Monday, July 2, 2018

Superman Comics Read: Man of Steel 4 and 5 (2018)

Man of Steel 4 and 5

Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Artists:  Issue 4 - Kevin Maguire, Jason Fabok
              Issue 5 - Adam Hughes, Jason Fabok
Colors:  Alex Sinclair
Letters:  Josh Reed
Associate Editor:  Jessica Chen
Editor:  Michael Cotton
Group Editor:  Brian Cunningham
Cover:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair

Reading what others had to say online after finishing these two issues of Man of Steel is, as is always, a wild ride.

But after finishing issue 5, I had to stop and ask myself "am I enjoying this?" and, I wondered, "is anyone out there enjoying this?"  And, thus, I took to the internets.

The answer is, of course, that it's a mixed bag of fans cheering wildly just for the art, some who seem to maybe like the story, and a gap in generations and a working knowledge of the work of two I consider to be industry veteran superstars, Adam Hughes and Kevin Maguire.  There are folks who are angry with the series, and reasons vary.  Some of it I agree with, some of it, I don't.

Issue 4 delivers a combination of a lengthy battle between our alien evil-guy, Rogol Zaar (again, that's just the laziest name), peripheral business around the battle and callbacks to whatever is going on with Jon Kent and Lois Lane to explain their absence.  Issue 5 concludes the battle and follows with a recap of the events to date, a brief respite as Superman is recovered from the moon, and the revelation that Jor-El, last seen trying to get close to his grandson, Jon, during Jurgens's run on Action,  has come to retrieve Jon in order to (it sounds like) take Jon on the psychedelic journey Clark Kent enjoyed transforming him into Superman in Superman: The Movie.

Again: Am I enjoying any of this?

I am sorry to say, I am enjoying it increasingly less with each issue.

The art, I should mention, is unimpeachable.  I wouldn't have picked Maguire for a comic full of fight scenes, but that's my mistake.  His well-documented talent with expression plays incredibly well, and he his action is fluid and dynamic, his Metropolis a detailed cityscape.  I know this sounds wacky - but his pages are incredibly easy to read, the action in each panel making sense in the context of the prior panel - it's not justa  mishmash of battle.  And in the pauses in the melee, the character beats are carried by his work (including the awkward appearance of Hal Jordan, showing up to find out what the heck is going on).

Issue 5 sees a return of Adam Hughes to sequential art - something I've missed (although he's been busy) in a few years.  Mostly I've enjoyed his cover work of late, mostly Good Girl Art.  Here, he's showing a new level of (successful) experimentation - playing with format of the page, breaking away from panels for a page or so at a time, but still conveying story and narrative threads.  However he's creating his pages - the nuance and subtle rendering is in top form.  Like Maguire, this is some of the finest work in a career defined by excellence - of angle selection, of character expression and mood.

Reviewing Bendis's story, it's difficult to put my finger on "what" exactly lands wrong.  Some of what I've read a few readers complaining about with a "generic" narrative voice - I frankly haven't noticed.  Or, it may be, simply doesn't seem as out of place with Superman's inner-monologue via the thought bubble/ caption boxes - Superman doesn't tend to get the specific-to-a-fault dialog of other characters.

Instead, I'd point to the obvious set up a mystery and the grinding feeling I have as a reader that Bendis is going to take his sweet time with a gigantic mystery that disrupts and distorts Superman's world just when - what we really, really, really need - is a status quo.

I literally do not think Superman has enjoyed a status quo since 2007.  Maybe since before Final Crisis, which was 2006.

That was DC and Bendis decided we needed, after New 52 Superman sorta died, a trans-dimensional Superman took his place, the two merged into one being, Superman lived on a farm, maybe worked at the Planet, maybe didn't...  what DC and Bendis decided to was reshuffle the deck  Again.  And to revisit doom of Krypton - something that terribly few, especially comics enthusiasts of any stripe, are excited to engage in again.

If Bendis' social media is any indication - and just Sunday I read a note somewhere on twitter that suggested you *have* to follow Bendis's Instagram to get where this is headed (no.  Thanks, but, no.).  Which he promised is a sprawling mystery.  Which will last a long, long time.

That's a weird sort of presumption, though, isn't it?  To assume we all want whatever mystery you're spinning?  That's either going to permanently mar the poetic history of the death of Krypton, or is going to turn out to be a big nothing...  and which will surely be written away should it become canon, however briefly.

It's a wait-and-see game, but it's an expensive one as Bendis trickles out his story in decompressed bites.  And if I'm feeling anxious about where this is headed, it's sure to tax the patience of many folks tuning into Superman comics for the first time in a while, or, possibly, ever.  I honestly don't know if extending the mystery of "Mr. Oz", started two years ago now, is something anyone is all that invested in - because, man, it really isn't a satisfying twist on 80 years of Superman. 

What could have been in 6 issues - a set-up and world building for Superman, is, instead, yet another deconstruction.

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