Chachachatting with Chad: The Man of Steel by Bendis & Friends Review
Howdy! Chad here. Andy’s been harping on me to actually contribute (bah!), so contribute I will, I guess. Feel free to ignore the corny title. It’s just a stand-in until I can think of something much cornier. I’m going to break from the norm a little bit here, and offer a review that is actually timely. Don’t get used to this. But in between parades and fireworks, I had the time yesterday to slip into an open local comic shop to pick up the final issue of Brian Bendis’s The Man of Steel. That was the missing piece needed for my gargantuan review of
The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis (writer); Ivan Reis, Doc Shaner, Steve Rude, Ryan Sook, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, Jason Fabok (art); Joe Prado, Wade Von Grawbadger (inks) Alex Sinclair, Adam Hughes (colors); Cory Petit and Josh Reed (letters).
This 6 issue series, along with a brief 8 pager with Jim Lee in Action Comics #1000 and an 11 page romp with Jose Luis Garcia Lopez in DC Nation #0 marks the entry point for Bendis in the DC universe after a lengthy, productive, and expansive run that spanned over 17 years. I’m neither here to sing the praises (of which there are many) or cast stones (…there’s a few) on B.M.B.’s Marvel tenure today. There’ll be time for that, especially if Andy and Stew keep wanting me to churn out blog posts. I can talk about the time Stew and I met Bendis before he was Bendis, and I respectfully told him his Ultimate Green Goblin was dumb, and he tried to disagree. But not today. Today, we’re going to focus in on the Man of Steel. Warning: I will be spoiling things, so feel free to come back after you read it to see what I said and share your thoughts.
The basic story here is meant to set up the Bendis run for the long haul, I imagine. In the two lead up issues prior to the series, Bendis established a new villain by the name of Rogol Zaar, a zealot whose purpose in life apparently is wiping out all of Krypton.
Cool trivia note: Rogol Zaar is named after one of the nurses who treated Bendis during a health scare, where I believe he was blind
for about four days. It was a scary scene in real life that happened just after he let word out he was jumping ship to DC. According to an article on syfy.com, the nurse brought in pictures of what she wanted the character to look like. I wonder if this is what she was thinking.
Bendis begins in Action #1000 by retconning a bit of the classic Superman origin: it wasn’t the hubris of the Kryptonians that led to the downfall of their planet, it was actually Rogol Zaar (who, in Bendis’s defense, was fueled by the hubris of the Kryptonians).
The next preview in DC Nation #0 features art by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and sets up the Daily Planet status quo. Lois is gone (it’s a mystery!), Perry pledges to stop J. Jonah Jameson’ing Superman, and Miss Robinson Goode is introduced fresh from Star City.
This begins one of, if not the biggest draws of the book: the group of artists that Bendis brings to the yard for his intro. I guess that started with Jim Lee in Action, but Jim Lee Supes isn’t new at this point. The guy who drew all of the classic 80’s licensing images, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez–that’s a draw, no pun intended. It gets better (or continually just as good) from there.
Issue 1 picks up with Zaar meeting with a council of big-wig alien dudes. I recognized a Guardian from Green Lantern, the other four may be important, too. I just don’t know them, and none of them were important enough for Bendis to explain, either. Anyway, he wants to cleanse the galaxies of Krypton and all Kryptonians because their planet will bleed other planets dry by exploiting their resources for science. The council says no, because, you know, genocide is bad.
There’s also a theme introduced involving fire in issue one. Someone has been setting fires throughout Metropolis, and will continue to do so throughout the series (I told you there would be spoilers!). Supes remembers ole’ Martha Kent’s sage advice “Fire is fire.” Deep stuff, yo. Fire also leads to the introduction of new deputy fire chief Melody Moore, who looks to have eyes for our humble hero. Speaking of eyes, there’s a really cool X-ray vision effect in this issue. I’m not sure if this is always how this power is portrayed, but I liked it quite a bit.
I also liked how Bendis shows Superman being super both on the big time hero level (he quickly dispatches Batman baddies the Killer Moth and Firefly) and the local level (he takes the time to save a little girl and her two puppies).
Speaking of being super, the art in this issue by Ivan Reis shows why he is ultimately the man tapped to do the regular series, and also why he’s been one of D.C.’s most prominent artistic weapons for the past few years.
No disrespect to the other powerhouse artists here, but Reis is good.
Issue one also starts the running 2-3 pages per issue by Jay Fabok that spell out the backstory of what happens to the rest of the Super family. For now, it’s a mystery.
Issue 2 has evil Guardian dude Appa Ali Apsa faced down by Lord Gandelo, an ice crystal dude. He accuses Apsa of knowing of Rogol Zaar’s plan–which Apsa does–which he denies–which is not the first time Guardians have done some pretty dirty stuff—but whatevs. The Bugle’s abuzz with the Lois mystery as Superman is busy taking down the Toyman. Supes even gives Green Lantern the brush when GL tries to be friendly and ask if Supes is OK. Why’d you miss the last league meeting, Supes? Inquiring minds want to know. Also, there’s another fire in Metropolis and Perry worries about the paper some more.
This issue features a split of the art duties, first by friend of the podcast (well, he did tweet at us the one time, I’m counting it!) Doc Shaner. His work on Flash Gordon and Future Quest demonstrate he’s got the stuff. He would be my personal pick for a Superman title and not just because he might have listened to our show. Regardless, here’s his Superman:
It’s clean, crisp, and classic. He’s also got the scope for the crazy fantastical stories a Superman story would entail. I would be in for a Shaner Superman, that’s for sure.
Not to be outdone, the second half of the issue is done by Steve Rude of Nexus fame. He’s no slouch, either. Can I just remind folks the awesome talent Bendis and DC pulled together for this series? Wow.
Issue 3 features RZ breaking into the Fortress of Solitude and destroying the bottle city of Kandor. Supergirl shows up to help Supes investigate/grieve while more fires are burning in Metropolis. Batman makes a brief appearance to tell the new deputy fire chief to put pins in a map, because “sometimes they make a shape.” He ain’t the world’s greatest detective for nothing, folks. Supers–both man and girl are then led to check Metropolis, where Rogol is waiting for them, setting up a mid-Metropolis showdown next issue. Before we go, I should mention the art by Ryan Sook, a fantastic artist whom I wouldn’t necessarily peg for a Superman book, but I wouldn’t say no, necessarily either. I have fond memories of Sook’s work on the Madrox-led X-Factor back in the day. He excells at both the humor and a sleek darkness that would work better with a number of other hero books.
Onto issue four, where the showdown gets under way. Brian Bendis does a lot of great things as a writer, and as he’s grown, he’s learned when to step aside and let the art do the work for him. In the midst of this high-stakes battle with the big bad, he has Kevin Maguire take half a page to show the side effects of Superman on your regular old citizen.
I imagine most ladies in Metropolis have thought of ending up the way this young woman does in her last panel after a moment with Superman–but it probably wasn’t a moment that involved them falling out of an office building ;-). Back to the story, Supes uses his Justice League counterparts advice to help him figure out a way to deal with Zaar. First, it’s advice from Cyborg, and then a What Would Batman Do moment. And that’s all he needs–or so he thinks. Supes gets his butt handed to him by Zaar and his mind drifts back to his family. It turns out Jor-el has something to do with their disappearance. The mystery continues! Then Supes heads back to the broken down fortress in time to find RZ. The issue ends with Superman using his new solar flare power from the recent John Romita, Jr. run. Everybody blows up. The end.
Just kidding. Two more issues to go! I would be remiss if I moved on without mentioning the artwork by Kevin Maguire. He’s a personal fave from his days on Justice League International. He draws the best faces and reaction shots in the business. Why he never achieved Jim Lee/Todd McFarlane levels of acclaim, I’ll never know. He would make a great fit with Bendis for a long term assignment, but I don’t know if would be a Superman one. Maybe one with Blue Beetle and Booster Gold? A Chad can dream… While I’m daydreaming, you can drool over this two page spread with team Supes. Next, it turns out everybody didn’t blow up in the solar flare. Superman realizes he has to get Zaar off of Earth, so he flies him thataway past the moon. I didn’t think he could use his powers so quickly after a flare up, but Bendis gets to make the rules. Supergirl and the Justice League fill in around Metropolis (more fires!!!). The big bad beats up Superman again, and Kara somehow realizes he’s buried on the moon! At the Hall of Justice, Clark realizes from his hospital bed that Zaar might just try to take out Earth in his quest to “cleanse” the galaxies of Kryptonians.
This issue features art by Adam Hughes, whom I rarely see do interiors anymore. My first exposure to Adam Hughes was his run on Justice League International, where he had to follow one Kevin Maguire. It’s a real treat to see how his style has evolved over the years as well. Which brings us to the final issue. Jason Fabok, who has been filling in two-three page segments throughout the series featuring Lois, Clark, and Jonathan Kent, finally gets to pay off that mystery. Fabok, by the way, is the perfect mix of Jim Lee and Gary Frank. I’ve read a handful of his Detective Comics issues, but I’m pegging this guy as having a bright future ahead of him. Here’s his Supes:
Storywise, Jonathan has decided to go with Superman’s dad, Jor-El, exploring the cosmos. Jonathan has seen glimpses of a future where he cannot control his powers, and also he feels inadequate after being denied membership in the Teen Titans. He thinks this might be a good experience. Lois wants to keep an eye on her child, so she volunteers to go as well, under the guise of leaving the Daily Planet to write a book. So take that, Ms. Deputy Fire Chief flirty lady, there’s not marital troubles in the Kent apartment–at least not yet! Superman manages to vanquish Rogol Zaar with the help of Supergirl and the
negative phantom zone. Supes has a funeral for Kandor, and he sits alone, brokenhearted in his empty home to wrap up the series. Oh yeah, who was starting those fires? Could it be what the kid talking to deputy chief firepants says? Could it be…Superman? Find out in Superman #1 and Action #1001!
So that’ll do it for this walkthrough. As a series, it was a nice sampler platter of what Bendis can bring to the distinguished competition. I may even pick up a Superman book in trades if he can capitalize on the promises he lays forth in these stories. The Lois/Jonathan/Jor-El plot seems intriguing. There’s something about newspapers that make them an exciting environment, especially with B.M.B’s dialogue. The fire theme surely has a cool payoff. The weakest part of the series, Rogol Zaar, was vanquished in the end–although I’m sure he’ll come back, too.
One complaint, more on the DC side of things rather than the story side, though. Issue 1 of this series had a code for a digital copy. I love digital copies. It allows me to carry a longbox worth of books on my ipad. I can inconspicuously carry comics into work, cafes, or even read in bed when I have a digital copy. I still like physical copies–there’s a collector side of me that won’t let the physical copies of my favorite books go away, but the digital copy is much more convenient. It makes it easier for me to share stories with my chums. It makes reading and re-reading comics much easier. Marvel packs a digital code in with the majority of their $3.99 books. Why can’t DC follow through with codes on issues 2-6? What is the point of one issue of a story in digital form? See the blue sticker for one, but not the others? DC, you’re such a tease. Honestly, the digital thing is a major drawback for me as far as reading monthly DC books. I’ll just keep trade-waiting, I guess.
Depending on how Superman and Action go, I’ll more than likely give it another trade or two. Bendis is good, and his writing is still Bendis-er-iffic here. Bendis writes great newsrooms. His dialogue between heroes was quirky and interesting. He injected just enough of his own flair into the conversations while still letting the characters sound like the characters. His Superman felt like Superman. I liked the story that had crazy cosmic overtones and Daily Planet street level concerns as well. The art was spectacular each issue.
With all that said, I’m not hooked enough here that I feel the need to pick up Action 1001 right away. It was good, but not great. The rotating artists, while all high quality creators, made the story feel jumpy. I would seriously consider a book by any of the seven main artists, just not all seven at the same time like it is here. Seriously, Green Lantern’s hair is all over the place. Also, thanks to my history of reading Bendis books, I know I’m more likely to enjoy his set-ups rather than the follow-through.
Still, if you’re a fan of Superman, if you’re a fan of Bendis, if you’re a fan of quality comic booking, I’d say to check it out. B+ overall.
If you’d like to give this series a try, but don’t know where to go, try the comic shop locator.
If you’d like to read my other post about Jeff Smith’s Shazaam!, check here ChachaChad’s Articles.
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Until we meet again, this is ChachaChad, signing off.