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Superman

Superman: Red and Blue

The colors red and blue symbolize the iconic Superman, and in this anthology, many different authors and artists share self-contained eight-page stories about DC’s famous hero using only those two colors. As with any collection like this, some were excellent, while others fell flat due to the storytelling or art. I will feature my favorites among the 30 stories in this collection.

Untitled – John Ridley, writer; Clayton Henry, artist

This story obviously picks up from a previous story, but it shows how Clark Kent has to interview a man who mistreated him when he was Superman. The ending is open-ended but realistic.

Deadline – Jesse J. Holland, writer; Laura Braga, artist

Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) wait for their good friend Clark Kent to meet them for dinner. They make a bet that he won’t make it on time, since Superman is such a do-gooder and will get distracted. But don’t underestimate Supes!

Kilg%re City – Michel Fiffe, writer & artist

The art is horrendous, but I liked seeing Hawkgirl, Booster Gold & Cyborg.

 A Man Most Saved – Brandon Thomas, writer; Berat Pekmezci, art

A man who has been saved 13 times by Superman over the course of his lifetime, shares how he returned the favor once, and as the news interview progresses he gets one more chance. I enjoyed the art.

Namrepus – Mark Waid, writer; Audrey Mok, artist

An enjoyable retro art style with Superman besting Mr. Mxyzptlk with pranks.

A Little Is a Lot – Robert Venditti, writer; Alitha Martinez, artist

The lessons of Clark’s youth serve him well in the future. Loved the art and coloring.

#SavedBySuperman – Rich Douek, writer; Joe Quinones, art

Great art with a mediocre story about social media influencers who force Superman to save them for likes. Sadly, I think this would happen in real life.

Fetch – Judd Winick, writer; Ibrahim Moustafa, artist and Streaky the Supercat in: Hissy Fit – Sophie Campbell, story & art

The first is about Clark’s dog Krypto and the second is a silly cat story with Supergirl. Gotta love Supes with his pets!

The Special – Tom King, writer; Paolo Rivera, artist

We saw Clark from infancy through his adult years with his own son visiting the same Kansas diner, and alongside the same waitress aging from a young woman to about to retire. A poignant and sweet story that utilized color very effectively.

Ally – Rex Ogle, writer; Mike Norton, artist

A teen gains resolve to tell his family he is gay because he takes strength from Superman when he tells the public his secret identity. Somewhat trite, but the art by Norton (one of my favorite artists) elevates it.

There were different versions of Superman that were used in the stories including Cyborg Superman Hank Henshaw, Bizarro and Val-Zod (Earth-2) that underperformed due to my unfamiliarity with them since the short stories didn’t give you enough time to explain who there were. Too many of the stories were banal and preachy, so as a whole I came away disappointed with this collection. If you like Superman and short stories try the excellent Superman: American Alien instead!

Mike Norton’s version of the Justice League was the best of the bunch!

House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat

Zahn is an elite citizen of the planet Krypton. He has joined the resistance movement Midnight to expose the truth about Krypton’s decay. For example. the planet is experiencing earthquakes which have worsened over time. The Tribune is dismissing or minimizing these claims. Sera is a soldier who has gone on increasingly failing terraforming missions for the Tribune. She gets asked to participate in a mysterious experiment by Jor-El and Lara – Zahn’s cousin and the future mother of Superman. It turns out that Jor-El and Lara want to reverse her genetic code. They want to make her into a more well-rounded Kryptonian in order to make a difference in the planet’s future. If she goes through with it, will Sera be the same? Will she like who she becomes?

What’s very clear here is that all characters love their planet. They all show it in different ways and thus have different viewpoints and ideas on how to save it. Which one is the right one? This parallels the call for action about our own planet.

The art style overall was a sort of futuristic Art Deco. Straight, rigid lines dominate and recall Krypton’s societal structure. Yet at the same time there is a greater emphasis placed on expression rather than accuracy. This contradiction made the art not work for me as much as it should have.

I’m not sure if pandemic brain struck again, but this didn’t hit as well with me as I wanted it to. Superman fans will appreciate this graphic novel, the start of a trilogy about Krypton’s demise, for the context and moral conundrums it gives. Hopefully I appreciate the next volume more.

– Kathleen

Gray, Claudia, and Eric Zawadzki. House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat. 2020.

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Multiplicity

A group calling themselves “The Gatherers” is rounding up Supermen across the multiverse. Superman knows this because he witnessed the abduction of such Supermen himself. The Gatherers are not interested in him, for some reason. The Justice League Incarnate (that which monitors multiverse threats such as these) is on the case, and Superman joins them to save his counterparts, hopefully grabbing them before The Gatherers can. Eventually they find out that they are being held by a being named Prophecy. Superman allows himself to get captured in order for the Justice League Incarnate to track him to his lair. Can they do it, and free the Supermen in time?

This volume also featured fun short stories with Swamp Thing, and Jon helping a neighbor in need.

Man, I can’t get enough of this run. It’s just so much fun and it doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, which I really appreciate right now =P

The most interesting part for me was seeing all the different Supermen. There was a good array of representation that I wish was more present in the main series. In any event, it’s very encouraging to see so many different Supermen who all stand for the same thing: truth and justice! Because it’s a multiverse story, there is a Flashpoint-esque moment, because of course there was, but it didn’t bother me enough to put it down.

The art style was pretty standard for a comic book. Something I did appreciate was the art style changed from Earth to Earth, which was pretty cool.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ryan Sook, Tony S. Daniel, and Sebastián Fiumara. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Multiplicity. 2017.

Superman Smashes the Klan

While stopping a villain called Atom Man, Superman pulls out the green rock which powers his suit. It also makes Superman sick! It should be impossible! He begins to have visions of strange aliens, talking in a language he can’t understand.

Meanwhile, the Lee family moves from Chinatown to Metropolis. The two children, Tommy and Roberta, are of varying opinions on the subject. Tommy is active and eager to make new friends and readily joins the local baseball team. Roberta longs for their old home, and has a hard time opening up to new people.

When the Klan of the Fiery Kross leaves a burning cross on their new lawn, the Lees are torn between feeling angry and scared. Reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent jump on the story, but then Tommy goes missing. Roberta, certain the Klan was behind his disappearance, tries to get help, but no one else seems to be worried. She seeks out the only person she knows will help: Superman. However, his exposure to the green rock is still making him sick and giving him strange visions. Can Superman and Roberta recover from their fears and doubts, unlock their inner power, and smash the Klan?

This graphic novel is based on an arc in the Adventures of Superman radio serial titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” While the story takes place in 1946, it has a timeless quality to it. Yet it’s timely, too. Many issues this graphic novel tackles – immigration, acceptance of one’s neighbor, making a new home – is still vitally important today.

One thing I especially loved about the setting was the slight de-powering of Superman. In his canon, this was before he could fly, so he ran on power lines in order to not hold up traffic. How cool is that??? As the story moves on, he discovers more and more of his power, but I can’t say further without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this was a beautiful way to mirror the growth that many other characters go through.

It was at times hard to read. The Klan of the Fiery Kross is based upon the Ku Klux Klan, and as the radio serial was given insider information about the Klan, this graphic novel is obviously very well-researched. Creators Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru strive to make one of the Klan the characters as sympathetic as the heroes. It was disturbing to read someone trying to justify their hate, but in a good way. Only through seeing (or in this case, reading!) someone else’s perspective can we gain understanding.

What I love about Superman is that he believes in the ordinary-ness of people. The Klan is stopped by a combination of Superman’s powers and ordinary kids standing up for each other, and what’s right. Just as the radio serial is still relevant, the graphic novel will still be relevant in the years to come.

– Kathleen

Yang, Gene Luen, and Gurihiru. Superman Smashes the Klan. 2019.

 

*Nancy loved this book too! Read her take on the book: Superman Smashes the Klan

Graphic Novel Suggestions

Graphic novels have been growing in popularity but it seems at times that prejudice against them remains, with a lingering doubt about their literary merit. But as a former elementary teacher, and now a current teen librarian, I can say confidently that graphic novels are a magnificent way to bring a story to life. And other educators agree, as teachers and librarians on the 2014 New York Comic-Con panel Super Girls: Using Comics to Engage Female Students in the High School Classroom listed these benefits and skills that are strengthened by graphic novels: “motivating reluctant readers, inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension.” To find out more about how graphic novels can be used in education go to the website CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for they have featured articles that are designed to lessen confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and educators raise readers.

There is great variety within graphic novels, with many genres available beyond the stereotypical superhero stories (although those can be great too!). No matter your interest, there is a graphic novel for you, so I have pulled together some of my favorites to highlight.

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Diversity is key in literature and even stronger when an #ownvoices author can share their experiences with the reader. As such, here are a few Diverse Reads:
Roughneck
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect and show the reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a groundbreaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time-traveling framework. The author
herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of main character Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.
Image result for the outside circle

The Outside Circle, written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, tells the fictional tale of a Canadian First Nations man that comes to terms with his heritage and who begins to take responsibility for his life. The story is based on the reality that many Native people face (in Canada and the US), for the government took away thousands of children from their families over the years, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore.

 

 

Strange Fruit by JG Jones and Mark Waid has an interesting premise: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920s? This magical realism tale is based on the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers. As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash-landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. This novel raised more questions than it answered, but was certainly thought-provoking.

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Even though most people who know me would agree that I am a friendly woman who smiles a lot and has a good sense of humor, I obviously must have a dark streak for I love Dark and Disturbing books:

Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, hands down. It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and the six-volume series is strong from beginning to end. The story starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell. After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate but malevolent horrors await them there. The new Netflix series based on this series is strong and choose to show more of the fantasy vs horror aspects of the story.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët was macabre, unsettling and gruesome. I loved it. This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff start falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. And the story continues to go sideways from there.

Another series that I found outstanding was Revival, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton. It was an atypical living dead story, in which a handful of dead suddenly came back to life. They quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. I loved this series even before I won​ a contest run by Seeley and Norton, in which I was drawn in as a cameo character in the eighth and last volume. I will talk about this honor until my dying day.

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Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction and these non-fiction stories or based on fact stories are a great example of Real and Gritty:

The March trilogy is a perfect example of how graphic novels can bring educational content alive. This non-fiction series is a vivid account by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell about Lewis’ human rights struggle and the greater Civil Rights movement. Students can learn so much from these three novels as they bring history to life and supplements what textbooks only briefly touch on.


Briggs Land by Brian Wood and Mack Chater is an absolutely riveting series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within its fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia is “a historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood (again!) and Andrea Mutti. It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well-respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

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Now that I’ve covered other genres in graphic novels, I want to share some Classic Superhero stories that go deeper than most:

Although Superman: American Alien by Max Landis has Superman in the title, it is really focused on Clark Kent stories. Each of the seven stories features a different artist and are put in chronological order to fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes him. All seven stories are excellent, and they flow and connect into one another to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

Kingdom ComeKingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross, was praised by IGN with the statement, “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time”, and they were not far off the mark. I am typically more a Marvel fan, but this DC story was fantastic for the moralistic debate featured in the storyline. The artwork is top-notch, with a distinctive photo-realism look and holds up 20 years after first being published. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to the team’s familiarity with the history of all the superheroes! As such, the epilogue was a perfect ending.​

Vision- Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all. It’s sequel Little Better Than A Beast was equally strong.

 

Marvel 1602, written by the esteemed Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, was marvelous (get the play on words?)! The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. The story takes place in 1602 and is an alternate world in which Europe and colonial America’s history is jumbled and out of order due to a rift in the timeline, with America’s first child of European descent, Virginia Dare, surviving and traveling overseas to London with her bodyguard Rojhaz. Court intrigue during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I abounds, and there are several betrayals, with many of the mutants needing to travel far to escape persecution for being “witchbreed”. Eventually, America becomes a sanctuary for these people with magical abilities, and an answer as to why they are in 1602 is made clear.

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While I could wax poetic about many other books, I hope those featured encourage you to pick up a graphic novel for the first time or introduces you to new titles if you already are a fan.  Happy Reading!

-Nancy

*This post was originally on another blogger’s page as a guest post, but as the blog is no longer active, I transferred it back here, since I wrote it myself back in 2018. I have learned to keep a copy of my guest posts as I learned the lesson the hard way when another post written by me disappeared when another blog was deactivated.*

Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth

Superman is trying to find his family. Lois and Jon are traveling the universe together, and Clark has lost contact with them. In the battle for Krypton against the peerless warmonger Rogol Zaar, his communication device was destroyed. Zaar was eventually banished to the Phantom Zone, where such villains such as General Zod are. It seems Superman has bigger problems, now that he’s discovered the entire Earth is somehow inside the Phantom Zone as well! Is this job too big for Superman, when he calls the Justice League for help? When Zaar and Zod meet inside the Phantom Zone, should Superman let them kill each other for their joint destruction of Krypton?

I was very confused upon my first read-through. I couldn’t place it in the continuity. Upon looking it up I see that Superman’s Rebirth run ended in 2018, and The Unity Saga picks up where it left off. As I’m not done reading Superman Rebirth, I spoiled myself for the ending =P

Brian Michael Bendis writes Superman well. We see Clark’s longing for his family, his optimism in the face of crushing odds and discord, and his fallibility. That he has to call for the Justice League to try and get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone shows that even Superman needs help sometimes. He is sorely tempted, and sees the benefits to, simply letting two of his greatest enemies kill each other for what they did to his home planet.

In writing Superman, there is a fine balance to walk between making him overpowered and making him human. Bendis walks it wonderfully.

The art is on an epic scale. The land- and space-scapes are sweeping, the monsters gargantuan, befitting the dilemmas in the story. Superman is larger than life, and the art depicts it.

While I enjoyed this first volume in The Unity Saga, I think I’ll wait to finish Rebirth before I read more!

-Kathleen

Bendis, Brian Michael, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert. Superman (2018, Vol. 1): The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth. 2019.

Superman Smashes the Klan

Superman Smashes the Klan is a wonderful graphic novel geared for young adults, yet will appeal to all ages. Author Gene Luen Yang deftly combines the mythology of Superman with timely topics of immigration and battling prejudice.

When you hear the word Klan, you will automatically think of the hate group that seems to targets blacks the most. But instead, Yang sets the story in 1946 and centers on the Lee family who are Chinese-Americans who have recently moved to Metropolis for their father’s new job as a scientist. Brother and sister Tommy and Roberta begin to assimilate into their new community after leaving Chinatown, but Roberta struggles more than her brother who is soon befriended by boys in the neighborhood when he shows a gift for pitching.

But soon the family is targeted by the Klan of the Fiery Kross, which is obviously a stand-in for the Ku Klux Klan. The chants they use and their justification of their actions are sadly a commentary on what is going on in America right now. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen befriend the Lee’s but Roberta picks up on clues about Superman’s abilities and helps him confront his own issues regarding his own assimilation. This story is set early into Superman’s career, and he is shown as not able to fly, as he is suppressing his alien powers. This runs parallel to the Lee’s journey of embracing who they are and not being ashamed of their background. This narrative not only makes Superman more relatable to younger new readers, who might only view him as a demi-god, not a young boy who even in later years as an adult struggles with his identity.

The artwork by Gurihiru (actually a Japanese illustration team, consisting of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) is a fun throwback to the 90s style of comic animation. The illustrations are deceptively simple and will appeal to readers of all ages. The story flowed beautifully from panel to panel, with some outstanding one and two-page spreads. The colors are bold, with the primary colors of red, blue and yellow taking center stage. That these colors are found in Superman’s costume is a natural tie-in.

I was very impressed with this story. Yang wrote a nuanced story about the struggles of fighting adversity, calling out hate, maintaining cultural traditions while balancing fitting into a new home and battling back against preconceived notions.  An afterword by the author clarifies his message in which he shares how racism against any race is unacceptable and shares his story along with his personal connection to the iconic Superman. This strong story may very well inspire readers to take stands against hate and racism they run across, and should be a welcome beacon for all Superman fans.

-Nancy

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son

Clark and Lois are hard at work helping Jon identify and control his growing powers. His unique mix of Kryptonian and human DNA means that he doesn’t have all of Superman’s powers – or he may have new ones! Luckily, the father and son of steel have plenty of opportunity in this volume to test them out. First, Jon’s science project accidentally teleports them to Dinosaur Island, where even they need to fight for survival! Then, a Frankenstein look-alike alien visits Smallville to take in a fugitive hiding in their midst. Unfortunately, it’s not only Jon’s parents that have an interest in his powers. Batman and Robin, known also as Bruce and Damian Wayne, have as well! What’s going to happen when the World’s Finest sons meet each other?

Of all comics I’ve read recently, I think I’m enjoying Superman’s Rebirth run the most. It’s fun, light reading that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Too many comics and their associated media today try to be as serious, dark, and realistic as possible – but that doesn’t always mean better!

What I’m enjoying the most is Clark and Jon’s relationship, not only as father and son, but partners as well. This is most evident in the Dinosaur Island story. There is a part where Jon is scared that he and his dad won’t make it home. Clark has to remind himself that Jon is only ten years old! He then reassures Jon as father to son, not as Superman to Superboy. These kinds of interactions show that while Clark knows all about being Superman, he is still learning to be a dad – it makes him less than perfect, which makes him more relatable.

The dynamic that Clark and Jon have is contrasted by the dynamic that Bruce and Damian have with each other. Bruce is overall – to put it lightly – harder on Damian than Clark is on Jon. This expectation of perfection suits Bruce’s character wonderfully, whereas Clark only asks that Jon try his best. While I don’t like Damian as a character (let alone Robin), it is really fun to watch him and Jon interact because of the fundamental differences in their personalities.

I’m looking forward to not only more of this Rebirth title for some fun summer reading – but also hopefully more World’s Finest teamups and interactions!

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Mick Gray. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son. 2017.

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman

The events of Flashpoint created two Supermen, with two separate timelines. Rebirth merged these two Supermen and timelines into one, and the result is the start of Superman’s Rebirth title.

Clark Kent and Lois Lane have a son named Johnathan Kent. The boy is half human, half Kryptonian, and is developing powers and resistances like his father’s. The three are happy, though Jon is both itching to and dreading becoming Superman like his father. Superman was not the only survivor of the past reality, however. The Eradicator, a machine from Krypton, has found the Kent family. He sees Jon as an abomination of Kryptonian blood, due to his part-human heritage; as such an abomination, he must be eliminated. Superman can’t defeat the Eradicator alone. Can Jon step up to the plate to defend his blood?

It’s easy to see why this Rebirth title was so acclaimed. It takes all the best parts of Superman and introduces a new challenge: Clark’s son. Part of the mass appeal of Superman’s character is that he believes anyone can be a hero, which is very inspiring. With Jon, we ask the question if he can also be a hero, if he will also be inspired and take his father’s values to heart and take up the huge mantle, or if he will forge his own path. It certainly will be an interesting ride as we see more of Jon’s character unfold.

Five artists worked on issues in this volume alone, making it hard to appraise. All was serviceable, and there certainly were not any weak links, but I enjoyed Gleason’s work best. I thought he was able to most effectively capture Jon’s childlike innocence and strong emotions, especially in the eyes. Like Jon’s character, I am eager to see how his design changes over the course of the arc.

I’ve said before that while I love Superman’s character, it’s been hard for me to find an arc that I really, genuinely enjoy. I do believe I’ve found one 😉

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, and Jorge Jiminez. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 1): Son of Superman. 2017.

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