Brian Bendis’ run on Superman officially kicks off with Superman #1. Yes, we have already had Bendis’ Man of Steel mini-series. But, here we are with the official restart of Superman’s solo title. Bendis is still an odd match for the Superman franchise. Having said that, Man of Steel was not terrible. So, perhaps Bendis will be able to successfully get out of his comfort zone and deliver a quality read with this new Superman title. Let’s hit this review for Superman #1 and find out.
Words: Brian Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with a recap of the events of Man of Steel. We are told that Fraggle Raznorak was revealed as the destroyer of Krypton. That Gizzle Fort battled Superman (in Man of Steel) and in the process the Bottle City of Kandor and the Fortress of Solitude were destroyed. Supergirl then banished Humblzig Rucknut to the Phantom Zone.
We are also told that the Jor-El came back to Earth to offer Jon a trip across the universe to help him find his way as a man. Lois Lane agrees to chaperone Jon on his trip. (Ummmmm…yeah…so it’s not really much of a trip to find your way as a man if you bring your mommy with you.)
Conveniently, the only device that Clark has to communicate with Jon and Lois has been destroyed. Now, with the battle with Jizzle Rizzer is over Clark has only one task him mind: To find his family.
We see Superman streaking through the universe. He is roughly 746 million miles from Earth. Superman comes across a Dominator armada. Superman somehow knows that they are headed straight for Earth by drawing a straight line from the direction they are headed to Earth’s location. (Ah… that wacky Bendis logic!)
Superman takes down the entire Dominator armada with the effort one might take to slip on a pair of comfy house shoes. (It takes all of one panel.) Superman thinks how this made his entire trip worth it. (Huh, what? The opportunity to easily dispatch of the Dominator armada made the trip worth it? Not seeing his wife and son? You know, the entire purpose of the trip in the first place? I mean, Superman could have easily taken one panel to dispatch of the Dominator armada even if they had arrived at Earth.)
Superman says that this little kerfuffle with the Dominator armada has reminded him of the fact that he knows where he is needed. Superman says that he knows that Lois has her situation with Jon under control. (Or how about you use your super speed to find Lois and Jon. Then give them a new communicator. Then head straight back to Earth. You kill two birds with one stone. First, you are a responsible husband and father bu giving your family a new communicator. Second, you are still on Earth to protect your adopted home. I know. Logic plays no role in a Bendis story.) Superman then flies back to Earth.
We cut to Clark in bed by himself. He thinks about him in bed with Lois before she left with John. They talk about Lois’ expose on Lex and how it probably made Lex even richer. Lois thanks Clark for backing her up with Perry White.
We cut to Clark at the kitchen table by himself. He thinks about a talk he had with Jon. Jon complains about having to go to school. Clark says that the loves his son but he is going to school. Clark asks if the problem is a girl. Jon is grossed out about talking about girls and then leaves.
We cut to Superman, Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and Wonder Woman in the Arctic. They are staring at where the Fortress of Solitude used to stand. Hal goes on about how the Guardians sent him here to make sure that there were no issues with the destruction of the Fortress. Superman says that they cleaned everything up. Hal asks about the Phantom Zone projector and all fo the other dangerous weapons that were housed in the Fortress. Barry tells Hal to let Superman have a moment to mourn “his stuff.”
Wonder Woman says that Superman will make a new Fortress of Solitude. Superman says that it is time for a new home. Barry says, “Warning. New York is expensive as hell.” (Why would Barry say this? He does not live in New York. He has zero New York connections. Clark does not live in New York. This makes no sense. Oh yeah, Bendis has his witty dialogue that he has to deliver regardless if it is consistent with the character or makes them look dumb.)
Hal asks if Superman will put the new Fortress on the moon. Barry suggest Portland. (This makes no sense. Again, why would Barry suggest that? Because Bendis had a joke he needed to shove into the story even if it was consistent with Barry’s personality or even if it made him look stupid.) Superman then smashes into the ground and retrieves a crystal.
We cut to Superman above the ocean at the Bermuda Triangle. Superman crops the crystal into the ocean. Up from the ocean rises a new Fortress of Solitude.
We cut to Superman at his desk at the Daily Planet. He is typing a story about Superman. He types that the new Fortress of Solitude’s location will remain a secret and give Superman a chance to reflect on his heritage. Superman then says “Ego.” and erases the line from the article. (How ironic. Kind of like how Bendis’ ego with his trademark dialogue leads him to write dialogue that is inconsistent with the characters. Too bad Bendis lacks Clark’s self-editing abilities.)
Clark looks at a newspaper. (Who looks at an actual print newspaper anymore? Who has even seen a print newspaper in the past few years?) Clark thinks how there are so many other “real” stories to write about like fires and crime rather than stories about Superman.
Clark calls U.S. Deputy Melody Moore’s office. Suddenly, a voice in Clark’s head asks him to come meet him outside. (The dialogue bubble is green so this must be Martian Manhunter.) Clark then stands in front of a closet and waits for an employee to walk by. Clark then enters the closet. Clark then enters the closet. The employee looks back and then rolls his eyes. (Nothing like taking a page to do what one panel could accomplish.)
We see Superman flying up into the air over the Daily Planet where Martian Manhunter is hovering. J’onn says that he wanted to give Superman is condolences over his learning that Orlack Rizznark destroyed Krypton. J’onn said that people used to comment how he had Superman were both cut from the same cloth. But, that there was a great difference between being the lone survivor of a war that killed a planet and being a lone survivor of a planet that was destroyed by a natural disaster. (Huhbutwhat? Really? So, if a baby loses their parent due to a murder versus losing their parent to a disease how does that make them growing up with no parent any different? Bendis logic. Never dumber.)
Superman then tells J’onn, “Hold that thought.” We see Superman quickly taking down a Kaiju in one panel. We see Superman again right in front of J’onn. Martian Manhunter says that he wanted Superman to know that he is not alone in this very peculiar pain. Superman thanks J’onn for his kind words. Superman then says, “Hold that thought.” We see one panel with Superman rescuing people from a fire. We see Superman back in front of J’onn again. Martian Manhunter says he could help Superman with some of these problems. Superman said that the last one involved fire. (Martian Manhunter’s weakness.)
Superman asks J’onn if he knows how to contact a spaceship in deep space without a tethered communicator. J’onn says no but that he will look into it. Superman thanks J’onn for coming to see him and that it was very nice of him. Martian Manhunter says that he has an idea for Superman. Martian Manhunter says that the world needs Superman. Superman then says, “Hold that thought.” (You know what is awesome? When you take a small cute joke and proceed to just hammer it into the ground until it is not funny anymore.)
We see one panel of Superman rescuing a space shuttle from a gorilla in an astronaut suit. We see Superman back in front of J’onn. J’onn says that Earth needs Superman’s leadership. That the way Earth is now does not work. That they are going to have to be part of the galactic conversation soon and Superman needs to lead Earth there. That Superman needs to tell the world that what they have built here with borders, and money, and war…it’s garbage. That Superman can tell the world that they can be so much more. That they can be a global community. A galactic community. That Superman will lead them there. (Yeah…this is creepy.)
J’onn says that Superman can take over all of the world and set it forward to a future where hope is not just an ideal. Superman says, “Take?” J’onn corrects himself and says, “Offer.” To offer himself to the world. Superman says, I love you, J’onn, but-” Martian Manhunter cuts Superman off and says that Superman is the only one who can do this. Superman says it was good to see J’onn. Superman says that he will think about it. J’onn says that he already knows Superman’s answer. Superman says that he will see J’onn at the meeting and flies off. J’onn just hovers there in place looking super creepy.
We see Superman flying through Metropolis. We flashback to Clark telling Jor-El that he can raise Jon. Jor-El asks what is Clark going to do. Teach Jon to put fires out in his baby clothes? Clark says that is not what he does.
We cut back to Superman flying at even faster and faster speeds. Suddenly, Superman stops and stares does at the city below him. Superman wonders why everything suddenly looks this way. Superman starts freaking out and says that he has seen this before.
We see Superman is outside of Earth’s atmosphere and is in space. However, instead of the solar system surrounding him it is the Phantom Zone. Superman says that the entire Earth is in the Phantom Zone. That the Phantom Zone is where all of Krypton’s most horrible criminals and monsters were banished. The narration box says, “Rogol Zaar Returns!” End of issue.
The Good: Superman #1 was a solid, but not spectacular, start to this new title. While this issue has its fair share of warts there are also plenty of bright spots as well.
What I am most pleased about is that Bendis manages to control his urge of making every character he writes into a witty banter styled character. Luckily, Bendis treats the reader to a classic version of Superman. Yeah, Superman’s personality is a bit stiff, somewhat vanilla and a tad boring. But, that is his personality. And I much prefer a standard issue white-bread Superman than one that is constantly cranking out Bendis speak and is always trying to appear cool.
I was certainly one of the people who were worried that Bendis would reduce Superman to his typical witty indie-style character full of Bendis speak. The fact that Bendis keeps Superman’s classic personality is great to see. This does show that Bendis is aware of his tendency to write all of his characters in the same manner.
Bendis does an amazing job making Superman #1 new reader friendly. This is an issue you could give to a person who has never read Superman and they would have no problem following along with the story. Bendis succinctly and purposefully inserts all the necessary information for a new reader into the story. And Bendis also manages to give this necessary background information to the reader in an organic manner that does not interrupt the flow of the story. I love that Bendis weaves this information into the narrative rather than pausing the story and giving the reader a massive exposition dump.
I also love the fact that Bendis makes Superman #1 an all-ages title. This was one of the biggest mistakes with so many of DC’s New 52 titles. It is imperative that mainstream super hero titles be as all-ages as possible. Now, there is certainly room for DC to publish super hero titles that target adults. However it is absolutely imperative that a Superman title always an all-ages title.
Superman is one of DC’s flagship titles and is a gateway title into DC’s comic books. Superman is a title that should appeal to younger readers and get them interested in DC Comics and get them to come back for more and to expand the type of DC titles that they read as they grow older and more mature.
Another enjoyable aspect of Superman #1 is the Silver Age vibe that Bendis imbues this story with from start to finish. I dig all of the over-the-top Silver Age goodness that we get in this issue. From a massive new Fortress of Solitude Good sprouting magically from one single crystal to the gimmick of all of Earth being placed into the Phantom Zone. Bendis takes the zany style Silver Age concepts where absolutely anything can happen and packages them into a modern styled story for current day readers. hook ending.
Speaking of the Phantom Zone, Bendis ends Superman #1 with an excellent hook ending with the revelation that the entire Earth is inside of the Phantom Zone. This was a cool twist that takes the reader by surprise. This also gives the story a massive scope that is fitting for a Superman title.
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado combine to deliver some absolutely gorgeous artwork. Without a doubt, the artwork is the strongest part of Superman #1. This is an incredible looking issue. It is so easy for the reader to get lost in this awesome artwork.
The page payouts are diverse and dynamic. This keeps the issue visually appealing and engaging. The details packed into each panel are impressive. Reis is able to handle the epic double page splash shots as effectively as the smaller more character heavy panels.
Also, Reis’ Superman looks perfect. This is how I always envision Superman. It is great to have Big Blue looking very much like a classic 1970’s Superman.
The Bad: Superman #1 does suffer from the typical weaknesses that plague most Bendis penned stories. The pacing and plotting in Superman #1 is rather poor. This issue is decompressed. The pacing lacks any sense of urgency or purpose at all. Nothing much happens at all in this issue until we arrive at the big shocking hook ending.
The plotting is a wreck. Bendis only installs a single new plot-line with this issue in the form of the Earth being in the Phantom Zone. That is it. The construction of Superman #1 and the flow of the entire issue is a mess. Everything feels choppy and the scene transitions are clunky.
Bendis kicks off Superman #1 with a one page recap of Man of Steel. This was great and helped to make the issue new reader friendly.
Bendis then delivers a four pages of Superman in space and taking down the Dominator armada and then deciding not to go after Lois and Jon. This scene was decompressed and could have been done in less time. However, this scene at least provided a logical reason why Superman decides to stay on Earth rather than going to be with Lois and Jon. I do like the idea of Superman trusting Lois and also being true to his commitment to protecting Earth as being his number one job.
Bendis then gives us a one page of Clark thinking about Lois. Then we get one page of Clark thinking about Jon. Then we get one page of Clark at the location of the Fortress of Solitude. These three pages were pure fluff and could have easily been cut from the story. This was nothing more than Bendis stalling for time and burning panel space.
We then get a three page scene of Clark at new Fortress of Solitude location. Again, less is more and this scene could have just been the double page splash shot. Yes, this is pure fluff, but it makes for a cool spectacular shot.
Next is a two page scene of Clark at Daily Planet. Again, this is nothing more than fluff designed to waste time. There is no content or plot progression in this scene.
Bendis then gives the reader an unnecessarily long six page scene with Superman and Martian Manhunter. This scene would have been far more effective, entertaining and focused if it had been delivered in a more proper length of three pages. Instead, Bendis stretches this scene out almost to the breaking point by adding in plenty of repetitious dialogue and by hammering a joke into the ground.
Bendis then ends Superman #1 with a four page scene with Superman flying around and suddenly realizing that the Earth is in the Phantom Zone. This was a great hook ending, but this scene was delivered in a clunky fashion.
Superman #1 is largely fluff that delivers virtually nothing in terms of plot content and plot progression up until the very end of the issue. What happens between the end of Man of Steel #6 and the end of Superman #1? J’onn acts creepy and Superman discovers that the Earth is in the Phantom Zone. That is it. Superman #1 is 100% skippable. The reader will not miss anything at all.
Bendis’ dialogue average at best and stupid at worst. Superman’s dialogue is pleasantly generic. All of the other characters employ neutral and slightly bland external voices.
Then there is Barry Allen. Bendis writes Barry Allen as if he has never read a single comic that Barry has ever been in. Bendis gives Barry his patented Bendis speak as an external voice. Barry cracks wise about the price of real estate in New York despite having zero connection to the city.
Bendis then has Barry crack about Superman living in Portland despite neither character having any connection to Portland at all. Neither Barry nor Clark are even the type of characters that would be associated with Portland. Both Barry and Clark are quintessential mid-west characters. Barry being more urban and blue color mid-western with Clark being more rural and blue color mid-western.
As usual, Bendis ignores a character’s established personality in order to get across his “brilliant” dialogue and witty banter. Luckily, Bendis limits his Bendis speak to just Barry in this issue so I guess we can chalk that up as a small win.
Bendis’ take on J’onn seems odd. J’onn is either another character in disguise, or is under mind control. Because, if Bendis is writing normal J’onn then he was quite out of character. I’ll reserve judgment at this point, because Bendis might have an excuse for why J’onn was written so out of character in this scene.
Superman #1 also suffers from Bendis’ usual lack of internal logic in his stories. Bendis is known for awkwardly forcing plot lines and character’s reactions in order to get to where he wants to be regardless if it makes sense. There were various points where the story does not make sense and it pulls the reader out of the story.
There is also a lack of action in Superman #1. There is next to no action outside of about three panels. This makes Superman #1 a slow and rather boring read. Further complicating matters is the fact that Superman #1 is a shallow story. There is little depth or substance to this issue. This story is paper thin. Bendis has installed only one real plot line at the moment. And that one plot line is sprung on the reader out of nowhere. Bendis’ world of Superman is more like a cheap local theater set rather than a detailed and immersive world.
Overall: Superman #1 is certainly gorgeous looking, but the lack of any real content or plot progression makes this an issue that is not worth getting. DC is charging $4.00 for Superman #1. The fact is that Superman #1 simply does not deliver anywhere enough actual content to make it worth such a high price of admission. I would save your entertainment dollars for something of more value.