Review by Ian Keogh
One only has to look at the list of artists to realise how much importance DC placed on Brian Michael Bendis taking over the Superman franchise in 2018. It’s a wish list of greats, every one of them an immense talent, and just like when the franchise was rebooted from the start for the first time back in the 1980s by John Byrne, Bendis begins his run with a scene-setting statement titled The Man of Steel. There’s nothing accidental about this, and just like Byrne’s work, Bendis’ Superman has proved divisive. In Byrne’s case it was because he was rebuilding the mythos from the ground up, and the changes made were disliked by older fans. Bendis isn’t doing that. He’s building on what’s already there, and it’s his approach that’s divisive.
Whether his idea or something already planned to tie in to later major events, Lois Lane is absent. She’s so much a part of the Superman legend that it doesn’t seem a good idea, but it has a purpose, and the gap of her absence is filled by three different new female characters, although their parts here are only minor. The big plot is the Doomsday-like psychopath called Rogol Jaar with a hate on for all Kryptonians, having ascertained the powers they could develop into under a yellow sun. This was back in the day, and he claims to have destroyed Krypton back then. It’s certainly a blockbuster idea, but the execution is, well, bland. From his forgettable name to his generic appearance he’s a retreading of the familiar. Of course, Superman has survived on just that for decades, but from a writer who ranks among the all-time greats of superhero comics something better might have been expected. The same applies to the tragic elements. Bendis piles them on, not considering the claim to have destroyed Krypton defines Rogol Jaar as evil enough. The second tragedy he settles on is pointless over-egging almost designed to enrage Superman fans of old.
If the super powered threat is disappointing, Bendis scores high with his definition of Superman and his relations with others. There’s a fulsome tour of these, looking back into the recent past, featuring Supergirl, the Justice League and the Daily Planet. Whether being Clark Kent or Superman his interactions with others are convincingly written, and by the end the moments that seem uncharacteristic fit perfectly.
There may be questions about the writing, but there are none about the art, which is nine superb artists at the top of their game. The sample is from Kevin Maguire, but a page from anyone else would have looked just as good.
The Man of Steel ends with Superman cut off in a way that desperately hurts, and gives an insight into the way he’s behaved all the way through, which is slightly off, withdrawing into himself and introspective. It makes sense of some moments where he’s been stand-offish, but doesn’t compensate for a dull threat. The plot threads lead in two directions, Superman: The Unity Saga – Phantom Earth or Superman: Action Comics – Invisible Mafia.