Thursday, May 31, 2018

Super-Reviews: Man of Steel #1

Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils:  (mostly) Ivan Reis and 2 pages by Jason Fabok
Inks:  Joe Prado
Colors:  Alex Sinclair
Lettering:  Cory Petit
Editor:  Michael Cotton
Associate Editor:  Jessica Chen
Group Editor:  Brian Cunningham

Well, it finally arrived.

There's a heck of a lot more preamble in discussing Man of Steel #1 (2018) than there is content to discuss.  This is a single, starting chapter in what will spin out to be a 6 part series plus two separate Superman titles, all written by Brian Michael Bendis, 90's indie darling and mainstay of Marvel the past near eighteen years.  Art chores will change with each issue, but this issue we get pencils by Ivan Reis (who has a fine eye for the illustrative style that well-serves a Superman book).

For any of us who've been reading comics for a while, a first issue is rarely a good indicator of a run's actual direction nor should it be seen as promise of a strong storyline.  Especially, it seems, when name talent comes onto Superman books.  I shall not belabor you with the many hyped "So and So is coming to Superman and Everything You Know Is Wrong!(tm)" events we've waded through.

Due to my post-Civil War break-up with Marvel*, it's been some time since I read much Bendis.  My bonafides do go back to Bendis' pre-Marvel work like Torso, Goldfish and other comics.  And I read Ultimate Spider-Man up to the death of Peter Parker, I believe.  And, of course, his runs on Daredevil and Alias.  Last I'd checked in with Bendis, he was big on three-panels per page with a great sense of pacing but what amounted to about a three minute read per comic due to the "decompression" of his stories.  If anyone was writing for the trade, it was this guy, and so I did read those last three Marvel series as trades.

That's all a very long way of saying:  I have not paid attention to Bendis in a decade, through no real fault of his own.  He's not a writer I turned on, but he was working in a sphere in which I no longer invested.  I'm not even particularly aware if Bendis is still considered "cool".  By comic-nerd standards, he's way past the usual expiration date, and so I have to assume he has his detractors.  Still, readers of superhero comics would have to be waking from a coma from 2000 to not understand what sort of numbers Bendis's work tends to move.

After the extremely awkward multi-year run of Nu52 Superman, DC had - in it's winding, utterly unplanned, half-measures way - decided to bring back a version of Superman that hewed more closely to where the comics had been headed since 2004 or so (maybe earlier).  As improvised as the efforts may have been (and I don't think anyone was expecting Mr. Oz to sorta just disappear like that), the talent assembled for the two main Super-titles held it together, providing a home life for Superman that you could root for, and provided someone for Superman to talk to that weren't Ma and Pa Kent and constantly flying home to Smallville.

As much as I cringed with the news that Jurgens and Gleason & Tomasi were exiting the Super titles, I understood at least the business decision to bring on Bendis.  We've had a few peaks at what Bendis had in mind, especially his few pages of story in Action Comics 1000, and now we finally get to it.

The book opens with the re-introduction of Rogol Zaar (debuting in Action 1000), addressing an audience of Cosmically Important People in the DCU - A Rannian (who looks like Sardath), A Guardian, etc...  He pleads his case that Kryptonians will continue to expand beyond their space, taking resources from other worlds in pursuit of their terrible, terrible science, and, thus, he really thinks he should have permission to commit planetary genocide to stop the potential fallout of the Kryptonian problem before it begins.

We leap forward to now, to Superman supering.  He nabs a pair of Bat-villains (Killer Moth and Firefly - hiding out in Metropolis), then takes on a high-rise fire, meeting Melody Moore, the new deputy fire chief (who takes a shine to Big Blue).  Back at the Planet (holy cow, a whole scene at The Daily Planet!  I thought we'd given that up for lost) we're reminded that Lois and Jon are missing.  And we wrap it up with a two page tease (penciled by Jason Fabok) letting us know that we'll find out more next issue.

Bendis's dialog goes for the conversational and doesn't exist solely as exposition - his asides and whatnot serving to color scenes and character.  I get from some twitter griping that this is not to everyone's taste - but even when it feels a bit self-aware (and making that shift here from Jurgens's exposition heavy dialog and Tomasi's "just the facts" wording - it does feel a bit jarring), you know - it's hardly the greatest writing sin and as long as we're not losing half our page space on throw-away lines, it's a stylistic choice I can deal with.

Honestly - if the book is teasing that anything other than the natural forces and/ or the hubris of Krypton led to it's own demise... at this late date, I have to wonder why DC would follow such a path or not talk Bendis down.  But Bendis didn't get where he is by making sloppy decisions with characters (I think).  And... I am keeping in mind that I haven't seen anything but the set-up to this story, so ...I'm reserving judgment. 

But like JMS's plodding Earth One graphic novels, a generic villain secretly behind the doom of Krypton - no matter how wacky the reasons - only detracts from the poetic simplicity of a doomed Krypton. 

I want to trust Bendis, but he wouldn't be the first name writer to come on Superman and immediately strike out by trying to add backstory that argues with 80 years of Super-history.  But I also know: this is the first issue of a new run and new era, and we need to give the story room to breathe.

Speaking of:  I've heard the internets are concerned about Lois' fate or believe Bendis will sideline her.  We actually do see Lois for a page and referenced heavily throughout the issue, so before we believe Bendis is set to consign her forever to the Phantom Zone (possibly quite literally if I remember my solicits), we should probably take another breath and say to ourselves "this is the first issue of a six-issue series."

I shall now let Captain America council you and prepare you for what this longtime comic reader has endured time after time:

As we take a look at future issues of Man of Steel and have actual information, this blog will address whatever occurs on page.  We'll deal with generic aliens destroying Krypton if that happens, or the de-Lois-ing of Superman in due time.  I'm not quite ready to consign Jon Kent to the dumpster bin of continuity quite yet (and when that eventuality does occur, we will run a list of "Superman's Children Who Were Set Up and Then Never Mentioned Again").

The art is... which... look, Ivan Reis is and was and shall be amazing - and with Prado on inks and Sinclair coloring, we're in good hands.  He gives a genuine sense of mass and motion to Superman and the quality of his character work - illustrative but never cartoony - really does a phenomenal job of portraying subtext and meaning via posture, gesture and expression.  None of the characters are overly exaggerated, but Reis knows how to advantage of the panel via camera placement, framing, etc...  People are rightfully singling out the "Superman listening" page - which has, since Peace on Earth inspired Superman Returns, not quite become a trope, but close enough, and one I can always get behind.**

There's a great and human energy to the artwork, and I love the detail Reis was able to provide in every frame, that Prado enhanced and Sinclair's colors are the embodiment of the robust palette I love in a Superman book, starting with the outfit and allowing for bold colors to compliment when and where it makes sense - from the dynamic visuals of briefly visited alien worlds to the real-world tones of the Planet.

Lucky for us, DC has on call some tremendously talented artists, and I am thrilled at the upcoming line-up of rotating talent over the next few issues.  My understanding is that Reis picks up duties on Superman #1, so - I guess - reason enough to reserve your copy now.

On a scale of "Chuck Austen's Run to Grant Morrison", it's probably a 6 or 7 out of 10 for a first issue.  Judging the story at this point seems deeply premature.  I have no idea where this will actually go, so I'm holding my breath before declaring anything "something I did not like", plotwise - and, honestly, it's good to see the hand-off between writers not feel like making everything up from scratch - and Superman feel like Superman right out of the gate (yes, he would be a smart-aleck to Firefly.  No, he is not a bully or chatty weirdo a la Austen's run).

So, I'm on a work trip next week, but may pick up a digital copy just to keep up, if I have time.

If you're following along - would love to hear from you.

*If you were around back then, you will remember that Civil War required reading of the mini-series, several tie-in's in the mainline books, and tricked me into buying an adjacent and pretty terrible supporting mini-series about Bugle reporters, the title of which I can no longer remember.  It was killing my comics budget.  And then, literally the next month, Marvel launched Secret Invasion, at which point I pulled the plug on following the larger Marvel U.

**I confess - I do wish writers and artists would continue to remember to insert these visualizations of Superman's powers during the actual stories.

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