The Man of Steel #1
“Man of Steel, Part 1”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis & Jay Fabok
Inks: Joe Prado & Jay Fabok
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I recently reviewed Brian Michael Bendis’s final published work from Marvel, and it seemed only fitting to turn my attention to his DC debut. Though he had work published at DC in the last few weeks (in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0), The Man of Steel #1 (evoking memories of John Byrne’s relaunch of the character with the same title more than three decades ago) is his first full issue at his new professional home. Some have described Superman, the original super-hero, as the least interesting super-hero — too powerful, too vanilla, what have you. One could argue that in the hands of the right writer, Superman is the most human of super-heroes, and Bendis is definitely equal to the task. The writer has always been talented when it comes to bringing fantastic characters down to earth, and he does so with the title character here, while at the same time, he explores the wonder of his seemingly limited powers — especially when it comes to his super-senses. The Man of Steel is exactly what I was hoping for from Bendis at DC, and I can’t wait for more.
Long ago, a legendary warrior named Rogol Zaar argued before an intergalactic council of powerful elders that Krypton poses a threat to other civilizations in the universe and pleaded with it to allow him to take action against the science-devoted populace. Skip ahead to the present day, where we find the Last Son of Krypton, Superman, protecting the people of Metropolis from criminals and disasters. But the Man of Steel does more than protect people — he also admires them for their heart and their art.
Ivan Reis boasts a fairly standard but attractive, traditional super-hero style that’s served him and DC well in recent years. He certainly does an excellent job here of conveying a lightness, even a hint of playfulness in Superman’s eyes. Conversely, he also does a solid job capturing the huge, cosmic scope of the opening scene and Rogol Zaar’s intense anger and determination about Krypton. I think what I appreciated the most about the visuals was how Reis and inker Joe Prado brought sharp detail to the everyday backdrops in Metropolis, such as Kirefly’s apartment or the arson scene to which Superman responds. Mind you, later in the issue, there’s a looser look to the line art (such as what we see of the Daily Planet newsroom) that makes it appear a bit rushed at times.
Probably the most fascinating aspects of Bendis’s story for this first issue is his focus on Superman’s sensory powers. We see him use his X-Ray vision at an arson scene, but even more interesting is the writer’s exploration of Superman’s hearing. Bendis does so to convey how Superman sees the world, but on top of that, he shows us how knowledge of those powers influences the culture of the city. It’s become known as a place most costumed criminals avoid, and there are “rules” to follow, as everyone knows Superman can see and hear all. There have been those who have seen Superman’s powers as an impediment to writing good stories featuring him, but Bendis takes that challenges and turns it around into something else. It brings credibility to the character as well as a little something extra to add to the special nature of the iconic figure.
Bendis is wasting no time in introducing new supporting characters in Superman’s world. In DC Nation #0, we met reporter Robinson Goode, and here, the audience, along with Superman, is introduced to deputy fire chief Melody Moore (note the traditional alliteration). We’ve seen Superman develop rapports with police officers, but it makes perfect sense that he’d form a bond with other members of Metropolis’s first-responder community. One could interpret this scene as Bendis trying to bring another potential romantic interest into the hero’s life, but given the celebrated bond between Lois and Clark and the scenes showing the latter fawning over photos of his family, I think it’s unlikely. Melody is an understandably admirable character, as Bendis has crafted her to be bold, smart and friendly.
When we first met Rogol Zaar in the pages of Action #1000, I was a bit trepidatious. He seemed just like the latest in a series of hulking Superman villains, such as Mongol and Doomsday. Here, Bendis reveals a little more about him, and he shows us that in some ways, he’s not a villain. He’s presented as being a hero once a upon a time, a hero who’s clearly suffered some kind of loss, almost some kind of all-powerful, intergalactic Batman figure. He believes himself to be righteous, and that makes him more credible and believable as an antagonist. I remain disappointed in his design; his monstrous look isn’t in keeping with the noble and driven spirit he’s suggested to be.
It’s easy to understand why a police officer who’s been on the job for decades might grow jaded and gruff, having seen the worst of which people are capable. It’s easy to see how a soldier could develop post-traumatic stress disorder after mission after mission steeped in violence and chaos. Now imagine a man who can see and hear every major crime and every little cruelty the world around him has to offer. By all rights, the concept of Superman could lead to bitterness and cynicism. But instead, he’s a symbol of hope, of kindness. How could that be? Bendis explores the notion that Superman might bear witness to all of the ugliness around him, but he also takes in all of the good, the beautiful, the wonder. The writer brings that out with the hero’s distraction, his oh-so-human focus on a lovely tune that becomes an ear worm he can’t quite place. It’s a moment that conveys the amazing qualities of his impossible powers while also reinforcing how he’s one of us at the same time. 8/10