Superman ’78 Inspires Nostalgia And So Much More

After Batman ‘66 and Wonder Woman ’77, the next cinematic adaptation for DC was, of course, the iconic Superman starring Christopher Reeve from 1978. I recently rewatched the movie (which is streaming on HBOMax), and was once again struck by how perfectly cast and perfectly acted both Clark and Lois are. But I was also struck by how perfectly written they are.

Superman ‘78 #1

Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), Wilfredo Torres (artist), Robert Venditti (writer)
DC Comics
August 24th, 2021

An advanced review copy of this comic was provided by DC. This review contains mild spoilers.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were a once-in-a-lifetime casting that worked, but the story and the dialogue are why we focus on their performances. And Superman‘s production value, from costumes and sets to special effects, was able to match. Richard Donner’s legacy is filled with many iconic movies, like The Goonies, and Ladyhawke, but his Superman was something special–and even more special because famously, Donner was replaced partway through the production of Superman II.

That’s a lot for a comic to live up to because it’s not just another Superman comic. It’s a Superman (1978) comic. As someone who has read and written fanfiction for decades, there is nothing I love more than stories that take place in a world I already know and love. If it’s a choice between a canon I don’t know or fanfiction, I will, more often than not, go read the fanfic–which is why I wanted to read Superman ‘78 in the first place. But having just rewatched the movie, I had both needs and expectations before even reading the comic.

Clark and Lois need to have the same kind of chemistry that Reeve and Kidder had. The dialogue needs to have banter that is both playful and sly. I expect it to visually evoke not just the movie, but also the era. I need to feel the world of the film come to life in a comic. I also expect to learn more about this world as created, without the writer and artist changing the world too much visually. And I both need and expect it to have something new and worthwhile to say while also staying firmly within the chronological and narrative boundaries of existing between Superman and Superman II.

I know I’m asking for a lot. But this first issue gave me everything I asked for and more.

What I love most about this comic is the feeling that I get when reading it. I think a lot of people would call the emotion they feel when reading this comic nostalgia. The writing feels true to the characters, and the art feels in line with the aesthetic the movie established, visually. But for me, it moved past nostalgia into comfort–the best kind of comfort a familiar world can give. It’s the kind of comfort that makes fanfiction such a richly satisfying emotional experience, and is very difficult to land, tonally. I can read a dozen stories about Superman, and while the best stories always have the truth of Superman in them, they are also a different Superman in a different world every time. In Superman ‘78 I’m not getting to know a new Superman–I’m visiting an old friend.

And while a comic is more than the sum of its parts, I want to take a few sentences to talk about those individual parts and why they work well together, starting with the art. I don’t know if Torres and Bellaire have worked together before, but I think they definitely should again. Stylistically, Torres makes the characters resemble their real-life counterparts enough that we can recognize them, which is a respectful tribute. But Torres’ lines with Bellaire’s vivid and soft colors combine to make a soft-focus–like a layer of vaseline on a camera lens. It provides just enough distance through abstraction to give both the creators and the readers a little visual distance from the film while still feeling true to its inspiration.

The writing also succeeds at managing to feel true to its origins. Venditti makes time for small moments, recognizing that they are more important than the threat the characters face. But these moments also remind the reader that Superman and Clark Kent are both new to their respective jobs. Because even though we know this Superman and he feels timeless, this Superman only just came out to the world. He’s younger than we remember him, and Clark’s conversation with Perry White reminds us of that.

The choice of villain is also a particularly smart choice for this series. The Brainiac storyline revives a classic Superman plot, but it’s also the right choice for 1978, the same year that Battlestar Galactica debuted on television screens. Brainiac’s drone looks more like The Terminator than a classic Cylon, but that aids in the believability of this being the right story for the period. The only problem with this series is that this is a miniseries. In five more issues, it will be over, and I’m already sad. DC has rebuilt the world of Superman as a comic, and I love it here.

You can read a 4-page preview of the comic here on the DC Comics website.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

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