I remember ages ago reading a quote about Superman concerning 1986 John Bryne penned reboot “Man of Steel” that stated one of the ideas was to move Superman away from being a father figure to more of an older brother. At the time it must have been a fitting change given that Superman’s father figure persona was probably not the most appealing to the comic book audience of the 80s just getting a taste of the darkness that was seeping into comics. DKR’s portrayal of Superman as a pawn of the American government was easily seen as everything wrong and outdated with the character and by proxy the parents of comic book readers. He was the stereotypical American hero of the Greatest Generation. He fought for workers’ rights in the great depression as a heroic populist, joined the war effort in both the comic and in real life both fighting the Axis forces in the comics and advertising war bonds to American citizens. Then after the war he settled down into a sort of 50s values father figure but blown to epic proportions. He had his superdog Krypto, his niece Supergirl, a surrogate son with Jimmy Olsen, and his nagging girlfriend that he constantly feared commitment to Lois Lane.
Grant Morrison in his book Supergods theorized that the appeal of the 1950s Superman stories was that Superman was in a constant battle of personal stakes and issues. Every weird gimmick and trick would tie back into Superman’s and his extended group’s fragile psychosis. It was a reflection of the time given that without a common higher goal to fight (at least for white American males) there was no real threat but your inner self (or some nebulous communist menace). It was a 50s tv show filtered through the eyes of pre-psychedelic psychoanalysis and childhood imagination.
When the New 52 came around they strived with the Action Comics run to return superman to his 1930s social crusader statues as a hero of the people taking on corrupt businessman at first. And that too reflected the times with the movement of Occupy Wall Street gathering steam and protesting the economic inequality. At least for Morrison’s run this worked, as time went on the Superman comics kind of lost their way and culminated recently in the death of New 52 Superman. Replacing him is the 1986 post-crisis Superman surviving his worlds destruction, but with a twist. Now he’s a father raising a young son with Lois Lane.
It’s a return to Superman’s pre-80s statues as a father figure and it underlines DC Rebirths emphasis on returning the universe to its more classic roots. Rather than the conflicted New 52 Superman, Rebirths Superman is the perfect role model for his son. While at first this may seem like a step back to the 50s Superman it’s really not. 50s Superman was for all his power a rather uncertain and emotionally fucked up man reflecting his status as a surrogate for all the fears and desires of the stereotypical 50s father. This is Superman as not the flawed, insecure father of the 50s but as really the perfect parent standing for everything right in the world.
It’s a return to Superman as an ideal, though not in the usual way. He is no longer an untouchable godlike ideal that we strive for but rather an ideal father and family man. It’s a more human Superman but one that still manages to be conflicted. It touches him into reality without making him the tortured someone callous man he was in the New 52. It achieves making Superman more “human” (something that DC has been trying to achieve) without ruining what makes him special*. He’s the Man of Tomorrow, but he is still trying to raise a kid like everyone else to the best of his ability.
*For the record it has been achieved before, Max Landis Superman: American Alien is among the best comic books of the past few years and its entirely based around a more human Superman.