Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Superman #3

Superman #3 came out this week and was my favorite Brian Michael Bendis penned issue of this title. I have been enjoying Action Comics a bit more than Superman because Bendis seems to have a great grasp of who Superman is, what he means, what he would say, and how people would react to him. Action Comics is mostly Metropolis based plot with street level crime and lots of Daily Planet scenes. So that works.

Up to know Superman has been the more Super and less Man of the books. The opening story has the entirety of Earth sent into the Phantom Zone where Rogol Zaar has been exiled. I haven't warmed up to Zaar as a villain yet. The new take on the Zone as a Hellish physical realm is still one I am wrapping my head around. So this arc hasn't exactly grabbed me.

This issue does move the plot along pretty nicely. We learn why all this is happening. We see Zaar scheming from the zone. But most importantly, we see how Superman is leading in this crisis. And we see the profound effect he has on people. We also get a look inside his head to see his thoughts when all this is unraveling. We get an oddly moving moment with a classic DC villain. This was a character issue. And that made me happy.

Add to that the gorgeous art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado and this issue is a winner. Reis and Prado have the tough task of drawing Earth-side calamities as well as massive space fights in the deeper Zone.  There stuff is wonderfully detailed and just gorgeous. I hope their run on the book is long.

On to the details.

Somehow Superman is able to track down the origin of the Phantom Zone portal. It is at STAR Labs, Colorado.

In a true sign of comic synchronicity, Livewire shows up at that very same STAR Labs in hopes of boosting her powers at the very moment Superman arrives to investigate.

The very presence of Superman seems to short circuit Livewire's larcenous intentions. Superman is able to quickly see that she has nothing to do with the Zone issue. So instead he asks why she doesn't help.

I love when Superman is such a bigger than life person that he is able to inspire the worst people to try and do better. He knows she has to want to change. But maybe he can nudge.

(It reminded me of Kingdom Come when Superman hits the super-bar and asks people to join him. The daughter of Big Barda and Mister Miracle says it felt like she was asked to become a disciple.)

These scientists were just mapping the Phantom Zone, something they have done before and are supposed to be doing. Something has just gone wrong. There is nothing nefarious here. This is science; sometimes experiments go awry.

I like how Superman knows that him telling them that they have plunged Earth into the Zone is going to effect these researchers. He is worried about their feelings while the planet quakes around them.

That's Superman!

Meanwhile, deeper in the Zone, Rogol Zaar runs into classic Kryptonian villain Jax-Ur. Yes, historically, Jax-Ur destroyed Wegthor. So I like continuity.

But this is where that physical nature of the Zone is still sort of new to me. Jax-Ur has a gang that he leads. He wants to rob or kill Zaar.

What actually happens in here? Do people need to eat? Are gangs needed just for self-defense because the worst of the worst are thrown in here?

I just need more info if I am to understand Earth's plight.

You may recall that last issue, Batman complained about his bowels on an open communication line. (That line still makes me chuckle.)

The Earth is shuddering from this move into the Zone and all sorts of disasters are happening. Superman calls out to the Justice League to see if they are holding down the fort. But all the members seem to be struggling with illness.

It seems the Zone atmosphere is poisonous to Terrans.

Hmmm ...

Why are some regular humans like Batman hanging onto the toilet while others seem fine (like the STAR folks)? Why is Batman so effected? Random? And is this a natural state when you first get sent to the Zone before you acclimate?

I would have loved to see a 'Phantom Zone' month where every DC book is effected by the shunting of the world.

Perhaps my favorite page is this gag where we see Adam Strange arrive from Rann only to find the Earth gone.

I actually laughed out loud at this.


After Zaar mops up the floor with Jax-Ur's gang, he offers the villain a truce. Maybe they should pool their resources and head to the now visible Earth. There they can plunder at will and maybe even find a way out. Oh yeah, and get revenge on Superman at the same time.

I doubt Zaar, noted Kryptonian loather, will let Jax-Ur go on his merry way if they succeed. But Jax-Ur doesn't know that. I guess Zaar really is a mystery to everyone.

I also liked this sequence. After years of scrapping and scrounging in the Zone, Jax-Ur actually has a moment where he is moved. He is actually having a conversation with a peer. It means something. It shows just how harsh this place is ... not only physically but emotionally.

Me ... feeling sympathy for Jax-Ur?? That's a sign of good writing.

I talked about how Superman is this symbol of inspiration.

Here in Metropolis, the looters have all come out.

In one page we have Superman arrive, tell them to knock it off, and leave.

And, amazingly, it works. We see everyone slowly returning their ill-gotten booty.

That is Superman. The power of hope and truth and justice can move people.

Meanwhile, the resident scientists of the super-set gather to try and solve the problem.

There is a whole range of responses. Mr. Terrific seems rather blase about the whole thing. Blue Beetle tells everyone to relax.

It is only old-school Atom who recognizes that this is a big deal, a Crisis of Infinite Proportions!! Holy meta-titles! I love it! Maybe that is the giant crossover for 2022?

Again though, while Ray seems effected by the poisonous atmosphere, Ted seems rather spry. Does it effect people differently based on their own physiology?

As if all that wasn't enough, Jax-Ur does team up with Zaar. Superman stands in space with a huge cloud approaching Earth. That cloud is actually infantry ... an army led by Zaar heading Earth's way.

Now that is a good cliffhanger!

I haven't mentioned the art individually in panels but we are given excellent splashes of Zaar beating up the thugs and a close-up of the troops heading to the Planet. And throughout, we see such iconic shots of Superman you understand why he is such a presence. Great stuff.

Okay, I don't quite understand the Phantom Zone yet. And I still don't love Zaar. But everything about this issue seemed to click. I think Bendis 'gets' Superman.

Overall grade: A-


Anonymous said...

"In one page we have Superman arrive, tell them to knock it off, and leave."

I think this can be one of my favorite pages ever. Not only because it shows off Superman being an inspiration but also because the dialogue is incredibly funny.

"Meanwhile, deeper in the Zone, Rogol Zaar runs into classic Kryptonian villain Jax-Ur. Yes, historically, Jax-Ur destroyed Wegthor. So I like continuity."

I have the feeling Bendis is accidentally showing his Marvel roots. Back when he wrote Marvel comics, every story written since 1961 -or even earlier- counted. A lot of them have been retconned or ignored, but there's no continuity breaks. So if he wants to reference a story written forty years ago (Superman #205 came out in 1968), that is what he'll do, even if it happened two continuity reboots ago.

I'm also confused regarding the Zone. It's a featureless limbo like in the Pre-Crisis era? An ever-changing infinite space like in Convergence? People and stuff are solid or ghosts?

Every writer makes whatever he/she wants. I know this is comics, but I think there must be mininmal consistency.

Regardless that, it's been a real good issue.

Oh, and off-topic, but more news/rumors on Supergirl's new projected movie.

Nice to hear the draft is nearly completed, but my biggest concern is it being good. Crossing fingers.

Martin Gray said...

Yep, great issue, but great confusion about the Zone... DC really needs an in-house continuity cop, an ENB type who cares, and has the pull to be listened to.

I see Batman has a secret Files and Origins coming up; a Superman version would be a great place to clarify what the Zone is.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Jonathan Kent born to Zod and Alura on some prison ship that was physically inside the Phantom Zone?

This issue was a nice 23 pages. Several other titles have been hitting 22 pages; yet others still 20 pages. All for the same $3.99. Any ideas about this?

Even bigger: the new Jinxworld title, Cover #1 by Bendis, has an unbroken 28 pages of story plus multiple bonus pages of David Mack variant covers. No ads, no promotional pages, a digital redeemable code, and all this, with a good story and art, for $3.99. Great value!

This was a fine issue of Superman, and while it can get a bit gimmicky and overly cute, I think Bendis dialog, with the give and take of different characters, has a natural rhythm. Conversations sound real.

I also like that he - like all of my favorite writers - writes nothing in 3rd person omniscient narration. Everything is spoken; thought; and/or shown. He shows, doesn't tell, and not every major DC comic right now is sharing that approach. He may be cute, but never ponderous.

Anonymous said...

I mean Ursa, not Alura!