The countdown is a practice deeply embedded in American popular culture. It began with NASA and their spectacular rocket launches of the 1960s. The sound of an authoritative male voice saying “Ten, nine, eight ….” has come to represent the approach of an important and dangerous event. The truth is, the countdown was always a fake. There is nothing about a rocket launch, even a manned launch, that requires a countdown any more than the lift-off of an airplane or sailing of a ship. The controllers could simply have received the all-ready from the crew and pressed the ignition button without further ado. The countdown was always a device for the watching crowds, a way of building tension and drama, of making the spectators feel a part of the proceedings.
The countdown Peter Tomasi has provided in Superman #51, Batman/Superman #31, Action Comics #51, Superman/Wonder Woman #28, Batman/Superman #32, Action Comics #52, Superman/Wonder Woman #29, and Superman #52, the so-called Final Days of Superman is not really a fake, or at least it seems churlish to label it as such considering that it is the structuring device of an imaginary story. It isn’t anymore a fake than any other part of the DC universe. It is unnecessary, in the sense that the reset of the fictional universe begun in DC Universe Rebirth #1 could have been accomplished without it. Still, like the countdowns of NASA , it is magnificently effective.
Tomasi’s work during the New 52 era has been uneven, ranging from his well-crafted Batman and Robin to the truly execrable Forever Evil: Arkham War. But, Tomasi probably possesses a feel for the deep structures and continuity of the DC universe second only to that of Geoff Johns, the architect of the entire Rebirth project. With The Final Days of Superman, Tomasi deliberately, and to no one’s surprise, echoes the classic Death of Superman from the 1990s, arguably the last moment before the comic book market collapsed, wreaking devastation and creating the present commercial and artistic environment, with all of its peculiarities and challenges. As a precursor to Rebirth and the proclaimed rejection of the grim and dark tendencies of the past few decades, such a mirror of times past is entirely appropriate. But Tomasi also looks forward, laying out major pieces of the Superman world for the coming era.
The death of the New 52 Superman is the most obvious event pointing into the new dispensation, although I am sure that few people believe this is a permanent condition. More interesting is the introduction of the Superman of the pre-Flashpoint universe as the fallen hero’s successor. His adventures, and the development of his son Jon into the new, literally so-called, Superboy, has been chronicled is Superman: Lois and Clark. The natural dovetail of these books marks a level of planning and cooperation that has been sadly missing during the New 52. The introduction of a plot based in China sets the stage for Gene Luen Yang’s New Superman, and the welcome appearance of Kara Zor-El and the DEO forges links with her upcoming book as well as the CBS/CW television program. The plot concerning an intelligent solar flare is perhaps a slight distraction, but serves its purpose of providing the New 52 Superman with a suitably spectacular demise.
The death of Superman will be temporary now as surely it was before. But life, not death, is ever the important theme in comics. THE FINAL DAYS OF SUPERMAN are also the final days of the New 52. But the end of the New 52 is not oblivion, but REBIRTH. Therefore, the last days of Superman, the last days of the world, are only a prelude to the first days now launched with DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1. And it is only a matter of time before Superman returns to join in the new life.