Face-off: Bendis’s Superman vs. Spencer’s Spider-Man—5 months later.
Way back this July, both Superman and Spider-man, two of the top red and blue characters for two of the top true-blue comic companies released #1 issues on the same week. What a treat it was to walk into the shop that Wednesday and see both characters get fresh starts with quality creative teams. Both scored an A from ye ole’ Chadster here, but I gave the edge to the Spidey book because I like the character more. Spider-man double-ships, and the Bendis reign on Superman has both Superman and Action Comics, so both heroes have 10 issues of their respective reboots under their super-belts. I thought it would be interesting to go back and check in on the books thusfar and see how the last half-year has treated us.
Let’s start with Superman, only because I like to get my griping done early. One of my favorite things Marvel does (and they admittedly have tried to screw this up only to go back and fix it later) is they include the digital copy of a title with the purchase of your book. I can easily carry around a long-box’s worth of current comics on my ipad, and it makes keeping up with a series easier. I don’t need to hunt for back issues of a story arc, or even the previous story, because they’re already there. DC put the digital code in Man of Steel #1 (the precursor to the Bendis run I reviewed here), but not the rest of the Man of Steel miniseries. That got my goat, but I bought that series anyway. Superman #1 had the digital code. Superman #2 did not. Superman #1 had one more sale than Superman #2. I did not continue with the book because of DC’s frustrating practice of teasing readers with a digital copy of one issue in a series. That’s not good enough! Either include the codes as a common practice or don’t, but don’t go half way. I was all excited to keep reading the Superman book, but I’m not going to reward DC’s practices with my cash. I picked up Superman 2 (a beautiful David Mack variant cover, too) and put it back down. No more Superman for me.
So that’ll do it for the Superman review…except, Action Comics, the other Bendis Superman book, has the digital codes throughout! For reasons I don’t understand, one Bendis Superman book has digital codes on all issues, and one just has the first issue tease. I let a few issues stack up, and after I was relatively sure the practice was going to continue, I bit on issues 1001-1005 of Action Comics.
Honestly, I’m glad I made the switch from the Superman book anyway. While the Superman book has been more about the fallout of Krypton and Rogal Zaar and Zod, the Action book has focused more on Metropolis and the Daily Planet. I prefer the more grounded stories, so this works out for me.
The plotlines have dealt primarily with a handful of mysteries: who is the Red Cloud that is wreaking havoc on the Metropolis underworld? Where is Lois Lane? Who bought the Daily Planet and how is Perry going to handle it? What kind of trouble are all these new folks at the Planet getting into? There’s honestly not a lot of Superman being superhuman, instead this book dives more into the relationships Clark and Superman have with the characters around him. Then Superman is super for a handful of pages before going back to the relationship stuff.
Much like the Man of Steel series, the art duties are continually shifting. Patrick Gleason handled 1001-1002, Yanick Paquette stepped in for 1003, and then Ryan Sook handled 1004-1005. The other commonality of the shifting art duties is that they’re all good, high quality artists. They shine not only in their interpretations of Superman, but the way the handle Clark Kent, too. For a while, I wasn’t sure if Bendis’s writing style would fit Clark Kent. Bendis is known for snappy dialogue, but for Clark, he’s really pulling at emotional strings and letting Clark react. We get to see sad, pensive, missing Lois Clark Kent. We get the panicked, someone in the room has Kryptonite and he’s collapsing Clark Kent. He doesn’t like when you touch his ties!
We get to see that stupid grin when Clark finally reconnects with Lois. We also get the why did i say that stupid thing regret from Clark the next day. Even with Superman, you get the “I mean business; somebody answer me now” glare. You get to see Clark and Superman be vulnerable and ask for help (Thanks for handling the Kryptonite stuff, Batman!), and you get to see the satisfaction when he can help those that matter to him (No signs of cancer, Perry!)–and then it’s time to take care of business again.
It’s really nice to take this character that should be totally un-relatable and turn that on its head by focusing on the human relationships. And his relationship with Lois may be one of the most complex going in comics right now, It’s all really well done and I can see myself sticking around the series for a bit (provided they still have the digital codes).
On the other side of the street, the Amazing Spider-man has been going for 10 issues to this point. The first five were drawn by Ryan Ottley, and the remaining 5 have art done by Humberto Ramos (with the occasional few page callback by Steve Leiber!!!).
Whereas Brian Bendis has done wonders by digging deep into the emotions of the Man of Steel in very grounded stories, Nick Spencer has been all over the place with Spider-man. His decidedly non-grounded initial arc had Spider-man split into two distinct beings, one with all the power (and pet Tri-Sentinels) and one with all the responsibility.
While playing in this ridiculous premise, Spencer has also been addressing a lot of relationships Peter has with the important people in his life and re-setting status quos. He’s fired from the Bugle again for plagiarism, so he’s dealing with letting down the people who believed in him like Aunt May. He’s reconnecting with Mary Jane at the same time. This is actually Spencer’s master stroke. He’s taking the years of continuity for these characters that would be truly broken people in real life, and he’s weaving things together in a way that acknowledges the past, makes sense of it, and moves forward. Later on, during the Ramos 5 issue stretch, Peter has important discussions with MJ and Black Cat about their past relationships and the consequences of those relationships. Poor MJ has gone from model to soap opera actress to night club owner to high level business player to whatever else the continuity demands have needed from her. Spencer acknowledges all this and puts her in a support group for people who support super heroes–run by Jarvis from the Avengers of all people. While dealing with the thieves guild, Spencer has Black Cat address the hole left behind by Peter’s secret-identity-hiding shenanigans in a really emotionally touching way.
Spencer has proven through both his run on Ant Man and Superior Foes of Spider-man that he can write lovable losers, and he’s bringing those skills in full force to Amazing Spider-man. Heck, he even brings along characters that are even more lovable loser-ier. My favorite part of the series thusfar has been the 2 issue story where Boomerang, Spidey’s new roommate, takes Peter Parker to the Bar with No Name for trivia night.
Hilarity and calamity both ensue, and it’s the fun of the series that shines as Spencer explores these character-building arcs. No matter how emotional or how ridiculous the story needs are, Spencer never stops having fun with the character and supporting cast.
Whereas Bendis has been humanizing Superman through his relationships with others, Spencer is taking the others in Spider-man’s life and humanizing them in the context of Spidey’s crazy fun problematic lifestyle.
I’m surprised I’m enjoying a Superman title this much, as that’s traditionally not my scene. Spider-man is my scene, and I’m surprised at how well it is going as far as Spencer’s version of the character being sympatico with my preferred versions of the character.
Outside of their initial release dates (which don’t even really apply since I’ve switched to Action instead of Superman proper), the grand Superman/Spider-man experiment is really connected by the fact that they are flip sides of the same coin. Bendis’s Superman is a more mature and soulful take on the character, as Superman should be; whereas Spencer’s Spidey is much more immature and joyful character (as Spidey should be), but both are exploring and redefining the vital relationships in an emotionally gripping way. Both books are strong A books with A+ potential if the payoff down the line is good enough. It’s a nice change of pace to see such great efforts out of the flagship books from Marvel and DC, and I recommend both serieses as long as this run of quality continues.
If anybody’s keen on that other non-coded Superbook, let me know if I’m missing out on much.
Otherwise, both books serve as great jumping on points. If you’d like to give these series a try, but don’t know where to go, try the comic shop locator.
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Until next time, my friends,
My blogs will be the ones enjoying everybody’s favorite primary-colored heroes!