Cancer sucks. I have some personal experience with the effects of this horrific disease. No, I've never had it, but I lost two immediate family members to it. As horrible as that experience was, I cannot imagine having, or being, a child who is suffering from cancer. It's one of the great tragedies of the human condition and one that makes for strange comic book subject matter, unless said comic book has Superman as its protagonist.
Superman #39 is one of those types of fill in issues between major arcs that can be either brilliant or flat out boring. In Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's storytelling hands, it's brilliant AND touching. Superman battles The Demolition Team, a group of super villain bank robbers whose shtick is that they are modeled off construction workers with super construction tools. Anyway, the battle is just a set up for the real story. The battle takes place in front of a children's hospital, of which the members of the cancer ward therein observe the battle. Superman decides to do something special for the kids, and enlists the entire Justice League to spend time with the kids on the Justice League Satellite, and subsequently, a trip to the moon. Hence the title: "Goodnight Moon."
Each of the members of The League get to add something special to each of the kids experience, which culminates in a scavenger hunt, where the trickiest item to find is a picture of Batman smiling (which the kids have to take themselves on a smart phone). All of the kids end up getting the winning shot at once as one of the kids gets Bats to smile at a joke. The whole story, when summarized like this, sounds almost too kitschy to be taken seriously, and would ring as too sentimental or trite, if this was a story in just about any other superhero's book. This is an issue of Superman though. This is the type of story that defines the character. This is the type of story that Superman was created to star in. This is the type of story that we are supposed to get from this character. This is what Superman is all about. Hope and compassion define this character and should be present consistently in his stories.
Superman is one of my favorite superheros because he is so at home in these types of stories. I look for, and expect, these type of stories from the character just as much as I expect, and look for, social justice stories in The X-Men family of books.
Barry Kitson draws this issue and does a great job of mixing multi panel pages with full splash pages to tell Tomasi and Gleason's story. Kitson's art is always excellent and near perfect when considering its realism, expert anatomy, and action sequences, but here Kitson makes some really smart and emotional use of panel placement. It recreates a bit of the chaos one would expect from a group of hyper excited kids hanging our with the Justice League in space for an afternoon, but also powerfully silences the chaos in the quiet moments, like on the last page when the kids and Superman take in the awe inspiring view of the rising Earth from the surface of the Moon.
Few superheroes can effectively star in a story such as the one told by Tomasi and Gleason here and actually shoulder the moral weight that it requires. This is why Superman is and always will be a special creation and a special character in the right writers' hands.