the stories of man at his best, "Nanjing: The Burning City" (Dark Horse, $24.99) tells a story of man at his worst. In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded what was then the Republic of China's capital city, Nanking (now spelled Nanjing). What followed next is called the "Rape of Nanking," and, if anything, that sobriquet is an understatement.
The Japanese Army went on a raping, pillaging, looting and murdering spree that killed in the neighborhood of 200,000-300,000 people, mostly civilians. (The numbers can't be verified, because the Imperial Army destroyed all records.) This event is also called "The Nanking Massacre."
Enter Ethan Young, who has written and drawn a graphic novel set in this holocaust. It focuses on two Chinese soldiers, abandoned by their leaders, who try to find their way to safety through the burning, Japanese-occupied city.
In the hands of a lesser talent, this could descend into bathos. But Young is a fascinating talent, whose work suggests a host of influences, from both East and West, from "Sgt. Rock" to "Lone Wolf and Cub." Working entirely in black and white, Young uses shadow and expert rendering to bring the horror of the burning city to life, while reflecting that horror in the faces and postures of his characters.
"Nanjing: The Burning City" is a horrible story. It is a wonderful story. It is certainly an unforgettable story.