THIS REVIEW OF ‘THE MAN OF STEEL’ CONTAINS SPOILERS.
By Jarrod Jones. Event series rarely come with the fanfare that’s surrounded The Man of Steel, the latest Superman tale to reestablish the beloved DC Comics icon and provide an excellent jumping-on point for new readers. There’s a reason for this, of course — DC has opened its doors to Brian Michael Bendis, arguably the most influential writer working in superhero comics today, after nearly twenty years providing Marvel with some of its more popular and enduring new innovations. For a creator who’s given us alliterative greats such as Miles Morales and Jessica Jones, the world of Metropolis would seem the perfect fit.
Naturally, his enthusiasm is on full tilt right out of the gate. This debut issue introduces a new character, Melody Moore, a scarlet-haired firefighter with a wee crush on our resident Man of Tomorrow. (She even verbally ogles our hero just long enough to catch his notice.) This is the third character Mr. Bendis has introduced to the Superman lore already, somehow — Robinson Goode, whose allegiances are still very much in question by the end of this issue (she doesn’t make an appearance), first appeared in DC Nation #0. The other is the heinous Rogol Zaar — more on him in a minute.
The Man of Steel is a top-flight DC production. Metropolis is rendered beautifully by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, and since it’s mostly seen at night in this issue, Alex Sinclair lends it a magnificent glow. Through Reis & Prado Superman has a wholesome presence that recalls Tim Sale’s take in Superman For All Seasons and Frank Quitely’s milk-fed charm in All-Star Superman. I appreciated the display of Superman’s powers in this issue, especially the way this art team conveyed x-ray vision.
This series will feature a rotating crew of artists with every successive issue, though one wonders what Reis, Prado and Sinclair would have done with the rest of the series. Considering the material, I have a feeling this sentiment will also be projected on the likes of Kevin Maguire, Jason Fabok, Adam Hughes, Doc Shaner, and Ryan Sook when the time comes.
As for Mr. Bendis, to say that he’s tapped into the vein that provides the lifeblood to this character would be an understatement — in fact, he displays a mastery of Superman’s voice. There’s a bit where Superman rescues a wide-eyed little girl and her equally cherubic puppies from a building fire and scolds her for using rough language. Before, Superman throws a bit of Metropolitan sarcasm at a Batman villain clearly in over his head. This writer has a love for the character, knows what makes him tick, and has plenty of ideas to bring to the lore.
It’s surprising, given that, that The Man of Steel appears to be drawing from the same well as most “big” Superman stories.
The mini-series’ central thrust seems to come from Rogol Zaar, a belligerent white-skinned alien who has a real hate-on for Krypton and Kryptonians (he first appeared in Action Comics #1000). Zaar doesn’t brush up against Superman in this issue, but there’s still plenty of the villain to go around — there’s a four-page intro with an overabundance of word balloons spelling out his vitriol. Zaar lays it out for us why Krypton’s gotta go during these flashback sequences, and they’re as flimsy and fanatical as your typical supervillain fare. Later, he receives a blow to his ego that doubtlessly springs the story into action. (We’ll just have to wait until next week to see it play out.)
It’s not clear from this issue what Zaar has to do with the absence of Lois Lane and Jon Kent (a plot point that seems designed to encourage controversy), though it’s clear our writer has a handle of the particulars. (An aside: It’s disappointing that we’ve yet to see his interpretation of Lois Lane, a pairing of creator and character that feels like a grand-slam.)
The Man of Steel certainly has its share of “what th–” moments, particularly its flashback ending (featuring pencils from Jason Fabok) that will have fans of the Gleason/Tomasi Superman run either throwing their hands up in exasperation or morbidly intrigued to see what this legendary scribe has up his sleeve. In this debut, we’re left with more questions about the current Superman paradigm than answers — but there is a relief knowing the wait for the next chapter is so near. (The Man of Steel will ship its six issues weekly.)
Whether or not Brian Michael Bendis is a good fit for DC is a non-question. There should be zero doubt that he knows his way around superheroes, regardless if they’re more powerful than a locomotive or have the proportionate strength of a spider. Another boring question is whether or not those Marvel die-hards who would otherwise scoff at the prospects of reading a Superman tale can be wooed by Bendis to jump over to the Distinguished Competition. The only thing that should be considered important is whether or not this feels like a proper Superman story. And from this vantage point, it clearly does.
The Man of Steel #1 feels like a shot in the arm for an already very healthy patient. The Super-books pivot once more, only this time they’re moving on from some of the finest stories the character’s seen since his pre-Flashpoint days. The mini-series’ central premise (which I’m sure will have its share of surprises) makes it feel like we’re spinning our wheels a bit after we’ve already read Krypton-heavy arcs “The Oz Effect” and “Booster Shot”. But Brian Michael Bendis provides enough character moments to show us that his heart is right where it should be. As though there was any doubt.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis.
Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.
Colors by Alex Sinclair.
Letters by Cory Petit.
8 out of 10