“The Unity Saga”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Josh Reed
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Adam Hughes and David Mack (variants)
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I was discussing Bendis’s weekly Man of Steel with the manager of my local comic shop, and we both agreed liked a lot of what the writer was bringing to Superman. However, he pointed out that Bendis had removed the hero’s family — his wife and son — from the equation, and he felt that was a step back, that it removed an interesting dynamic that had been added to the character in recent years. I had to agree that I liked the notion of Clark as a father, but I was waiting to see what Bendis had in store with the plotline. After reading this new issue of the renumbered Superman title, I’m confident the writer knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to the protagonist’s characterization. The challenge of Superman is making him relatable, given the seemingly limitless nature of his power. Bendis has a great handle on Clark Kent, though, but I have to admit the focus on the man is so strong, I’m not nearly as interested in those elements that dwell on the “super.”
Superman’s been through a rough spell. The bottle city of Kandor and his Fortress of Solitude have been destroyed. His wife and child have left on a journey through the stars, and he has no way to contact them. But the time has come to rebuild — both his culture and his life. But an old friend has another suggestion for Superman going forward. He can do much more than restore his life; he has the potential to guide the Earth forward into an age of peace and prosperity, but it’s a proposition with which the Man of Steel doesn’t feel all that comfortable.
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado do a solid job of capturing the power and wonder of Superman; Reis’ crafts an imposing figure, but the artists are sure to being a softness to his face. Mind you, one isn’t going to find the smiling, positive aura that’s projected on Reis and Prado’s regular cover art inside the issue. Instead, they bring a subtly melancholy tone to the titular character that’s in keeping with Bendis’s focus in the story. Some might be dazzled by the displays of Kryptonian strength in the action sequences, but honestly, I found them a bit busy; sometimes, I find the art team’s effort to bring meticulous detail to the book can overwhelm the storytelling. It’s a Superman comic; realism isn’t all that necessary when rendering the super bits.
Last summer, I spent four weeks caring for my ailing father in a neighboring province (who died not long afterward). I was pleased I was able to be there for him during that time, but it was trying — in part because I felt so badly for Dad, but moreso because the separation from my wife and son wore down on me. When I returned home after a month away, I cried as they rushed to hug me in the entryway to our house. I honestly don’t even care much for being along in my home without them for more than a few hours. Bendis shows me I’m not alone in those emotions. The decision to remove Lois and Jon from Metropolis (albeit temporarily, I assume) and the loss of Superman’s extended Kryptonian family weren’t to rid him of the baggage, to transform him back into the Last Son of Krypton. No, the writer instead is exploring a melancholy sense of isolation, a loss of a part of Clark’s identity. I found it powerfully resonant, and I feel confident the eventual reunion will be incredibly satisfying.
The scene between the title character and the Martian Manhunter had a certain organic feel to it. The impetus for J’Onn’s decision to approach Superman makes sense, and the deeper kinship he feels with Kal-El is also logical. At first, I felt this was a scene stemmed just from the writer’s notion about the relationship between these two survivors of lost alien cultures, and as such, while satisfying, it felt a little random. But then I noticed the story title for this issue, and I realized this conversation, combined with Clark’s sense of isolation and loneliness, could be a catalyst for something more. I’m intrigued, but ultimately, I’m far more interested in the personal side of the story than the bigger picture.
The idea of moving the Fortress of Solitude — which has been depicted fort decades as being located in the Arctic — is a novel way of shaking up Superman’s status quo while also maintaining it, but I’m not so sure the location selected is all that practical or logical. Bendis’s work with the quieter, character-driven moments are so compelling and grounded that I ultimately wasn’t as interested in the more cosmic or super plot elements, including the cliffhanger ending, which for me lacked the sense of crisis it was meant to convey. Nevertheless, they are in keeping with the traditions and fantastic appeal of the Man of Steel, and my qualms with them are really minor and just flow from comparison with the strength of the relatable moments of humanity throughout the issue. 8/10