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Everything You Need to Know to Get Caught Up With Superman Comics

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DC Comics

If it’s been a while since you’ve read a Superman comic, now is probably the time to jump back in. Starting two months ago with the 41st issues of the flagship Superman and Action Comics titles, there is a new status quo for the Man of Steel, who has just had his secret identity outed to the public and his powers drastically reduced. However, if you feel like you need a primer on the past few years of stories before you jump in, here’s all you need to know.

There was a reboot.

In 2011, DC Comics rebooted its whole line of comics with an initiative dubbed “The New 52.” The 52 is a reference to the number of new titles they launched that reset the legacy numbering they had been using since debuting Action Comics #1 in 1938.

The basics of who Superman is, his origin, and the cast of supporting characters is  basically the same in the New 52, but there are some small modifications. He was sporting a Kryptonian biotech version of his classic costume (sans red underwear), which has changed a couple of times but that may be gone for good now. In the past few months, DC has shown a surprising appetite for making big changes to some core aspects of the character. 

Clark Kent Has Been Superman For About 5 Years.

Starting with the new Action Comics #1, Grant Morrison and Rags Morales showed us Superman when he first started out, set about 5 years before the current continuity. In the beginning, he wore an unassuming t-shirt and jeans and fought corrupt corporations and politicians. This underpowered Man of Steel was a nod to the origins of the character from the Golden Age of the 1940s. He couldn’t really fly but rather “leaped tall buildings in a single bound,” and was a champion of the people, not so much the entire universe. This take on the character, down to the t-shirt, comes back in a big way later on.

Ma and Pa Kent Died When Clark Was a Teen

This new iteration of Superman is markedly more reserved, lonely, and even more alien than we’ve seen previously. While he is driven to protect the people of his adopted home, he doesn’t feel like he fits in. This is likely the result of a big change to his backstory that we learned in Action Comics #17—Jonathan and Martha Kent died in a car crash when Clark was a teenager. In previous continuities, Ma and Pa Kent were alive and well in Smallville whenever Clark needed to reconnect with the normalcy of his rural American youth. That Smallville connection has at least been partially replaced by Lana Lang, Clark’s childhood friend who shows up in present day stories quite often.

There is no 'Lois & Clark.'

Lois Lane and Superman’s decades-long romantic tension culminated in 1998 with a wedding that remained in canon for over a decade. Now, post-reboot, Lois and Clark are simply very competitive colleagues. To DC’s credit, Lois is no longer defined by her obsession with Superman and even rose in professional stature to become Vice President of New Media for Morgan Edge’s news conglomerate (which owns the Daily Planet), but longtime fans find the emotional distance between Lois and Clark to be disappointing. Lois has been in a relationship with another journalist named Jonathan Carroll, and the strain between Lois and Clark only gets worse now when Lois exposes the truth that Superman is Clark Kent to the entire world.

But there is this edition of Lois & Clark.

In the upcoming Superman: Lois & Clark series, the married Clark Kent and Lois Lane from the pre-New 52 continuity are back. They are now trapped and in hiding in this new Earth, trying to raise their 9-year-old son Jon as if they are a normal family. "For Lois and Clark, it’s a world that they barely recognize...a place where they have to hide their true identities, “ says series writer Dan Jurgens, a veteran Superman writer who fans will remember from the classic “Death of Superman” story of the 1990s. "On the other hand, their son, Jon, embraces this world as his own. It’s the only one he’s ever known. In a way, it’s a bit of a classic immigrant story where the parents—unlike their kids—are a bit out of place."

And Now We Have Diana & Clark.

Without his parents and without Lois in his life, Superman has found a kindred spirit in Wonder Woman. The two most powerful members of the Justice League share a mutual feeling of disassociation from the people of Earth they have sworn to protect. In Justice League #12, their “kiss heard round the world” was captured on video and turned them into a celebrity power couple, making things awkward for their fellow League members. This relationship is explored on a monthly basis in the ongoing Superman/Wonder Woman series. It is one of the most significant changes in canon for both characters since the New 52 relaunch.

Clark Kent Quit the Newspaper and Started Blogging.

Clark Kent’s journalism career began at a Daily Planet competitor called The Daily Star (this is a nod to where he worked back in the comics of the 1940s), but he would soon join Lois and photographer Jimmy Olsen at the Planet. However, in Superman #13, Clark becomes fed up with the way the media conglomeration was making the paper focus more on “infotainment” than real news and quits in protest. From there he starts a blog and ironically ends up partnering with former Daily Planet entertainment reporter Cat Grant, which seems counter-productive to what he was trying to achieve. The whole blogging thing ends up being short-lived, and by Superman #33, Clark has returned to reporting for the Planet

Superman may be a loner, but he still has pals.

In this new continuity, Jimmy Olsen is Clark Kent’s pal (they were even roommates for a time), but Clark takes their friendship to the next level in Superman #38 when he confides his secret to an unsuspecting Jimmy. 

As previously mentioned, Lana Lang remains Clark’s close friend and has known his secret since they were kids. She is Clark’s first love, but these days she is in a relationship with John Henry Irons—the hero known as Steel—whom she met when the Kryptonian villain Doomsday spread a devastating virus through Smallville, killing her parents.

Supergirl is still Kal’s cousin from Krypton who crash landed in Siberia as a teenager. Since she hasn’t grown up on Earth like her cousin, she’s had a harder time adapting to her new home. Her frustration and difficulties in dealing with her rage led to her joining the Red Lantern Corps, ring-bearing heroes like the Green Lanterns whose power is driven by anger rather than fearlessness. Meanwhile, Superboy is not a young Kal-El but Kon-El, a clone of Lois and Clark’s son from a future timeline who is now a member of the Teen Titans. 

Superman’s other best pal is his dog Krypto. This version of the Kryptonian mutt is a little more like a dire wolf from Game of Thrones. He was the dog of the El family who got trapped in the Phantom zone protecting Jor-El, Lara, and baby Ka-El from the incarcerated prisoners inside it. Kal-El and Krypto were reunited in Action Comics #13 when a portal to the Phantom Zone is opened and Superman is sucked inside. Krypto now tends to hang out with Kon-El.

Superman also has a pretty tight friendship with Batman despite getting off on the wrong foot in their early meetings. They share a title called Batman/Superman that has showed us those early days as well as current adventures. 

Lex Luthor Joined the Justice League.


As far as Superman’s villains go, the biggest change might be the recent addition of Lex Luthor to the Justice League roster. After saving the world from the Crime Syndicate in the Forever Evil mini-series, Luthor took advantage of his public hero status to blackmail and manipulate his way into a League membership. 

Another classic Superman villain, Doomsday, came back in a big way in an epic storyline called "Superman: Doomed" that ran through all the various Superman titles for months. The Kryptonian villain is famous for killing Superman the 1992 “Death of Superman” comic, and is now on the loose and infected with a virus that destroys anything within a hundred yards of him. The Man of Steel has no choice but to not only kill his enemy, but to also inhale the toxic virus in order to save the world. Superman is transformed into a Doomsday-like version of himself, and it all ends up being an elaborate scheme devised by Braniac. Superman resolves it by trapping them both in a black hole, and it takes 60 days for Superman to eventually emerge virus-free.  

Superman Got a New Power, But it Comes With a Price.

In issue #38 of the main title, Superman picks up his first new power since DC gave him heat vision back in 1949. The so-called Super Flare is less a power than an out-of-control by-product of said heat vision. After pushing it to its limits in a battle with a similarly super-powered being named Ulysses, Superman's entire body emits a solar flare that is so powerful it takes out everything around him and drains the rest of his powers for the next 24 hours, leaving him effectively human during that period of time.

The Whole World Knows Clark Kent is Superman.

By far the biggest change to the Superman mythos in decades is happening right now. Beginning in both Superman #41 and Action Comics #41, we find Superman with greatly decreased powers having just had his secret identity exposed to the world by Lois Lane. How exactly we got to this point is something that is still unfolding.

What You Should Read.

Superman #41/Action Comics #41
Right now, this is the best the Superman line of comics has been in decades, and it's a great time for new readers to jump on in. Starting with Superman #41, award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang takes over as the new writer for a groundbreaking story of how the world finds out that Clark Kent is Superman. Over in Action Comics, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are jumping ahead to what happens next, with Superman sporting the old t-shirt and jeans look we saw back in the first issue of the rebooted Action Comics. In both books we’re seeing a very different, more human and even more angry Superman. "Our Superman looks different”, Yang says. "The cape is gone, as are the spit curl and tights. All that’s left, really, is the S-shield. He’s been depowered – he’s back to his original power set."

Superman, created by two Jewish Americans (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), has always been an allegory for the second-generation immigrant experience. Now, he is being written by two Asian-American writers (Greg Pak, a third-generation Korean-American, and Yang, a second-generation Chinese-American). "I’m planning to explore Superman’s role as American myth,” Yang says. "Now that he’s revealed to be Clark Kent, now that he’s not as strong, can people still believe in him as myth?"

Superman/Wonder Woman #18
I know you’re curious about how this whole Superman/Wonder Woman relationship works, and it is well worth reading their series to find out. With issue #18, new writer Peter Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke closely follow the events of Superman and Action but dig into how Superman’s decreased powers make for an interesting imbalance in Clark and Diana’s relationship (e.g., she has to carry him if they need to fly somewhere). 

Action Comics Vol. 1
Before this new storyline, the quality of a lot of the New 52 Superman comics has been fairly spotty. However, the highlight probably is Grant Morrison’s 18-issue run on Action Comics. Exploring Clark’s early days as Superman, it could be a little hard to follow at times, especially if you’re not used to Morrison’s unusual style of writing. In fact, much of it won’t even make sense until a second read-through when you realize he was planting seeds for some plot twists that pay off at the end. 

Superman: Secret Origin
As for pre-New 52 comics, if your definitive version of Superman was the one played in the movies by Christopher Reeve, you’ll want to read Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s retelling of Superman’s origins. Frank draws an eerily perfect Reeve Superman and Johns has one of the best handles on the character of any writer in the modern age.  

All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 12-issue mini-series will go down in history as one of the best Superman comics ever made. Set outside of normal comics continuity, it is another attempt at a definitive take on the story and it succeeds on so many levels. It embraces many of the wacky Silver Age tropes of Superman comics from the 1960s and shows how great this character can be when surrounded by all that imaginative wonder. 

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Animals
15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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Pop Culture
Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
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Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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