Like many comic fans, my relationship with writer Brian Michael Bendis has taken on a Love-Hate relationship in recent years. While his stewardship of the ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ franchise is a run for the ages, his notable seven year run on Avengers is at the very least grand in scale if not always in execution and his time on X-Men can be charitably described as problematic.
After years on the Marvel stage it was plain to see that Bendis was growing increasingly stagnant, so it should come as no surprise that departure from Marvel in favor of taking up DC’s most iconic hero was concerning to some, especially after the universal success of the Tomasi-Gleason fronted Superman title, and the celebrated return of Dan Jurgens on Action Comics.
In fact, anyone who was in the audience at the Action Comics 1000 panel at C2E2 could feel the palpation between the incoming Bendis and outgoing creative teams, who, admittedly, were treated as second fiddle during the presentation.
Bendis’ inital foray into Superman storytelling, the six issue ‘Man of Steel’ miniseries made it clear that the writer intended to ‘break and rebuild’ the character’s status quo, forcibly removing much of the Man of Steel’s supporting cast in favor of showcasing a now isolated Superman dealing with the realities of being the world’s greatest hero.
On its face, that doesn’t seem inherently bad, it did play as grating to have the universally adored son of Superman, Jon Kent, jettisoned to the depths of space along with his mother Lois and strangely nihilistic iteration of Jor-El. Though that last one is more of a result of Doctor Manhattan’s messing with the DC universe than anything else.
The rub here is that Bendis’ usual flair for long-bomb, quippy dialogue bursts and occasional humor don’t really fit the Man of Steel. Clark is a well spoken, mature individual that the entire world listens to whenever he speaks. So attempting to humanize him with more modern language plays like a noticeable older person attempting to use the younger generation’s lingo.
The first issue of “The Unity Saga” stumbles in its first few pages, trying to juxtaposition the sense of isolation that Clark is feeling alongside him staying busy by being everyone he can as soon as he can. This joke works briefly, but overplayed its hand during an oft interrupted conversation with Martian Manhunter that is obviously meant to set up the book’s central theme: Superman should lead this world to a brighter tomorrow instead of simply saving people as needed.
It’s a decent enough concept, and is definitely in line with the core of the character’s ‘Man of Tomorrow’ ideology but the absolute lack of subtlety of its introduction makes it a bit eye-rolling.
The true star of this issue is the art by Ivan Reis. He manages to flawlessly capture the pure iconography of Superman and his daring heroics. His rendering of villain Rogol Zhar is down right grotesque and stands a perfect counterpart to Superman’s pristine righteousness. Well versed Superman fans will definitely appreciate the reference to and slam of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
All in all, Superman #1 is an overstuffed but occasionally entertaining foray into the Last Son of Krypton. It isn’t great, it isn’t horrible, it just is.