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Review: Man of Steel #1

Besides an ominous villain-centric prologue featuring Rogol Zaar from Action Comics #1000 and a deep cut cameo, Brian Michael Bendis’ first full DC comic: Man of Steel #1 lacks a real plot hook beyond “Something is coming”, and it’s connected to Superman’s past, or the ending of Action Comics #1000. However, Bendis shows he can write the heck out of both Clark Kent and Superman putting him through his paces as a superhero fighting villains, guardian of the weak, inquisitive journalist, husband, and father. And when they get a full page (or sometimes two), Ivan Reis and Joe Prado turn in beautiful work of Superman humorously chiding two Gotham villains, who thought they could carve out a small piece of Metropolis or taking a second out of his busy day to listen a girl play a song for her best friend. And, of course, he saves both pets and small children in this comic book.

But back to the bad guys for a second. In the opening of the comic, Reis, Prado, and especially colorist Alex Sinclair churn out some heavy metal, cosmic evil in Man of Steel #1 with Rogol Zaar putting together his version of a Power Point presentation for some kind of intergalactic, multiversal governing body about why Krypton should be destroyed.  Some cynics might consider this scene derivative of Bendis’ Illuminati in his New Avengers run, but it’s much larger scale. (Except for the one that gets named later, I have no idea who the heck these guys are either.) Rogol Zaar’s motive boils down to being a more cosmic scale 1960s Magneto: the Kryptonians are starting to expand to other planets so they should immediately be subjected to genocide. He’s very much a black hat, and hopefully future issues add some depth to him or add an even Bigger Bad that’s just using him as muscle. But, for now, his design has a kind of mid-1990s Wildstorm excess to it with a touch of a space barbarian, and it’s sad that Reis only gets a few panels of him in actual action.

Other than feeling a twinge of disappointment with the not-really-a-cliffhanger ending of Man of Steel #1 from Bendis and guest artist Jay Fabok, my main takeaway is that Bendis gets Superman at a macro level. He has godlike powers, but wants to be human and uses these extra abilities to serve humanity. Superman loves and enjoys humans and wants to keep him safe. The scene where he takes a beat after easily stopping (and not dropping) Firefly and Killer Moth to listen to a girl play music is just breathtaking. Reis and Prado deal in the majestic and blockbuster in their artwork and are mostly a good fit for this book even though they whiff on a comedy sequence where Metropolis’ new deputy fire chief acts like she has a crush on Superman. They show that even if his powers are over the top, he cares about each life that he comes into contact with. If a building’s on fire, he won’t just rescue its inhabitants; he’ll absorb the brunt of its heat and destruction with his own body. It’s like that great scene in The Dark Knight Returns where Superman takes the full force of a nuke with his body and shrinks, but more down to Earth and shows the daily sacrifices that the Man of Steel makes every day.

I also like how Brian Michael Bendis seamlessly blends Clark Kent and Superman with Superman trying to quotes and article fodder for Clark Kent in a way that doesn’t seem opportunistic, but that he really cares about the cause of this rash of electrical fires in Metropolis. Also, it demonstrates that Bendis has a steady command over all aspects of Superman’s life from his day job as a hero, his other day job as Clark Kent, and his home life towards the end. With jokes about Jon’s costume and light flirting and chatting about articles, Bendis has put his own twist on the Kents’ family life, which was the strength of previous Superman runs by Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and others. He gets Superman’s relationship dynamic, personality, and values; now all we need is a strong plot to go with it.

Even if the bad guy is a little underwhelming and the overarching narrative stumbles out of the gate, Man of Steel #1 proves that Brian Michael Bendis understands Superman/Clark Kent and how his commitment to truth and justice affects the dual aspects of his life. He even adds a little dry Midwest wit to the proceedings and gets out of the way to let Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Alex Sinclair craft soaring splash pages and hellish planetscapes to set up a battle between good and evil.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Ivan Reis with Joe Prado, Jay Fabok
 Colors: Alex Sinclair Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 7 Art: 8 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review