Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: The Man Of Steel #1

The wait is over. Bendis isn't coming any more. Bendis is here.

As someone who has been reading comics for over 2 score year (sheesh, I am old) and has lived through countless reboots, soft reboots, and bold new directions, you think I would be numb to this stuff. But I'm not. I care about these characters. It's why I have stuck around. And it is why I was entering this Bendis era with a little trepidation. Superman has been mistreated and the books have misfired for most of the 21st century. The last two years of Rebirth have finally been a return to quality, a return to super. So DC upsetting the apple cart after so long seemed risky, even for such a big name as Bendis.

So I was nervous.

I read Bendis' story in Action Comics #1000 and was intrigued. I read his story in DC Nation #0 and was pretty pleased. The Man of Steel was going to be the real test though.

The Man of Steel #1 came out this week and I won't bury the lede. I liked it. I liked it a lot. We got a classic Superman, back in red trunks, protecting Metropolis, spouting some Pa Kent wisdom, cracking a little wise, meeting another hero of his city, and then heading home to Lois and Jon. Even the Rogol Zaar plotline, the part of this arc I think I will care the least for, read well with some interesting hints about motives and allies.

Ivan Reis and Joe Prado provide their usual solid work on art, bringing us quiet moments and action with equal skill and precision. There is almost a Neal Adams sort of feel here, a nice way to kick things off.

I know ... I should slow down. This is one issue. But for now Bendis has shown me he understands Superman. That makes me happy. On to the book.

We start with a look into the past. Krypton is still in one piece. Rogol Zaar, far less scarred than he looked in Action Comics #1000 is standing before some sort of universal council to discuss the dangers of Kryptonian wanderlust. There is definitely a Guardian in this group. There are some characters that look like they belong to some pantheon of gods (maybe a Fourth Worlder), perhaps member from the Parliament of Trees, and maybe Sardath of Rann (can't be because of timing). But they have the feel of some Universal Supreme Court.

Zaar says that Krypton is destined to reach beyond their planet, into the galaxies surrounding them, and will strip mine these lesser worlds of their resources. This incursion will lead to intergalactic war among the victims of this Kryptonian colonization. And he isn't joking. He name drops Czarnia and the Dominion, two worlds we as readers know become war-like.

With that in mind, he asks for permission to cleanse the cosmos of Kryptonian. There is something so genocidal about the word cleanse, as though the Kryptonians are lesser somehow, like dirt to be scrubbed or vermin to be exterminated.

But all this is long ago. Perhaps Zaar gets his scars when Krypton explodes?

In the present, Superman flies in on Killer Moth and Firefly who have decided to take up residence in Metropolis. Firefly seems to know some common sense rules criminals abide by in the big city. One is not to yell incriminating phrases that Superman is tuned to listen for.

Sure enough, Superman swoops in and grabs the two D-listers. But for me, the best part of this was the quippy nature of the interaction. Superman calls out their 'hide in plain sight' strategy for the folly it is. He talks about how he is different from Batman.

I think he could have got away with a wink to the camera here. This was a cute side interlude showing Superman can have fun while on the job. And he should be able to.

Then things get serious. We see the classic 'hovering over the city listening' pose, like he is a sentry over the city. We have seen this ... usually from higher up ... many times. It felt classic.

But Bendis puts us in Superman's head. How something small like a song can be stuck in his head like a normal person. How he sometimes finds this method of alertness akin to eavesdropping. But it is worth it when he hears screams of terror and zips off to help.

Just another brief example how Bendis seems to 'get' Superman.

The screams are coming from a high rise engulfed in an electrical fire, the latest in a string of infernos. He remembers some Smallville wisdom ('Fire is fire') and jumps in. He rescues a young girl and her puppies, telling her to mind her language when she throws out a surprised curse when he crashes through the wall. He thinks about the safest way to get the girl out without hurting her and while protecting her. And he figures out the best way to extinguish the blaze. And with the flames out, we see him scanning the building hoping to find the cause.

Afterwards, he meets the latest member of Metropolis' Fire Department, the very Lana-esque Melody Moore. It's Moore's first day and she seems a bit starstruck and a bit smitten, bringing up that she is taller than Wonder Woman and glad to meet Supes so early in her career.

Now I know Lois is missing early on in this arc. But I hope that Bendis doesn't have Superman tempted by Moore, even if she is a dead ringer for his high school sweetheart.

I also wish that Bendis resurrected one of the best parts of the Pak/Kuder run, firefighter Lee Lambert.

Moore seems to fit the same sort of role, new found ally in emergency services.

I wonder if editorial remembered Lee and told Bendis about her.

Back in the past, we see Zaar living on a savage world so he can keep his fighting skills honed.

The Guardian, the eventually insane Appa Ali Apsa, arrives to tell Zaar that the council has decided that Krypton is to be left alone, to its own devices, to rise and fall on its own.

The biggest line here is how Zaar has some personal history which the council think has biased him. Could Kryptonians have made it to his world and done something terrible? I suppose we need to wait and see.

At the very least, I am glad to see that Zaar is alone in his thinking.

Moore had told Superman she was convinced the fires are arson. Superman told her to track down Firefly in prison to see if he had info. He also told her to contact Clark Kent at the Planet. (He started to say Lois but then stopped.)

We then see Clark at his desk typing up the story.

I know, quiet panel. But I loved it.

This is what I am calling 'The Pit' at the Planet. We saw this newsroom in DC Nation #0, the stage on which Perry White spouts his journalistic soliloquies and rallies the troops. This is laid out the same way. I love continuity like this.

And the framed stories on the wall give us some history. Superman's arrival. His death. His return. They are all there. But, most compelling for me, is the framed Supergirl story on the pillar. Kara ranked.

I hope we get a boatload of Planet in this new direction.

Looking at a picture of his family on his desk sends Clark into a memory of the recent past. Jon has had a growth spurt. There is playful banter among the family. But then a blinding flash washes everyone out Crisis #4/Zero Hour style. What gets me is Jon's 'oh' as though he recognized whatever/whoever it is. Hmmmm ...

So that is how Lois and Jon disappear, thankfully. It isn't a marital rift causing Lois to leave!!! And while I would prefer Lois and Jon to be present at the beginning of this new era, the way this scene is written makes be think Bendis likes the family unit. I doubt they will be gone for long.

Nice cliffhanger.

I went in with some concerns. I left entertained. We got to see all aspects of Superman's life her. The Planet time and the family time read well, pitch perfect. The super-heroics ran the gamut from silly to serious. We got to meet a new supporting cast member, joining those we met in DC Nation #0.

All in all, it is only the Zaar part which I am still undecided about.

A solid opening to a bold new direction indeed.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I was rather wary.

However, Bendis' first real issue has been good. So far.

To start with, his Superman feels to me like a kind of synthesis: the Golden Age social crusade with a sense of humor ("No, I don't drop people. But it's hilarious when Batman does it"), the Silver/Bronze Age benevolent super-being who found crazy, new ways to use his powers, the Post Crisis down-to-Earth farmer boy turned journalist... Great characterization so far.

I almost laughed loud when one of the crooks told: "You're pulling all his triggers. He always listens to people screaming or shouting 'Where's the money?'"

I don't think the firewomen is a new love interest, but I'd not surprised if the finds him hot.

So far we've two ongoing subplots: an arsonist hurting people in Metropolis, and an alien related to Krypton. So the stories are exploring Superman's both sides, human and alien. Perfect.

We've got to see his family -including Supergirl- and the Daily Planet staff. No main secondary character is being forgotten or neglected so far. Perfect.

I'm curious about Zaar. So he pleaded his case, they didn't give him the go-ahead and he blew Krypton up anyway? How did he do that?

The art is incredible.

This beginning is promising.

Anonymous said...

Thats it?? DC's own version of "Thanos" (who was nothing but a second generation copy of "Darkseid") Thats it??
Nice artwork, cute banter this'll all be forgotten in eighteen months.


Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

In rereading, could Lois be taken by some other Clark?

Anonymous said...

Looking at the hair and teeth I’d venture to say that both Thanos and Darkseid have better personal hygiene.

Martin Gray said...

Nice review, Anj. I didn’t get a Lana vibe from Melody Moore - probably because I’m not as sharp as you. To my eyes, apart from the red hair, she’s less girl next door, sexier.

Great call on Lee! I suspect the editorial team, which has changed since Pak’s run, just didn’t know she existed.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this issue.

I can't help wondering if the MM initials were intentional, as a play on the old LL theme.

I would like some more introduction to that space council in the future - maybe that will be revealed in Kara's space adventures.

Good review Anj.

Anj said...

I agree that Moore seems more flirty/sexy than Lana, Mart. We'll have to see if her Lana-ness is something only I saw or part of the story.

And interesting thought Anon. Supergirl investigating the council is the best theory I have heard yet for her 'mission'.

Anonymous said...

I liked it. A different tone, which will take some getting used to, but it's a pleasing tone, and leaves Superman heroic and,from what little we've seen, and for as long as we are going to see it, the Kent family dynamics are intact.

I'm sure the alliterative MM is a deliberate nod to all the "LL"s. Back in the Silver Age, we were wide-eyed and innocent, and DC would write "Wow, what an amazing coincidence, another person whose initials are LL! What does this mean?" And we'd go "Wow, that's so intense." Heh.

I do get a Lana vibe from Melody, but so far only in the sense that her red hair may touch a soft spot in Clark. Or, just that we think it might. She has a crush, and he knows it. He can hear her (and, really, anyone would be able to see). What should he do but (very slightly) smile about such a thing? He shouldn't scowl at it.

I'm sure Melody is the millionth crush he's encountered. And, he has to admire her for the work she does. Since she's a deputy fire chief, they would be expected in the course of their activities to run into each other and work together again, but I so far I think this just illustrates the effect Superman has on some people.

In the small amount of work we've seen of his so far, Bendis has been showing the effect Superman has on people through the eyes of individuals reacting to him, like the women talking about his red trunks in Action #1000. This interaction with Melody represents the "every woman" crush effect through the eyes of one woman.

I think.

But, we'll be keeping an eye on this one.

Anonymous said...

Great review Anj, glad you enjoyed this issue. I'm honestly surprised at all the goodwill Bendis has gotten for his first real Superman story. Whilst I wasn't really that impressed by it, I will admit it was definitely not bad and much better than his Action #1000 and DC Nation stories. His Superman voice wasn't that wrong and he seemed to have toned down a lot of his flaws from Marvel. Perhaps DC editorial oversight is a good thing for once in controlling Bendis' vices. If Bendis can keep this up, he might win over most of his critics.

On the subject of Melody Moore, I would say she has similarities with another character than Lee or Lana; Lupe Leocadio from Greg Rucka's Adventures of Superman run. As I recall, after Supes walked in on Lupe in the bath in one issue, she invited him to join her. I wonder if Melody will only have a crush on Superman or if that will develop into something more romantic.


Anj said...

Thanks for comment Louis!

It will be interesting to see where this all goes.

And Moore being more like Lupe is a good analogy.