Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: Man of Steel #6

The Man of Steel #6, the last issue of the Brian Michael Bendis mini-series aimed to introduce a new direction to the Superman books, came out this week and I am very conflicted. This issue, and as a result, this whole mini-series, has significant ups and downs. It has major character moments that shine a great light on the players. There are others that make little sense with the characters' histories.
So I am struggling trying to balance the good and the bad in my mind.

From a mini-series point of view, I feel like it started with great momentum and polish but then sort of fizzled. There isn't much true resolution to any of the things which were begun here making me wonder why this needed to be a stand-alone at all rather than just twice a month issues running through both Action Comics and Superman.

Okay, let me lay my cards on the table so you can decide if you want to read the whole review.

First let's discuss the good. Entering this mini-series I was most worried about how Supergirl would be treated. Ironically, she is the character who I think gets treated the best here. Kara shines bright. Bendis gives Superman a good internal voice. His thoughts in battle are well done. How people react to Superman is spot on. So that is also good.

Now the bad. The Lois and Jon subplot makes no sense. I could also say it is terrible. There is no way that Lois, Clark, or Jon should act like they do. We never get to the bottom of Rogol Zaar or his mission. At the very least, we should have been given some closure on this plot thread. Instead, it is kicked down the road a bit. And those things are so irritating that they drag the positive down.

Of course, Jason Fabok's art on the issue is just stunning. There is a fine line and extreme detail that work here. It has an Ivan Reis feel to it which works well as a bookend to the first issue. His Supergirl is just spectacular. I have no complaints on the art here or in the mini-series as a whole.

On to the book.

No circle to open up the issue (so much for my Zaar's planet guess). Instead we get a close up of Jon who finally says why he wants to head off with Jor-El.

Remember that storyline where one of the future versions of Tim Drake who has gone evil (how many of them are there) came back in time to kill Jon before an errant solar flare destroys Earth? Well, that has been weighing on Jon. He can't get over it. And he wants to make sure that doesn't happen. Maybe Jor-El has those answers.

I do like how Clark matter-of-factly points out how they have seen many many timelines and future selves. They can only worry about themselves. That worked.

But going off with a madman? I can't imagine that Jon would think the best way to not go mad is to go off with someone who is criminally insane. Also, I don't like how Lois needed to insert herself into the conversation, reminding Clark they both are raising Jon. Lastly, I can't imagine this civilized conversation would happen. Jor-El kidnapped and tortured people. He attacked Clark and tried to kill him. He armed terrorists and tried to bring the Earth into chaos. Superman would try to stop him. There is no way he would let this guy take Jon.

Settle in. This subplot gets worse.

Now one thing I have liked in this mini-series is hearing the internal monologue of Superman as he battles. He has measured his punches by power. He knows why villains fight inside or outside cities. He knows he needs to save the population. So I liked that he realizes he has not been fighting Zaar intelligently. In the core of the Earth, he uses delay tactics to separate Zaar from a presumed planet bomb and get 4 seconds in front. Nice.

Something else I didn't like about this issue was the lack of character-specific colors for the flashback narration caption boxes as Clark remembers that Lois/Jon conversation. Look at the lines in the bottom corner. I can imagine multiple people saying almost every line there. Even 'I'm your father.' could have been said by 2 people in that room.

In that moment, Lois decides to take the reins. She negotiates a 2 book deal with her lawyer. She'll travel with Jon and Jor-El so she can stay close to her son. She'll turn that experience into a book. This way she can both maintain her Earth life a bit and protect her son.

This makes no sense. 'Hey, you know what I should do? Let my son go on a tour of the universe with a sadist. Even better? I'll go too!'

Can I also add that her saying 'I can't stop you' to Jon makes no sense. Her job as a parent is to stop her child from doing something stupid. Let's put this into a more grounded example. Let's say my child said 'Dad, I want to run across the highway during morning commute. I think I'll learn a lot about myself.' My response shouldn't be 'Well, I can't stop you. Instead, I'll run across the highway too.' No. Lois' job here is to stop her child from doing something dangerous. Hell, one of the first things we say to kids is 'don't get into a vehicle with a stranger.' Mr. Oz (he ain't my Jor-El) is essentially a stranger with a known criminal background.


But I did say that Supergirl gets to shine in this mini-series. And that is true.

Back in space, Superman realizes that he is simply outmatched by Zaar. Even this new fighting strategy of trying to wear Zaar down isn't going to work. Kal is going to lose.

That is until Supergirl comes streaking in with a flying shoulder block, in essence spearing Zaar.

That is a beautiful panel of my favorite hero being fierce in her battle against injustice. Hearing Superman say 'Kara! I love her!' shows that at the very least Bendis gets the relationship of the cousins.

Back to Lois. Jon has to make sure that something he has hidden in one of his drawers is taken care of. He's ten. I hope it is something like a swimsuit catalog that came in the mail and nothing more terrible.

Throughout the scene, Jor-El talks about how Earth is a backwards world. That Jon hasn't lived up to his potential. That Jon is being held back and he needs to be raised differently. This is about as anti-Kent as you can get. Heck, those lines could be said by Zod and Superman would be sporting some angry red eyes. But nope ... not here ...

Again, this is a rather civil conversation. Too polite, don't you think? As a husband and father, why would he ever let his family go with him. And a communicator? Little solace. Lois says that should Jor-El get out of line she'll call Clark to come.

But this whole scene really really makes no sense.

I'll just remind you that just months ago Jor-El tried to kill his own son.

Who would ever let their family leave with him?

But the shoulder block was just the beginning of the Supergirl goodness.

She has the Phantom Zone projector, mentioned as one of the things she saved from the Fortress last month. Realizing there is no stopping Zaar with fists, she banishes him. Boom! Great splash!

Even Superman is impressed with her answer. His ego twists not that she did it ... but that he didn't think of it. This is self-reflection.

So the decision is made. Lois and Jon are leaving.

Now we know what happened at the Planet. When Lois said she was going away to write a book, Perry fired her. That would never happen. Lois would never say 'oh well.'

Heck, historically, she was gone for months as 'author X'! Remember little town Lois as explained in Reborn?? Instead, Perry would say 'I want an exclusive. See you when you get back."

I do like that Clark gives Lois his New 52 costume. Now we know why he is back in the red trunks! That at least is a very solid explanation.

There is nothing left but the wrap-up.

Clark doesn't want the Zone to be a waste basket for the supers to throw there problems into. Supergirl agrees but she also knows Zaar killed everyone in Kandor and therefore earned his sentence.

She tells Clark she is going off to investigate Zaar's claims thus explaining her title's new direction. And there is a great two page spread of the cousins honoring the Kandor dead. This is gorgeous work by Fabok.

I have to say, I do feel for Clark here. The Lois communicator was destroyed when he flared the Fortress (wouldn't he have it on him at all time like a cellphone? What if Lois called and said 'rescue us'. Wouldn't he want it on his person?) So he is cut off from his nuclear family. Now Kara is leaving Earth. He is without his extended family.

He has his friends. But he is sort of alone right now.

Let's throw in one more wrinkle. A boy tells Firefighter Moore that he saw Superman start the fires in Metropolis. I am sure this will turn out just to be the outline of someone in a cape standing in a blaze.

And that's that.
Zaar came and left. We don't know why he did anything he did.
The fires continue.
Lois and Jon willingly left with a super-villain. Clark didn't try everything in his power to stop them.

Supergirl, crushed by the further destruction of some of her Krypton heritage, singlehandedly defeats Zaar and decides to figure it all out.

So some major perplexing moments with Lois and Jon. So perplexing that I think they simply overshadow the Kara-tharsis I got. Maybe I would have felt better if we got more information about Zaar, a feeling of some closure within the mini. But we didn't even get that.

Overall grade: C-


Anonymous said...

"He's ten. I hope it is something like a swimsuit catalog that came in the mail and nothing more terrible."

Lol, my whole class was well aware where to find magazines of ill repute when we were 7 years old.

That was before the internet.

The days of swimsuit catalog stashes are long gone.

Anonymous said...

In spite of some troubles, I liked the issue.

I've little issues with the Kent family scene. Maybe it's because I'm focusing on different things. IIRC, back during that stupid story arc, it was shown to Superman his father was being mind-controlled after his mind was broken out of sanity by a third party, and he seemed to get his sanity back at the end of the story. So I can see the Kents reacting like they do here: wary, distrustful, but no completely hostile.

So I don't think Lois' reaction is out-of-character. She doesn't trust fully Jor-El but her son seems to think he needs a greater perspective (and Jon is right. Ignoring possible future threats because "Surely nothing bad will happen", is a Kryptonian trait he DOESN'T need) so she's allowing it to happen but she's accompanying them just in case.

"Throughout the scene, Jor-El talks about how Earth is a backwards world. That Jon hasn't lived up to his potential. That Jon is being held back and he needs to be raised differently. This is about as anti-Kent as you can get."

I disagree. Jor-El said Earth is a LOVELY but primitive world. And, from his perspective, it IS primitive. And he praised his son's work but he stated he thinks Clark can do more things for humans. It's completely different from his Mr. Oz's mindset.

I compare Jon wanting to visit other worlds with his father leaving Smallville. Sure, Smallville is a lovely town, but Clark needed to leave and learn from other places and peoples to be a better hero. He needed a greater perspective.

"Lois would never say 'oh well.'"

Why not? She KNOWS she'll have her job back. There's no question about it. I interpreted that scene how Lois knowing Perry is angry but he'll calm down eventually.

"Instead, Perry would say 'I want an exclusive. See you when you get back.""

This is a good point.

I also think Supergirl really shone (unsurprisingly, some fans complained about Superman being "jobbed" to her). And I liked both cousins' relationship. When it was the last time there were so close? Around the New Krypton time?

Anonymous said...

> That is a beautiful panel of my favorite hero being fierce in her battle against injustice. Hearing Superman
> say 'Kara! I love her!' shows that at the very least Bendis gets the relationship of the cousins.

> And I liked both cousins' relationship. When it was the last time there were so close? Around the New Krypton
> time?

Few and far between since then unfortunately... there's been hints and peeks here and there. Just for that I'll
have to get this. Thanks again for sharing, Anj.


Martin Gray said...

Wonderful review of a maddening issue. Yes, the Kara moments were excellent, but it’s impossible to ignore the Jon and Lois business, and having heard what Bendis has planned for Jon’s return...zzzz.

I read a couple of scenes differently to you/misread them, maybe. I took it that in saying he hadn’t considered using the PZ projector ‘...because...’, Superman was saying he decided not to use it because it wasn’t a longterm solution (which is stupid, it is... what’s more permanent than banishment to a ghost dimension? Execution?).

And as regards the destruction of the communicator, there’s nothing there to say Supie didn’t have it on him in the fortress when he summoned his Corona Burst™️. The loss of the space phone makes it seriously daft that he’s not confiding in Hal, who could put out an alert to every GL in the universe to do a sweep for Lois and Jon, surely a magic wishing ring can tune into Jon’s DNA. Then again, Not My Jor-El has likely resequenced it...

Unknown said...

High and low, indeed.. On the one hand, perhaps the best Kal & Kara moments since the 80's! Unfortunately, as we all know, that doesn't really say much.

On the other hand.. oh, boy.. there are so many weak points, on every level. From story structure to dialog, from plot to characterization.

Perhaps all the hype just had me actually expecting something. All we got in the end could just as well have been six issues of Action Comics, and no one would have noticed anything different. Compare this to the original Man of Steel mini series, which even though I didn't like many of the changes it brought, really was a fresh and bold restart. Or compare with the few Superman stories Alan Moore wrote - they still resonate today, 30 years later. This? I will have forgotten most of it next week.

I think I get what he's aiming for with the Lois & Jon subplot - there are challenges in life where even a Superman is inadequate at times - such as being a parent. Not actually having read the Oz story line, it perhaps works a little bit better for me than it did for Anj. Or it would have, in isolation. I do not think it works at all juxtaposed with the climactic final fight for the fate of the world.

Oz, btw.. Jor-El being alive is one of those really silly things someone comes up with in pure desperation for an interesting idea, and ends up making a complete mess out of Superman's iconic origin story; As the last desperate act of a doomed civilization, two dying parents sends their baby out into space, hoping he will somehow make it. Oh, and his dad then survived and went evil and went to Earth and tried to kill him. I'm really surprised that he wasn't just retconned out.

Kandor was always a bit of a problem (millions of kryptonians in a bottle!!?), which is perhaps why Bendis got rid of it, but it has been part of the Superman lore for so many years. To kill off 7 million people (Pre-crisis number, I don't remember seeing a recent sensus, but it was the capital of Krypton at one point, so it's not a small city) more or less just for chock effect is just cheap. It's also not just a city, this is the final extinction of Krypton's civilization. Didn't we pass that fact rather quickly? Compare with Coast City and how this affected Hal Jordan. Does anyone think maybe "Kandor died on my watch" should have affected Kal-El just a bit more?

Ro.. gooz.. umm.. (I forgot his name! Honest!) Rogol Zaar not a very memorable villain. He looks like a toy. He doesn't actually feel particularly dangerous, even though he apparently almost kills Superman every time they meet. (So why doesn't he?) His actions seem random and contradictory. The story completly fails to convince me he is a threat.

What are the Justice Leage doing in this story? Nothing? Yes.

Cyborg, who a few issues ago apparently taught Superman about combat, is here reduced to a five year old, who cannot wait for this boooooring memorial to be over.

Lois is running around the galaxy in a Superman outfit? And we don't get a single image of this? Come on! What exactly is her book going to be about, anyway? She's going to have to keep it really vague!

I don't particularly like the memorial photo-op either. I do like a splash of Kara and Kal side-by-side, as equals.. but by being the focal point, surrounded by the lights, the moment becomes more about them than Kandor.

Kara & Kal, standing alone, seen from behind, by a single bottle light in the snow in the arctic, would have been both powerful and more fitting.

"The Man of Steel" fails to deliver on many fronts. Most worrying is how uninspired it comes off. That doesn't bode well for the continuation of the series.

But I do like that I get to write Kal & Kara a lot. That's one piece of the puzzle that finally found it's right place.

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments.

Funny how the Kara stuff worked so well.
Mart, I suppose Suoerman doesn’t feel like he has the authority to do that level of jailing with the PZP? And you’re right, he could’ve had the communicator on him in the Fortress, but even sillier to then flare.

Perhaps expectations were very high. But given the ad space Bendis got and the Jurgens/Tomasi stuff that preceded it, they should have been high.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

That said, everything in this mini-series having to do with Supergirl works. Yes, she is that heroic. Yes, she would think of using the phantom zone projector although I can't believe that Superman would hesitate to use it on a mass murderer who poses an imminent threat to Earth. I absolutely believe that she would want answers to Rogol Gaar's claims and would go into space to get them. Even her one use of a curse word-something that would normally be terrible characterization-works. Given that Rogol Zaar just murdered 7,000,000 of her fellow Kryptonians, I think she showed great restraint in not cursing him out more. That said, she shouldn't make a habit of cursing going forward. I can hardly wait to read the continuation of her series.

Anonymous said...

I liked the series and this issue. A highly decompressed story where not much happens - the Jon and Lois story sometimes seems stuck on a loop and sometimes takes 1 step forward then 2 steps back. But this did, after all, appear over 6 quick weeks, not 6 months. So it was over before even 2 issues of a monthly would appear.

It would be unimaginably tedious if published over 6 months. But I think a set-up story is fine with a new heralded creator, and an "event" is reasonably called-for. But as a mere set-up to move a few pieces into place, 1 issue seems too abrupt to be an event. 6 months of set-up seems absurd. 6 weeks - a good compromise. It's a slim tale, published in mini-event proportions, but over really quickly. And no variant covers, at Bendis's request. That would have really been a step too far trying to squeeze too much out of the slim event.

Funny, I had only just read the Super Sons of Tomorrow arc. I suppose many readers won't know anything about the solar flare/Tim Drake story, or that the Teen Titans rejected Jon for now. (That team didn't actually survive much longer.)

I agree with all of the observations of the unsatisfying and illogical plot points, and the occasionally appalling characterizations and dialog. (Did anyone come off more idiotic than Flash?)

So I'll just mention some thoughts on the art.

In this issue, some wonderful small moments. Just to mention two small ones: Green Lantern streaking in just barely visible in the background of 2 panels (a green blur in the sky). He appears, you go back and see yeah, that was him coming. Superman and Supergirl using their heat vision on something, then you see it was to light the memorials.

And now to rate the artists's in terms of their renditions of Supergirl:

Jason Fabok - Could this be better? Not that there aren't other artists who have been just as good. But not better.

Ryan Sook - when you get down to it, he doesn't do much with Supergirl here. She appears in a good number of panels but the poses are nothing special. Most artists would have been able to portray her silent scream as well as he - it doesn't even look like her face, from the distance. On most panels she's just floating upright. Sook's best overall work is in the first half of the issue and loses steam after that. Perhaps he lost focus mid-way through, maybe didn't have time after dropping off The Unexpected.

Kevin Maguire - can't predict. Most of his deal is faces, and mostly he gives Superman a scrunchy face to show he is making a big effort. His Supergirl here is inconsistent. For me the jury is out on how good a match he will be for her title. I put him after Sook, because if Sook could keep up the pace, I like his work in general better.

Adam Hughes - excellent if you like stylized. And I do. But could be tiring in a monthly. Does he normally draw anything but covers? His way of drawing light-colored hair is unique - a matter of taste, and could be very dividing of fans if he worked on a monthly book with a blonde star. I think his work, though striking, can be unreliable - his variant cover of Supergirl Rebirth is awkward.

Ivan Reiss and Doc Shaner - both terrific artists, but Supergirl didn't appear in #1 or #2.

Finally - this is a long post! - I came upon my first DC title with the new matte paper, Catwoman #1. This isn't as flat as, say Supergirl The Silver Age Volume 1, but less glossy than Supergirl (2005).

It is too soon to generalize until more colorists get published. Most pages here look gloomy even if they aren't just drawn in shades of gray. Nothing pops off the page. And I wonder: digital already looks so much brighter than printed comics. This matte paper is going to widen the divide between how books looked printed vs. digital. How are colorists going to target both media simultaneously?

snell said...

If Lois told Perry she was going off to write a book...why are Perry and Clark refusing to tell anyone where she went? Why are they letting new-city-desk-reporter-whose-name-I-can't-remember turn it into some big mystery???

Anonymous said...

For the last six weeks I've been saying to myself in issue after issue of this meshugginah miniseries "Just Phantom Zone his @ss, Problem Solved", FINALLY SuperGIRL reached back into her sixty five year old Kryptonian Education and seized the one super scientific artifact that could neatly and NON-LETHALLY resolve the conflict...she displayed more brains and sangfroid that her cousin and THAT is rare!
The cursing I could do without, but again she was provoked past all endurance by an act of genocide perpetrated on her people by a writer desperate for what professional wrestler's call "cheap heat".

As for the seemingly endless brainless Lois-Jonathan subplot I think its an indication that maybe Bendis isn't comfortable with either character, Jonathan I can see he can be defined as someone else's bid for "cheap heat" (I love that term) as thus perhaps a burden to the proposed storytelling...but Lois??? I mean she's an integral part of the Myth I am not sure that bodes well.
Although I felt Clark's"Dad Voice" rang true, he ends up weirdly caving on this horrific "galactic tour" proposal...Supergirl would have never agreed, she'd a klouted her Uncle in the beezer and zapped him into the "Survival Zone".

Anonymous said...

I’m hoping we see some adventures of Lois and Jon in space, and with Lois dressed as Superman! Maybe they will intersect with Supergirl at some point. I think the possibilities are wide open.

Maybe Lois will end up with a ring and become a Green Lois for a year. But without a sector to serve. Just an honorary Lantern to help her out. She deserves it.

They are supposed to be gone for a year, so I’d expect two main arcs. It will play out over a year our time, but it will be pretty quick in comic book time. A few weeks or a month? Can’t have much in the way of a space education more quickly than that,

Anj said...

Snell - Maybe Lois only said she was going 'undercover' for a book and it needed to stay hush hush?

I also hope we see Lois with the big Red S on!