The great thing about a weekly mini-series is that you don’t have to wait long to get the whole, wonderful experience.
Or be disappointed. The concluding – actually, make that ‘final’ because it doesn’t resolve enough to be considered a conclusion – issue of Man of Steel has some lovely moments. There are some nicely worked scenes, and it looks fantastic… but overall it left me feeling flat.
So, what does this issue from new Superman ‘showrunner’ Brian Michael Bendis give us?
In the Now, Superman confronts Kandor and, it seems, Krypton Killer Rogol Zaar at the Earth’s core. The monstrous alien has a doomsday weapon set to split Earth apart.
In the recent past, Jor-El has appeared in Superman and Lois Lane’s apartment to argue that he should be allowed to take his grandson, Jon, across the galaxy for an educational adventure.
In the present, Supergirl shows up to lend a hand.
And in the past, Lois and Jon leave with Jor-El for what they hope will be a summer of excitement.
So there you have it. The big mystery is solved – as many of us guessed, Clark stays on Earth while his wife and child go to God knows where with a known madman. He’s exchanged blows with Jor-El just a few months, maybe weeks, previously but here he just goes along with Lois’s wishes. Who is just going along with Jon’s wishes.
Jon’s ten-year-old wishes. So Lois claims she’ll get a book out of it (how she’ll explain why a Space Grandad decides to take her and her little boy for a cosmic holiday is anyone’s guess). Yeah, right. Lois Lane is not a person to back down, and at the start of this issue she’s as adamant as Clark that the kid is going nowhere. Sure, Jon would sulk, but the loving son they’ve raised – the one we’ve followed for the last few years – is not going to fly into Jor-El’s space buggy if Mom and Dad say No.
And again, this is a man who caused the death of many regular Earth folk in his bid to convince his son the people he’d sent him to live among aren’t actually worthy of him. He claims the trip will be the making of Jon, that it’s for his own good. Remember Action Comics #991?
That’s the guy Lois and Jon are entrusting their son to. A super-powered lunatic who refers to Jon as a ‘half breed’. Someone who has zero respect for them.
It makes no sense.
Things I liked about this issue. A wonderful pep talk from Clark to Jon. Supergirl’s determination. Lois’s remark about socking Jor-El. The reason Clark’s trunks came back. Some funny business with Jon’s bedroom drawers. And an utterly gorgeous farewell to Kandor as imagined by Bendis, artist Jason Fabok and colourist Alex Sinclair.
But aside from the Jor-El business, there’s a bizarre bit of characterisation as regards Superman’s feelings towards Supergirl saving the day. When she arrives to help her cousin against Rogol Zaar in space, he thinks ‘Kara! I love her!’ Which is how it should be. But after she uses the Phantom Zone, we have this moment.
Seriously? Using the projector on a villain about to end the world wasn’t worth doing because it isn’t a longterm solution? It’s just a Band Aid? Blasting him into a ghost dimension takes Zaar off the playing field, stops the immediate destruction of Earth and provides time to learn the truth about their foe. That’s a pretty great result. The girl deserves a medal.
As for the jealousy towards Kara, it goes against Superman as a pragmatist and a sane human being.
If we’re going to talk about non-resolutions, how about the fact that the Metropolis arson subplot begun in the first issue isn’t sorted out. Instead it’s given cliffhanger status and we’re asked to follow it into the upcoming Superman #1 (2018 edition). I’ve enjoyed this as a subplot, but seriously, if you start a story in a mini-series written for collection, you should darn well cap it there. It’s too mundane to go on and on in a Superman title. I’m OK with the truth about Zaar being the set-up for Supergirl’s new direction, because that’s spinning out of the final issue; something that’s been with us for the whole mini-series should be resolved.
A few other points.
- We really needed an explanation as to why the Justice League didn’t follow Superman at the end of last issue – sure, Rogol Zaar is a personal matter for Superman, but he wants to kill them and everyone on the planet – everyone can take that personally.
- Why did Clark and Lois treat Jor-El’s claiming of Jon no more seriously than they might crazy Grandma wanting to take her grandkids to the park?
- Given he acquiesces, why did Clark allow them to leave so quickly, not even demanding a day to hear his mad pa’s plans, see inside his spaceship?
- What did happen at the end of the fourth issue? It seems Superman used his solar flare but didn’t burn out for 24 hours, which is the established price for releasing all his stored yellow sun energy at once.
- Isn’t the Phantom Zone projector stored in the Fortress of Solitude, meaning it would have been blown to Kingdom Come? Did Supergirl have her own? It could be that the DC Rebirth version is an original Kryptonian artefact, therefore likely invulnerable – but at least tell us.
- We really don’t know Rogol Zaar any better know than we did when he first appeared. Why does he hate Krypton, and the El family in particular? Where is he from? Why does solar radiation effect him?
- And, oh yes, how the heck did Jor-El escape – it was strongly implied – Dr Manhattan after he was teleported from Superman’s side, in huge distress, in the aforementioned Action Comics #991?
This book has three editors, and yet these very obvious plotholes are left unaddressed. This is exactly the kind of thing that drove me off Bendis series after Bendis series when he was at Marvel, something I hoped DC would mean the end of. But once more it’s like everyone is afraid to actually script edit Bendis, challenge his ideas and, where there are bumps in the road, address them.
It’s a shame, because I’ve enjoyed so much about this run. The great thing this issue was seeing, after a few pages here and there, a whole issue of Jason Fabok illustrations. His work here really is lovely – as powerful in the action scenes as in the emotional beats. He nails a clever opening page showing Jon as the kid being talked about rather than talked to and provides page after page of great storytelling until we reach a climatic page of Superman feeling desolate in Jon’s suddenly empty bedroom. Fabok makes every twist and turn of the script look great.
Sadly, he can’t patch over the bits where Bendis is whistling ‘Mr Oz? I can’t heeeeeear you…’ because, if you’ll pardon the expression, he’s an artist, not a Band Aid.
Would I recommend these six issues? Overall, I’ve enjoyed them. But I’d warn anyone to remember that just as Superman will always be a hero, it seems Brian Bendis will always be Brian Bendis. Talented, enthusiastic, full of heart, liable to make a joke at an inappropriate moment (‘Ah, Paris’), able to come up with an intriguing concept – but occasionally unfocused and not great at sticking the landing. Bendis has shown the potential to give us a memorable, enjoyable Superman run, but he needs an editor with a firm grip – heck, he’s really not stupid, he’d most likely value someone working to make his books better.