Friday, December 18, 2020

Review: Superman #28

Superman #28 marks the end of Brian Michael Bendis' tenure on the title. As I have said before I am sad to see him leave. I think his run on this book and Action Comics had way more ups than downs. Bendis' knack with dialogue and character has made the Superman supporting cast as important as they have been for decades. And his take on Supergirl has been great.

So how did it all end?

Well, much like it began in Man of Steel with solid characterization, a great understanding of who Superman is and what he represents, and a cipherous over-powered villain with an unclear agenda who gets taken off the map suddenly.

Look, I am going to praise this run for years. I have honestly loved the last 3 years of Superman book. I want to make sure that is understood. 

But I am befuddled. What exactly was Synmar Utopica's plan? What was he so supposed to represent? What were the Synmar supposed to be? Why does Synmar Utopica fall? These are questions which will mostly be unanswered. I have my thoughts of course. And my intuition tells me he is a great foil for Superman, a dark 'what if'. 

But I was mostly befuddled.

At least this is this strong thesis on who Superman is. And there is Lois. Bendis always gets that right.

As usual, Ivan Reis and Danny Miki's art is gorgeous. There is grandeur here, palpable power. And Alex Sinclair's colors are brilliant, literally. 

On to the book.

Now you might think on a double page spread as wordy as this that Synmar Utopica's plan or thoughts would be spelled out. It almost could be like a recap page.

But the two characters seem just as confused as I am.

Why did Utopica bring Superman back into their space?
Why is Utopica running amok on their planet, killing everyone and taking over? 
Why has Utopica given up his tether to their ways?

And is it said that the Synmar, who seemed so unified when we first met them, have fallen into civil war? Is that why the leader was dying when Utopica went mad?

Okay, let's pause. Let's say, as I thought earlier in this arc, that Synmar is meant to be a foil for Superman. Instead of taking on the mantle, it was forced on him.

Now let's say that the ways of the Synmar were drilled into him almost religiously (remember when he is first named Utopica). Maybe when those ways are shown to be mutable or fallible (like in a civil war), he loses all faith in the very fabric of what he was. Like, for example if Superman suddenly didn't believe in Truth and Justice because those terms became meaningless.

Without those as a tether, maybe Superman would go mad and want to take over, just as Utopica is. Maybe Utopica feels foolish for believing in what he did and is so angry he will take over by bloody force.

And let's say that he is so angry that Superman was built up as someone perfect, someone he needed to both emulate and defend the Synmar from, that he went to Earth to beat the snot out of Superman, bringing him back to Synmar to rub the ruling class's nose in it. He says he brought Superman back to inspire. But maybe it is a negative inspiration. "Here is your supposed perfect being. I am more perfect."

Now that is a lot for me to intuit. But when I look at this, maybe this is the intent Bendis was going for. Utopica is the anti-Superman. 

In fact, he seems to have gone mad with power, absolute power corrupting absolutely.

He says the idea of him being created to defend the Synmar from unrest is a lie.

As a counterpoint to all this, the caption boxes we read are both a Lana podcast and an excerpt from Lois' book about Superman. Here, while Synmar denies that his ascension to power was made to protect people we hear Lana talk about how Clark has always been and always remained ...well ... Clark. He has been untarnished from responsibility while Utopica has become rusted in his soul.

Meanwhile, a faction of the Synmar want to send Superman back to Earth. The last thing they need is for the United Planets and Earth's heroes to join in this fray. 

They head to Superman's cell and give him some much needed exposition. Utopica wasn't initially told he was created to defend against Superman. But when the civil war broke out between the "Leaders of Quality Life" he felt betrayed and lashed out.

Hmmm. Could this be Bendis somehow injecting real world issues here. If Superman still believed in Truth, Justice, and the American Way would he look at subjective news, social injustice, and national atrocities and say 'why am I fighting for this'? Would he want to take over?

Or would he stay faithful to those goals and inspire?

See how Utopica is an anti-Superman?

Heck, even when given the opportunity to head home and let this place who assaulted and kidnap him burn, Superman still fights for justice.

He came here to help and he will. 

So here we go, Superman vs. Synmar Utopica, the rematch!

And trust me, it is a brawl for the ages. 

Reis art makes these two titans fighting feel like heaven was shaking. Sinclair's art pop of the page with brilliant halos of yellows and clashing reds. 

All while Lois' excerpt plays over the fight. 

Why should Superman help us? Because he needs us. He needs us to believe in him. 

Lois even says that maybe our life energy feeds Superman.

I think it was metaphorical. I hope so. I don't want Superman to be vampiric.

But that idea that he inspires the people who inspire him who are again inspired is pretty brilliant. 

And just like that the fight is over. 

He knocks out Synmar Utopica.

Now I might ask how he is capable of this while under an orange sun which depowers him when just last issue, at his mightiest under a yellow sun on his home turf it was a draw?

But I've thought enough about Synmar Utopica. Even when Utopica says their fates are inextricably linked, seemingly hinting at coming back when free, I was thinking "I hope I don't see him again".

And it is lucky for the Synmar the fight ended when it did. 

The United Planets arrive to 'save' Superman.

And they are led by Supergirl! She arrives in armor I assume meant to blunt the orange sun depowering and give a similar suit to her cousin.

But there is the usual Supergirl greatness around even this brief interaction.

For one, Superman says 'look up in the sky' when she arrives. Bendis has been using that gag since he took over.

Second, she is kind of cheeky calling Superman an idiot for flying out there.  And lastly, the United Planet armies are honored to be in her presence.

Please DC ... PLEASE ... find someone who has this take on Supergirl to write her next book. 

Away from all that, Bendis closes on a more quiet moment reminding us who Superman is.

In Metropolis, a budding young musician strums on a rooftop when Superman flies up with Lois in his arms. He has heard her practice before. Her music 'gets him home'. He needs her. See, Superman needs us ... all of us. If this musician is a beacon for him, we all could be a beacon. We all are a beacon. 

You want a Superman image to end a run on? How about Superman sky-dancing with Lois?

Okay, this has been a long review, so I'll end here. Despite my musings and ruminating on Synmar, I liked this issue. Because even if I don't understand the why's, there is no doubt that Utopica is not Superman in any way. And even if tempted to become Utopica, Superman wouldn't.

Because he is Clark, untarnished.

Thank you Brian Michael Bendis.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

And thank you Anj, for making a very good fist of trying to explain what SU was up to... I hope we don’t see him again, too. Things should have been a lot clearer.

Superman was able to take on SU under the orange sun due to the golden bits and boots, presumably Supergirl is wearing something similar.

The UP Brigade taking over, would that count as an invasion? It’s not like this area counts as UP space.

Anyway, yes, I’ll miss Bendis on Superman too, fingers crossed he tries a Kara strip.

Steve said...

My take was Utopica being a cautionary tale of what happens when you artificially try to recreate Superman.
And yeah, I choked up with that whole roof singer sequence...

Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

A new and nice spacesuit for supergirl.

Thanks you for your review, i understood the story a little better with your point of view.

I feel like the subject of this arcs was a debate over heroism. In the digital version of superman, there is a fight between him and Metallo. Superman said "i'll be happy the day people don't need me anymore". This sentence illustrates the heroism of superman the most.

Anonymous said...

The singer was first referenced in Bendis' Man of Steel 1. Supes is flying and talks about hearing this woman with an amazing voice. I hadn't initially remembered that but something jogged my memory. So it is Bendis calling back to a very brief but nice moment at the start of his run.

Martin Gray said...

Oh well done, Anon! That had completely slipped my mind.