The long-awaited debut of Brian Michael Bendis on Superman begins here. Yes, we got a brief glimpse of what the writer had in store for the character in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, but here we see the first full issue of Man of Steel, the weekly series that DC Comics claims will usher in a new era for the character.
There’s a definite (and somewhat abrupt) shift in tone in this series. This is a different Superman, seemingly unburdened by a wife and son. For the majority of the book, you’d think that Lois and Jon weren’t in the picture at all. It’s made clear in the solicitation info for this issue that something happened to them and we get a very ominous page towards the end that doesn’t reveal much, so it’s still early to speculate as to what may have gone down and where they might be. I just hope that Bendis doesn’t intend to erase the family aspect of Superman as that’s something that has really elevated the character since Rebirth.
My concern is elevated with the introduction of a new character introduced while Superman is helping put out a fire. From the way she’s depicted Deputy Fire Chief Melody Moore could have have angelic harps playing in the background as she looks longingly at the Man of Steel.
A major take-away from Man of Steel #1 is Rogol Zaar. This is the brutish warrior we saw battling Superman and Supergirl in Action Comics #1000. The issue opens in the past, with him making a case to a council of sorts regarding the danger Krypton and its people pose to the rest of the universe. This presents a very interesting and unique take on the destruction of Superman’s homeworld as Rogol claims to have played a part in it. It would definitely put him up there as a major villain if that’s the case.
The council is made up of some powerful folks including a Guardian of Oa. It feels like a somewhat cosmic version of the Illuminati that Bendis had created during his days at Marvel, this unseen group that’s pulling the strings in the background.
There’s definitely some top tier talent on Man of Steel in the art department. Ivan Reis handles the bulk of the pencils on this issue and he’s turned in some glorious work. You get a real sense of the size and scope of this story. It’s massive, which is fitting considering the character we’re talking about and the sheer power that Rogol seems to possess.
Rogol looks like an absolute monster. He’s like Doomsday crossed with Conan. Although he is this huge and strong being, he shows a brief moment of vulnerability when something doesn’t go his way. It’s a beautiful full page spread where he’s crouched, quietly and alone in a large cave. This idea that Krypton will be a danger to us all has consumed him and he has this time to reflect on that as he has to contemplate his next steps.
The first time we see Superman is awesome and perfectly sums up the essence of this larger-than-life character. He swoops in to nab a few bad guys and carry them off to the police station. His chest is out. His cape is waving in the wind. There’s a smile on his face. He is every bit the Man of Steel. If something traumatic did happen to his wife and son, he is hiding it well.
Man of Steel strikes a balance between epic action and smaller emotional beats. In some ways, it grounds Superman, taking him back to his roots. The main thing he does in this issue does not involve fighting villains, but saving people from a burning building in the most impressive way possible. I still have some hesitation about what this might mean for the character (and his family), however there’s more than enough to appreciate in this book. If this is the next phase for Superman, I am without a doubt, along for the ride.