Friday, July 13, 2018

Review: Superman #1

Superman #1 came out this week, the first issue in the proper Superman titles for writer Brian Michael Bendis. With multiple covers and lush internal art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, the book is something of an event, ironically coming out on the same day that Marvel started up a new volume of Spider-Man.

I was hoping to be floored by issue. I wanted to be so amazed by what I read that I was ready to declare myself all in on Bendis. I felt that The Man of Steel mini-series which started this new era seemed to fizzle a bit. I was questioning the direction the Lois/Jon plot went. I needed to just get that sense of joy and anticipation that marked me clamoring for more.

And I didn't quite get it.

That isn't to say that there aren't fine moments in this book. Bendis does a great job here of showing just how incredible Superman is as a hero. We see him effortlessly deal with multiple huge calamities throughout the story, showing us just how powerful he is and how dedicated he is to his duties. That was great. And there are small moments and mentions within the book that make me think the subplots and surroundings are going to be well cared for by Bendis.

Unfortunately, it is the big plot moments that have left me scratching my head. In The Man of Steel, it was the nonsensical decision to let Jon go off with the maniacal Jor-El, Lois in tow. That seems odd and out of character. Here, it is the presence of gentle soul J'onn J'onzz asking Superman to become a king over the world. That seems odder and more out of character. And that was so jarring that the rest of the book, which is delightful, seemed dimmer.

I have no complaints about the art. Reis and Prado bring a modern-day 'classic Neal Adams' feel to the proceedings. Whether it is space battles, office shenanigans, quiet moments at home, or chaotic environments, everything pops off the page. And as a fan of his watercolor covers on Justice League of America back in the day, I chose the David Mack variant.

On to the book.

The book opens up with a splash of Superman flying in space and a decent synopsis of the events of Man of Steel just in case anyone is coming in cold. I am glad it was done in this way as opposed to a simple text page. At least we get some art.

And the one line we get is Superman saying he needs to find his family. He basically is flying around space hoping to get some sign of Jor-El's ship and Lois and Jon.

One thing I will need to go back and try to decipher is how long Lois and Jon have been gone. The best I found occurred in the DC Nation #0 story. Planet Gossip Columnist Trish Q has been 'sniffing around Clark' for a month, so maybe a little longer than that?

While he doesn't find a clue, he does stumble on a Dominator fleet heading to invade Earth. Yes, there is a little Silver Age serendipity here. But I like that in two pages we see Superman dismantle an entire armada, stopping an invasion before it can begin.

In the end, he has to put his faith in Lois that she can handle the situation. I like that he trusts Lois this way. But I still don't know if it should have got this far. And maybe that is just some whistling past the graveyard. He sent her away with a murderous lunatic.

So from a powerful splash page of a ripped Superman having successfully destroyed hundreds of galactic warships, we switch to snippets of Clark at home.

We see him alone, small, on his side of the bed, and silent.

It is that progression of art that complements the story that works so well for me. From half-page splash of iconic Superman to lonely Clark. These are the two sides of his world right now and he's struggling. Nice use of art to tell us that. I suppose it shows just how powerful Superman is ... and yet how helpless he feels in regard to his family. Nice juxtaposition there.

And I love ... LOVE ... that Lois wears Wonder Twin Jayna pajamas.

 And we get a similar scene with him brooding over the quiet breakfast nook where he argued with Jon about school.

I will say, Bendis just doesn't seem to have Jon's voice right. We have had a couple of years of Jon embracing his Earth heritage, hitting the town fair, thrilled to be going to school with Damian, and playing in the barn with action figures. To suddenly have him say he is too alien to go to school is off key.

Hey, as a parent, I know I had the 'why do I need to go to school' talk at least once. But this isn't the Jon we have been shown and it wasn't a slow character progression to here.

 We then cut to the Arctic where Superman and his friends are cleaning up the wreckage of the original Fortress. Digging into the snow, Superman finds the seed crystal. Flying to the Bermuda Triangle, he throws it into the waters and creates a new Fortress there.

I do like how Hal has been asked by the Guardian to check up on the more dangerous parts of the Fortress. He is a member of the Corps and takes orders after all. And the things he mentions sound like possible seeds for future arcs. Could 'Dimension M' be the Madness Zone from Shade, the Changing Man?? I can only hope.

We'll come back to this moment in a bit.

 At the Planet, we see Clark typing up a story about the new Fortress only to then erase it while saying 'ego'. He doesn't want to brag. I liked that small moment, reminding us of the Smallville values he still has.

And, I'll say it again. My favorite new 'character' in Bendis' run is 'The Pit', the boisterous news room of the Planet always chock full of people and energy.

 Clark is called outside by the Martian Manhunter, classically sneaking into a utility closet to fly off.

In the air, J'onn says that the reveal from Rogol Zaar that he blew up Krypton makes Kal and J'onn much more similar than they thought. Yes, both were sole (or nearly sole) survivors of a world devastation. But now, they both are orphans of war/terrorism.

J'onn can barely get a thought out without Superman flying off to deal with some emergency or another. Whether it is a kaiju or a fire or Gorilla Grodd (or is that Mallah) trying to hijack a space shuttle, within one panel, Superman has it all taken care of.

Again, I like this part of it showing how Superman has a busy but relatively easy life adventuring. Three 'stories' that could have been 'arcs' were dealt with in 3/4 of a page. And, as before, that ease stands out against the pain of the loss of his family.

I always say 'big moments deserve big art' so I liked this approach of a near splash for these side adventures.

 At this point, outside of Jon's discussion, I was pretty pleased with the book. I liked the sort of tension Bendis was creating between Clark-life and Superman-life.

But then this moment happens and it sucked the air out of the room.

J'onn says the world and its politics are garbage. Superman needs to unite the world and lead it.

Did the Martian Manhunter just ask Superman to take over the world? Become a benevolent despot? Shatter national boundaries and unite the world under the El family crest?

Does that at all sound like J'onn? Does that at all sound like something Superman would do?

Obviously Superman says he won't do it and flies off.

But this was a kick to the gut for my enjoyment of the issue.

And then, somehow, the Earth is pulled into the Phantom Zone. I love the nightmarish landscape. And this is a decent hook.

Theory time.

My guess is that somehow the seed crystal, when creating the Fortress in the unique magnetic area of the Bermuda Triangle, somehow made the Fortress a giant Phantom Zone engine. Heck, Hal actually asks if Superman has dealt with all the Phantom Zone stuff. This isn't a villain's plot. This is an accident.

Next theory.

So Twitter pal @kara_querl wondered if the lack of yellow sun in the zone would mean Superman would be powerless. Then he would need to use his 'leadership' powers instead. That certainly would lean into the whole 'you are the ultimate leader' talk J'onn gave him earlier. Excellent theory.

As I said above, this is a hard one to grade. I pretty much liked everything other than the J'onn speech. But that was such a hard fail for me that it really dragged the book down. The art is stunning which brings things up. My hope is once Lois and Jon are back, everything just starts to click more evenly.

Overall grade: C+/B-


Anonymous said...

"The Man of Steel, it was the nonsensical decision to let Jon go off with the maniacal Jor-El, Lois in tow. That seems odd and out of character."

I didn't think it was out of character given that Jor-El was being manipulated and mind-controlled back then, and Clark became aware of it. I have even less issues with that decision when it was pointed out to me Clark and Lois let Jon hang out with Damian Wayne and Kathy. The Hamilton folks deceived the Kents for months as plotting to turn Jon into a second Manchester Black. Superman and Lois still let Jon hang around one of them.

And Superman still trusts and hangs out with Hal Jordan, even though Emerald Twilight is still in continuity, as far as I know.

And Superman praised Supergirl for being able to forgive her own mass-murderer of a father.

So I have to disagree.

"J'onn says the world and its politics are garbage. Superman needs to unite the world and lead it."

This, I agree with. J'onn's speech is... problematic. Maybe Bendis is referencing that old Geoff Johns' subplot where Superman planted the seeds for the United Planets government?

I think we agree the characters' voices aren't quite right. Jon complaining about being too alien for school, Barry trying to be the funny guy too hard, J'onn talking about "garbage politics"...

The good parts are some real awesome moments, and Reis' great art.

Anonymous said...

I liked the art too, but wonder how everyone is finding the matte paper? For some reason there's no discussion of it anywhere. Maybe everyone is reading digital now?

I think the colors are more muted. Wonder Woman #50 uses the matte paper, and it's dark and murky. (I mention that issue since it concludes the Dark Gods arc and Supergirl appears briefly.)

Since DC is phasing in the paper, the colorists may not have adapted to it yet.

Martin Gray said...

I’m intrigued by the idea of matt paper, the shininess was one of the reasons I went digital. I’ll have to go to the comic shop for a gander.

Anj, splendid review ie nicely written and I agree with you, the J’onn thing was just so off. My chum Rob, in the comments on my review - hey, you’re there too, thanks! - mentions that there’s also some Martian oddness in Titans, so maybe there’s a crossing-over plotline.

I hated his giving up on Lois and Jon as much as the Jon business.

Anonymous said...

I just read Titans, and something is definitely going on with the Martians. It seems nefarious, kind of blatantly so, and the tease is so obvious that this might turn out to be completely benign.

The crossing-over plotline is that Titans is essentially working full-time for the JLA. Their assignment: track down meta events happening all over the world due to the source wall trouble. Miss Martian is monitoring them and is the liaison to the JLA.

It isn't a crossover so much as another JLA title following the same story, mopping up the same problems that have the same cause.

It's even in the new tagline on the title page - "When the source wall fell, super-powered energy rained down from the sky. Now a new team of young heroes must answer the Justice League's call to help those affected. They are... Titans."

So - Smallville TV created metas when the Kryptonite rocks rained down; Flash TV did it when the reactor exploded. Buffy did it when the hellmouth opened. Same plotline-generating premise: anything can now happen at any time.

Some more points about the matte paper: I noticed this more in Wonder Woman than Superman, but the lettering seems to "bleed" a little. The text, and outline of the dialog balloons, is slightly thicker and less sharp. Held next to a book with glossy paper, the difference is easy to see.

The pages also don't lie completely flat. Not as bad as a TPB. Worse in WW #50, which is a thicker book (28-page story). But this begins to affect panels that cross the page boundary.

There's a page in Wonder Woman, near the center staple, with 2 panels, each of which extends all the way across to the facing page. The pages don't lie flat at all, so it's a bit like with a TPB - if you want the art aligned the way the artist intended it, you'd have to fold back the book.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

I love the art. Ivan Reis has made himself a place in the pantheon of classic Superman artists along with Curt Swan, John Byrne in his first run, Wayne Boring, and his obvious inspiration, Neal Adams. He perfectly captures Superman's power and nobility. Bendis' writing is solid, butI agree that the Jor-El plot is problematic. I agree that Martian Manhunter is behaving out of character, but I take this as a sign that something-possession, alternate Earth doppelganger, replaced by a white Martian-is wrong with him. I did like the fact that Superman was so obviously repelled by the suggestion that he become a dictator.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

I like the matte paper a lot.

I suppose the idea that J'onn is an imposter/controlled is a possibility. It seems off given how he is being written by Snyder in JL.

While I agree that Jor-El as Oz was being controlled, we still have no idea what he thinks now. We don't know if he is re-controlled. For me, it makes no sense.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

I'm so tired of renumberings. In my life, I have seen 4 Superman number ones-John Byrne's, New 52, Rebirth and now this one. There's only one REAL Superman number 1, the 1939 edition. Every one since is an imposter.

Clark allowing Lois and Jon to go with Jor-El would make more sense if Jor-El had come back and, over the course of several months, proven to Clark and Lois that he could be trusted. But for Clark to just give in like he did was wrong. But I never cared for the idea of Jor-El being alive anyway. He died when Krypton exploded.

I haven't been keeping up with Titans, so have no idea what goes on with the Martians and how it might tie in with J'onn's remarks to Superman. If there is a tie-in, why no footnotes? Gone the way of thought balloons, I guess. I hope we're not leading to a storyline where Superman slowly comes around to "J'onn's" way of thinking.

The art by Ivan Reis is great. Neal Adams is definitely an influence, but I think I see a bit of Gene Colan in there too.

Have you seen the Amanda Conner variant cover for Supergirl 21. You can see it on Previewsworld, and some ebay sellers have it for sale. Cute.