Brian Michael Bendis’ The Man of Steel #1 is a solid base on which to build something interesting, although the first issue is not, itself, all that interesting yet.
That the series gets off to such a slow start is somewhat maddening since Bendis has already released not one but two separate short stories set within the time that the story takes place and after the events of the first issue. The experience of reading The Man of Steel #1, then, is something like waiting for another shoe that is never actually going to drop.
That said, the first issue of Bendis' six-issue, weekly miniseries is a huge step up from his disappointing outing in Action Comics #1000, largely because of the context Bendis is able to provide for Rogol Zaar, the big bad for The Man of Steel. Introduced in Action Comics #1000 as a mindless force of nature who slammed and slashed his way through Metropolis before plunging his axe into Superman on the final page, Zaar's backstory and motivation opens The Man of Steel and gives him an understandable -- though not actually sympathetic -- reason for what he is trying to do.
In that way, Zaar seems to fall into the category of characters like Black Adam, Zoom, and Sinestro, who are doing the wrong thing for what they believe -- and may even occasionally be able to convince the reader -- are the "right" reasons. This is a pretty commonsense starting point for relaunching the Superman titles, since DC chief Geoff Johns has had success revitalizing franchises by putting compelling villains front and center.
Zaar's backstory also provides a tantalizing teaser for Bendis' cosmic vision at DC, introducing a group of powerful beings called The Circle that feels like a modern-day interpretation of the Quintessence from Alex Ross and Mark Waid's Kingdom Come. During a recent interview with ComicBook.com, Bendis promised more from them.
Generally speaking, Bendis has said that he plans to add new toys to the toy box, and that is evident right away: a pretty, young firefighter and a devious newcomer to the Daily Planet office are among additions to the cast, and both of them seem like there is more to the story.
Among those new characters, though, you get an odd "meet-cute" with the Man of Steel that, if Bendis is true to his word and Superman's marriage to Lois Lane is safe, seems to serve no purpose other than to sow discontent with fans who are worried Bendis will dissolve it.
The idea of adding to Superman’s non-powered supporting cast in service of shaking up the world is not a new idea; it is what John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Jerry Ordway, and others did in the late '80s, following the original The Man of Steel. The result was to create an era of Superman's publishing history that is unique and polarizing; when there was a mini-relaunch in 2000, voices within the comics industry complained that the books had become "about the supporting cast," while fans of the era tend to be vocal and enthusiastic in part because the larger, more predominantly human cast made Clark Kent feel more "real."
Bendis could do much worse than to embrace the "Clark-first Superman" of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, but if that is the direction he is going in, it may be a difficult sell. Outgoing Action Comics writer Dan Jurgens was one of the architects of that era and brought some of the sensibility and several of the characters from that generation back during his recent run. Embracing DC's post-Byrne philosophy, then, could make Bendis' run feel less dramatically different than DC might like.
A Clark-first and more "human" Superman likely also flies in the face of a relaunch that begins with an alien villain with ties to Krypton and another reinvention of Kryptonian history and mythology. And certainly, messing with the family dynamic by sidelining Lois and Jon is not a great look for that version.
Zaar is, one issue in, a liability so far. His design is grotesque, but not particularly interesting, leaving the character off-putting to look at but not "cool." His long history may be building toward something special, but right now he feels like just another Krypton-obsessed villain of a sort longtime readers have seen time and time again.
While artists Ivan Reis and Jason Fabok are both unquestionably powerhouse talents, Fabok pitching in on the last few pages (while we know Steve Rude will help out on Doc Shaner’s issue), paired with recent patchwork issues of No Justice, seemingly suggests that DC is either not entirely prepared for the magnitude of a weekly event series, or that they are not planning far enough ahead, or a little of both. That could put The Man of Steel in a precarious situation going forward, but seemingly supports the company’s decision to move the Superman books back to monthly so Bendis is only writing two scripts a month for the character.
The Man of Steel #1 is certainly not a bad comic; it is gorgeously illustrated, engaging, and includes a few very nice character beats. Still, it feels more like a teaser for something potentially really interesting than the beginning of it.
Published by DC Comics
On May 30, 20184comments
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Joe Prado, Ivan Reis, Jason Fabok, Cory Petit, Alex Sinclair