Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: The Man Of Steel #5

For the most part, I have been very impressed with Brian Michael Bendis' The Man of Steel mini-series. Bendis seems to have a good understanding of who Superman is and what he represents. He has a handle of Superman's voice. Supergirl, the staff at the Planet, the arson subplot and new firefighter Melody Moore, and the members of the JLA have all sounded the way I expect them to. It is the character moments that have shined the most, as well as the all-star cast of artists on the book. But this stuff seems to be more on the periphery of the book.

What I hasn't really grabbed me so far are the two major plots going through the series. We have the threat of Rogol Zaar, someone we still don't know enough about to dig deep into his hate. And we have the Lois/Jon disappearance storyline, something I have tried to defend as we have been shown more and more snippets of what actually happened.

This week The Man of Steel #5 came out and, for me, it is the weakest issue of the series so far. Unfortunately, it is because the two plots I have struggled with, Zaar and Lois, are really under the spotlight here. And things are said and are done that don't make much sense for the characters or the stories. They are glaring. I can't easily swallow them for the sake of plot progression.

It is a shame because the other things continue to shine. This issue we get to see the JLA and how much they care about Superman. And this is a very good Supergirl issue with 3 moments that just shine. One of these moments is destined for a the Top Ten moments of 2018, I am sure of it.

And the art by Adam Hughes is incredible as well. There is vivid colorization. The punches are powerful. The expressive work is top notch. The art just sings.

But these high points just don't easily smooth over the low points of the plot.

On to the book.

As always, we start out with a circular themed splash page, this time of Kandorians looking up at Zaar looking down at them through the neck of the bottle. It is a vivid and frightening image. I love the perspective here, low enough to get some Kandorians in there.

As a motif of issue openings, this one has been very good. I already have anticipated the next issue's. But more on that later.

Last issue ended with Superman using the solar flare power to attack Rogol Zaar, effectively destroying his own Fortress. In some ways, that is an interesting idea to pick apart. Isn't such a destructive act helping Zaar 'cleanse' the universe of Krypton? Shouldn't the fortress be razed?

But more importantly, every time we have seen Superman use the flare, he comes out of it completely helpless and depowered. Here, there isn't even a mention of it. We start out with Superman flying Zaar to the moon for a brawl. By not picking up that last image from last issue and by changing the parameters of the flare (something I had hoped had gone away), I was immediately pulled a bit out of the proceedings. I was asking myself 'was it a flare?' 'Why does he have powers?' 'Did it hurt Zaar?'

One thing I did like was hearing Superman's thoughts during the fight, especially how he has become a historian of Krypton and has never heard of Rogol Zaar. His being a student of his home planet sounded very Silver Age to me, in a good way.

Again, Hughes shines here with nice 'camera work' during the fight and punctuating some exchanges by coloring the whole panel red.

As has been the case, Zaar ends up defeating Superman, knocking him out amid the rubble on the moon.

As Superman slips into unconsciousness, we get another flashback to the Oz/Lois/Jon scene. And this scene is the one I have the most problems with, in the whole series let alone this issue. Because the characterization of the players here seems way way off.

First off, to have Jor-El be disparaging of both Lois and Jon is pretty awful.  Calling Jon a half-breed is terrible, akin to mongrel. Why would Superman just sit there? He has already fought his father.

And the 'should have killed' Lois line is pretty terrible. Aren't we all sick of hearing this. Remember that Clark got powers in his teens. Remember a baby in utero isn't exposed to yellow sun rays. Lastly, remember, Jon was conceived and born on the Convergence World where everyone was powerless (although Reborn probably rewrote this). Still do we need this?

And then Jor-El says he needs to take Jon with him, as the heir to the name El, to show him the universe. Lois and Clark say no. Jon says yes.

Now after everything we have read, Jon's hero worship of his father, his love of family, the Oz Effect story arc, this seems way way out of character for Jon. This makes no sense.

My only hope is this is some feint. That Jon wants to help his father capture Oz and the best way is to get close.

Otherwise this makes no sense. And if very frustrating. I have given this plot some leeway. But this might be the last straw.

Jon knows that Jor-El is terrible. He has seen it, this just one panel from The Oz Effect.

So why would he leave his beloved family to go with Oz?

I just can't move past this.

Meanwhile in Metropolis, another fire blazes.

A very weary Lana ... I mean Melody Moore ... keeps staring at the sites of the fires to see if that make a pattern. None pop out although if I squint maybe it looks like a butterfly or maybe a bat?

I do like how palpable Moore's fatigue is. She looks ready to collapse as she rushes out to combat the latest blaze.

Now I don't usually post whole pages but this is such a cool one for Supergirl fans.

She is still in Metropolis (perhaps to help Superman fight Zaar?). With Superman missing, she aids in fighting the latest fire (on Gardner and Fox, I love comic legends names slipped into books). I love that the kids she is saving are cheering her on. I love that she meets Melody who tells her that Superman was last seen down on Sekowsky. (Of course Mike Sekowsky wrote and drew the 'new Supergirl' adventures in the latter half of her Adventure Comics run.)

The Justice League shows up trying to help Supergirl find Superman and hear all about Zaar.

It is then that Supergirl hears the dust-up on the moon. She flies off and finds her battered cousin buried in the dust.

In a absolutely perfect image, we see the reverse of the Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 cover, Supergirl cradling her cousin's body.

Trust me. All long time Supergirl fans screamed a little bit when they saw this. Just historically spectacular.

But then I thought a little longer ...

If Zaar wants to cleanse the universe of Kryptonians, and he has beaten Superman so much that Kal is unconscious on the moon, why not finish the job and kill Superman? Honestly, it makes no sense. We have seen Zaar be a physical equal to Superman. If he hates Kryptonians this much, he would never leave Superman alive.

I just can't move past this either.

On Earth, Superman is nursed back to health by the JLA. He fills them in, specifically showing them an image he saw on Zaar, a circle with a line through it.

Everyone take a close look.

Next issue's opening page will be of Zaar's world, cracked in half like an egg, energy spilling out of it, recreating this picture.

Trust me.

One thing that has been a constant in this has been Kara's reaction to Zaar, unbridled rage.

Here she keeps it hidden, seething on the inside. Again, this is a perfect opportunity for someone to lean into her history as a Red Lantern, how she learned from that time and has focused those feelings into something positive. I hope it happens.

I love the image though, an almost vacant looking Kara, perhaps trying so hard to hide her anger that she is dead-panning. It makes sense that she would be the one more emotionally distraught by the loss of Kandor and its treasures.

I like this.

Then Superman realizes that if Zaar wants to truly cleanse the universe of Kryptonians, the best way would be to blow up the Earth. Kal flies to the center of the Earth to see Zaar there, presumably with a bomb of some sort.

Maybe he did blow up Krypton.

That said, if he lost his planet and is angered by the spilling of innocent blood than he shouldn't want to kill humans. He has had the opportunity to kill the Kryptonians he wants to but hasn't. I don't know if I can truly understand Zaar.

Of course, this opens up Superman to give the 'you have become that which you hate' speech to Zaar. After all, he will have become a world-killer like the very Kryptonians he says he hates.

So some solid Supergirl moments, a decent internal monologue by Superman, and a good scene with Melody Moore stand out as positives. But Zaar's befuddling killing plans and a Lois/Jon scene that had me perplexed dragged this down a bit.

What did you think?

Overall grade: C+


Anonymous said...

"One of these moments is destined for a the Top Ten moments of 2018, I am sure of it."

Oh, definitely.

High points: Superman's depiction is largely spot-on. Supergirl is great and has several excellent scenes (And I love Wonder Woman treating her as a little sister of sorts). Both cousins' relationship is the best it's been since Flashpoint. Adam Huges is... well, Adam Huges.

Low points: Some real bad dialogue, such like that Flash's cringe-worthy one-liner. Rogol not killing Superman when he had the chance to do so (I hope we have a good on-panel a reason for it)

I have little issues with the El family scene, though. I didn't think Jor-El was disparaging his daughter-in-law and grandson. The "Kryptonians and humans can't breed" is a Post-Crisis thing so I'll not blame Bendis for using it. And Jon has defied his parents several times (for example, Clark complained about Jon disobeying him during the Manchester Black arc) so it doesn't seem out-of-character to me.

By the way, when I saw the first panel, for one moment I thought we were seeing the Legion of Super-Heroes before realizing it was Kandor.

Anonymous said...

I am still really enjoying Bendis run.

I didn't really like the writing for the justice league though.

Also, why did Supes go face Rogol alone? If he does suspect that Rogol will destabilize the earths core, he should have brought every hero in the room. If they fail to stop him there, everyone will die. There's no point in facing the danger alone if everyone dies anyways in failure. Also, it is a bit old school in a bad way to leave the girl at home where she is "safe".

I'm sure leaving Supergirl behind will turn out to be a wise choice as Superman will likely fail, and Supergirl will be forced to use the phantom zone projector she saved (foreshadowing) to throw the whole earth into the phantom zone and the new starting point post-MoS.

I still think that could have been written better if he wanted supes alone with Rogol.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised noone has noted the Superman IV (buried on the Moon) parallel, or was it too obvious to mention?

Anonymous said...

I'm perversely glad to see that "clunky writing" can work it's way into the Superman Comic Feature having dug in on the Supergirl TV Series.... :) yeah why did Zaar leave Superman in a stupor on the moon? Unless of course he wanted Supes to WITNESS Zaar's destruction of Sol Three? In which case I'd say the intention was pretty obscurely dealt with in the plotline....
Never mind we got two de-lightful Supergirl images to fortify ourselves, Kara carting the children to safety on a couch (a scene out of a fairy tale if you think on it) and betraying a slight maternal instinct in the bargain. Exhuming Superman from his Lunar Grave is itself a weird and welcome rebuke to COIE #Seven all of itself...

As far as Bendis is concerned we'll see some pleasing Operatic Imagery going forward with a solid characterization of Kal El et al, but I suspect he's got some clunkiness in his writer's DNA. Though...I could be wrong....


Anj said...

Great thought about the Phantom Zone Projector being used to save an Earth about to blow up!

Didn't even think about the Superman IV reference, mostly because I try not to think about Superman IV.

And yes, I didn't like the Flash dialogue either. But there were bigger faults I wanted to point out.

Godzylla said...

The whole connection between Zaar and Jor-El is a mess that's not even been addressed yet. At Bendis' rate, we might see something in a few years.

Man of Steel is supposed to be a self-contained story, launching the new series, but we aren't going to see the end game of Lois & Jon & Jor (not expected), the pyromaniac, the Planet (not expected), what actually happened to Krypton, and at this rate I suspect we won't even have an actual resolution of Zaar's attack on the last surviving Kryptonians and Earth.

Martin Gray said...

Yes, well done Anonymous, that’s smart thinking (jealous!).

The Jor-El stuff was the real low point of the issue for me, I was hoping Mr Oz would float away into comics limbo, why the heck bring him back?

Which isn’t to say I liked the ignoring of the Corona Burst (TM Anj) aftermath. Or the Flash’s personality transplant...

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Could it be that Zaar thought that Superman was already dead, so no final blow? Superman's thoughts before Zaar body slammed him: "I can't fight my way out. But I have to figure something out before he finally--" and then WHAM!!!

Could Superman have stopped or slowed his heartbeat and breathing down so as not to be discernible, thereby tricking Zaar? But after Zaar left, he was still too weak to move.

The last time we saw Jor-El/Oz, he was being whisked away from Superman's presence by some unknown force (Dr. Manhattan?). So where did he go, and how did he get back? I suppose this Jor-El situation had to be dealt with eventually, and the sooner it's dealt with and gone, the better. I really don't like the idea of Jor-El being alive, but at least you can't blame Bendis for it.

Always nice to see Adam Hughes drawing Supergirl.

Anonymous said...

I thought most of the Adam Hughes artwork was gorgeous, but I think most successful in the darker panels. He did his own coloring. I actually think he has the most trouble with the hair on the only two characters with light-colored hair - Kara and Melody. They get very heavily inked outlines but the rest of their hair looks - odd. But others with dark hair look completely normal.

Many of the Hughes panels were truly awesome. Like the 2-page splash on pages 2 and 3 - things glowing from the fain sun, Superman's reds showing very brightly against very muted blues. And the final 2-page splash is striking.

Of course I didn't grasp the disconnect between the solar flare of the prior issue and the start of this issue either, and of course the dialog given to Flash was simply bizarre. If they let that dialog through, then what editing are Chen, Cotton and Cunningham doing? I guess they are not touching his scripts.

The firehouse scene with Melody - what is UP with those firemen? Are they idiots? Have they never had any training, or watched CSI or any other show about cops, forensics, or fires? Never read a comic book? They don't know what she means by a "pattern"? They are all males, and I think they are actually being sexist and insubordinate to the new woman chief. They are giving her a hard time. That's the only way I can make sense of the dialog here. And she is choosing to ignore them. If that is not the right way to read this, then I don't get Bendis-speak.

Sleeves - in the comics, have Supergirl's cuffs wrapped around her fingers, like they do on TV? I thought they were merely long. But Hughes drew that wraparound. Especially clear in the closeup where she holds Superman's hand. Maybe I am wrong and the cuffs have been drawn like that in the comics all along.

Finally - one thing I bet we can all say for sure is, Supergirl has had a MUCH bigger role in this mini-series than we ever imagined she would, right?

William Ashley Vaughan said...

I agree that not explaining why Superman still has powers after the corona burst is sloppy writing. All Bendis had to do is have Superman think "All that practice to learn how to use only a portion of my solar energy in the corona burst instead of all of it paid off. My super powers will be weaker for most of today, but at least I still have them."

Anj said...

Thanks for continued comments.
Glad the transition from last issue to this one bugged others. Yes, I bet Bendis’ scripts are untouchable.

Have to agree we are getting a lot more Supergirl than I thought. Bendis told us she had a big part!