The third issue of the Johns/Romita era explores a little of the nature of good and evil. In comics, this can be a pretty cut-and-dry thing. The knock against Superman is that he's a character who makes that painfully obvious (which, I think, is pretty much the whole reason, contradictory enough, for why Man of Steel proved to be so difficult for viewers to swallow).
Well, he's met someone who is apparently even more of a good guy than he is.
The story of a new character introduced in a long-existing character's series usually leads to the new character disappearing after the story is finished. It's all about trying something new, or saying something new about the long-existing character. In this instance, Ulysses has been set up as a direct counterpoint to Superman. He's got a similar origin, and as it emerges this issue, his moral character seems if anything more bullet-proof.
The twist in the origin-that's-pretty-much-the-same-as-Superman's is that this time the parents survived. And Superman has made the decision to reunite the family. This was the first opportunity to see if Johns would pull the trigger, if there is a trigger, on Ulysses, if he reacts in anger rather than the state of innocence that defines his character so far, to learn that he was basically abandoned. He reacts, instead, with tearful happiness. He even quickly decides that the pocket dimension he's been living in probably doesn't need him anymore. Could you imagine Superman abandoning Earth so easily? (Read the Superman: World of New Krypton series from the greater "New Krypton" arc if you want to see how it might play out.)
Too good to be true but sticking to it, that's Ulysses, apparently much more interested in hanging out with Superman than anything else, like the old knock once again, Superman being such a difficult character to like because he lacks what Marvel came to identify as the human element in superhero comics.
On the flipside is the villain the Machinist, who appears to be the clear-cut bad-guy answer to Ulysses. Never mind that even Ulysses appear perfectly willing to use lethal force against him (I'm sure there'll be more on that in future issues), but we learn on the last page of the issue that Machinist thinks nothing of putting innocent victims in harm's way. This is par-for-the-course villainy taken to another level.
All this is very interesting. Johns has chosen to challenge traditional notions all the way around in this latest run with Superman. I think the fact that he's never done an extended run with the character is proof that he doesn't take the assignment lightly. When he does he has a specific purpose. It's probably why Grant Morrison approaches Superman the same way. Johns always goes for the iconic approach, which is difficult to do with Superman. In the past he's succeeded by reinventing known elements. Now he's doing it with new elements. DC is promising some major changes in the new year. I hope they include Johns sticking around the series for a while longer, seeing the effects Ulysses leaves behind, if he's going away soon, or finding a way to make him a longer-term stamp in the legacy.
The art, I'm sure, will be a problem for anyone who's never considered the John Romita, Jr. style for Superman, who's always had a pretty traditional presentation. If anything, it's another indication of the risks being taken in the storytelling. I think that's the absolute right approach, and I'm glad Romita finally came over to DC and with this specific starting point. Ulysses has a look that probably has more than a few readers scratching their heads, but again, I think even that's deliberate. All the way around, this is clearly not just another Superman story.