Brian Bendis’ Superman has started with a pedestrian start. To be clear, this title has not been bad. But, at the same time, there is nothing particularly impressive about this title, either. To this point, Superman has been like a “C” student. Having said that, Superman #3 was an improvement. Hopefully, Bendis can control his bad tendencies and deliver another solid issue. Let’s hit this review for Superman #4 and find out.
Words: Brian Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado and Oclair Albert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Grizzle Drizzle along with Jax-Ur and the horde of Phantom Zone baddies attacking Superman. Superman thinks how the Earth is trapped in the Phantom Zone and how the atmosphere is poisoning everyone on Earth. Superman thinks how he cannot beat Thraz Aggle in a physical confrontation.
Superman continues to battle Spaz Sporttle, Jax-Ur, and the other baddies. Superman thinks how all that matters is getting the Earth out of the Phantom Zone. Doz Ruggle says that he is going to kill Superman and destroy the Earth. Thux Snazzle punches Superman into the Earth. Superman falls to the ground unconscious.
We cut to Superman and Jon in a junkyard. Jon is upset over people spreading lies about them. Jon says that they have the power to just go over and shut their critics up. Superman calmly says that people can say whatever they want about whomever they want. (I would argue that all of Social Media feels different about that statement.)
Superman says that they were built to fight fires and catch bullets. The hard part is taking it on the chin from critics who do or should know better. That it can sometimes take the fun out of it. Jon says that it is still fun a lot of the time. Superman smiles and says a lot of fun almost all of the time.
Superman says that sometimes he wants to pop Batman’s head off of his body. Superman says that he likes Batman and that Batman is his brother. But, Batman often says and does things that I disagree with with every fiber of his being. That Batman drives him nuts and that he could stop Batman in a moment. But, that it would not solve the problem.
Superman says that he just waits five minutes before saying anything to Batman. And every time Batman turns around and does the greatest things Superman has ever seen anyone ever do. And he does it again the next day.
Jon replies that he understands his dad. That they need patience and a little trust in others. Superman says that the people Jon is frustrated with today may not be doing their best today. But, they might tomorrow. Jon just has to wait ofr it. Superman says that Jon has something greatest than strength. Jon has intellect. Understanding. And now he has perspective.
Superman says that Jon could go around smashing and squeezing things and crying and yelling. Or he could rise above it and try to make the world a better place. Where, one day, violence is never the answer. People will believe what they see. And all they will ever see from Superman is what Pa Kent taught him. Pa Kent said that the dirt is down there ofr a reason. Jon smiles and then asks, “So, you like Batman the way you like mom?” Superman replies “What?” (Huhbutwhat?! I did not see that one coming!)
We cut to the present with Superman making impact into the Earth. Grog Tuggle lands on top of him. Superman punches the alopecia ridden fish alien off of him. Superman contacts Martian Manhunter and asks him to reestablish the Justice League psychic link. Superman says that he needs to talk to Ray Palmer. (Hell yeah! Everyone loves it when the genuine real Atom is on the scene!)
Superman then starts brawling with Jax-Ur. With the Justice League psychic link back up the Atom contacts Superman. The Atom is at S.T.A.R. Labs and says that there was an accident here and the Earth got tossed into the Phantom Zone.
Superman and Jax-Ur keep fighting. Superman asks why Jax-Ur would team-up with Lozar Ungle. Superman says that Jax-Ur tried to save Krypton. That Mizzle Kitchensink claims that he destroyed Krypton. Superman says that Dingle Dork is now here to cleanse the universe of the few remaining Kryptonians.
Jax-Ur says that Superman is lying. Superman replies that he does not lie. The two Kryptonians stop fighting. Superman then flies off.
We cut to S.T.A.R. Labs and see that Barry has arrived on the scene. Ray says that he has a theoretical solution. Superman replies that he is going to lead Grinkle Hinkleberry out of Earth airspace. But, if Ray has a shot to pull of his plan before that happens for him to take it.
Suddenly, Horbat Zinkle catches up to Superman and punches him back to the Earth. The two start battling each other at a truck stop.
We cut back to S.T.A.R. Labs. Atom says that his plan is to have Flash take a shrinking device and race all around the Earth. Then shrink the Earth and then use the Phantom Zone projector to get it out of here and then reconstitute it on the other side. (That is some Silver Age wackiness. It makes zero sense, but I love it.)
We see Flash racing around the globe. Flash passes Wonder Woman and says “Oh, hey, Diana! Guys, I just saw Diana.” (Ah, there it is. Bendis’ knack ofr knowing nothing about a character’s personality and giving him that generic wacky Bendis speak instead. And the character and the reader are now dumber for it.)
Superman then flies around all the bad guys using his super speed to create a tornado that blows all the bad guys out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Superman then grabs an unconscious Bregard Cazzle and flies him out of Earth’s atmosphere.
We then see Barry dropping the shrinking device and falling to the ground. Superman yells for Atom to do it now. We then see Lungard Humperdink waking up. The Earth disappears from the Phantom Zone. Superman thinks that Ray did it. He got the Earth out. Superman thinks that Ray is so good. (Damn straight he is.)
Superman then punches Delish Gronk. Superman says that he does not mind being stuck in the Phantom Zone. That he has been stick in far worse placed. Obarth Guzzle says, “No, Krypton. You have not.” (Krypton? Wouldn’t Superman be a Kryptonian? Krypton is the planet. Kryptonian is a person from the planet Krypton.)
Superman thinks that all that matters is that the Earth is safe.
We cut back to Adam Strange hovering in space where the Earth is supposed to be located. We get the same panel with no dialogue or anything three times in a row. We then get a close up of Adam Strange still floating there with no dialogue or anything. We then get the same panel with Adam Strange calling someone and saying that this is Adam Strange. That he needs to report a missing planet. Adam Strange says, “The Earth. Terra. Earth. E-A-R…” (Ugh. What a terrible way to end an otherwise solid issue.) End of issue.
The Good: Superman #4 was a fun read. Bendis turns in a faced paced issue. There is plenty of energy flowing through this story. Bendis treats the reader to plenty of brawling. Action fans will be happy with the amount of fighting in this issue. I must admit that there is never a dull moment in Superman #4. Bendis delivers plenty of action that helps keep the issue lively.
It is great to see Bendis deliver an issue that moves with a energetic step, crackles with energy, is heavy on action, and slips a few surprises in on the reader. This is not what Bendis has been known for over his career. However, if this is what Bendis is going to deliver during his run on Superman then I will be more than happy.
Bendis also performs some solid plot progression in Superman #4. Bendis seeds the possible dissension between Jox-Ur and Rogol Zaar. Bendis examines Superman’s core ideals and his relationship with Batman and Lois. Then Bendis unveils the plan to save the Earth, has the Earth disappear from the Phantom Zone and then reveals that surprise twist that the Earth did not return to its normal spot in the universe. All in all, this is about the most compressed storytelling as you are going to ever get from Bendis.
Supeman #4 is one of those issues that puts a smile on your face. Part of that is the fun Silver Age vibe that Bendis is taking with this title. The idea of the entire Earth being transported into the Phantom Zone is great Silver Age wackiness.
Bendis doubles down on this approach with Ray Palmer’s plan to get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone. Ray decides that Flash can run around the Earth with a Sci Fi device that will allow Ray to shrink the Earth and then use the Phantom Zone Projector to get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone and reconstitute it on the other side. That is pure Silver Age zaniness.
And in keeping with the Silver Age approach, Bendis never offers up any real explanation to Ray’s plan. Bendis does not engage in any pseudo-science and go into detail on how this ridiculous plan is going to work. Who cares? It is all part of the cool Silver Age super heroic vibe of the story. Bendis is too busy just delivering over-the-top fantastical super hero moments and not dwelling on boring details that many readers will not care about.
OF course, there is more to Superman #4 than fun Silver Age concepts and great action scenes. Another strength of this issue is how Bendis writes Superman. I was definitely in the camp of people who dreaded the idea of Bendis writing Superman. The last thing I wanted to see was Superman turned into a hipster from Portland dishing out tons of Bendis speak. Well, I will openly admit that Bendis has amazed me with his handling of Superman’s character. It is fantastic.
Bendis is not just sticking with Superman’s core personality traits. Bendis is embracing them. Bendis is delivering my ideal version of Superman. This is not angry neck snapping Superman. This is not preachy disillusioned Jesus Superman. Bendis’ Superman is a classic version of the character that wholeheartedly celebrates Superman’s slightly naive, kind, loving, truthful, and inspirational character traits. I love that Bendis is not trying to make Superman “edgy” or “dark” or “trendy” or “modern.” Instead, Bendis is doing the exact opposite and embracing the classic elements of Superman’s character that make him stand out from most modern characters.
I also like how Bendis writes Ray Palmer’s character. I am a massive fan of Ray Palmer so seeing him in action as the Atom was a blast. Ray is a great character and Bendis does him justice in this issue. Bendis does not give Ray a ton of lines, but the ones that Ray gets are well done and consistent with Ray’s character. I also appreciated that Bendis went out of his way to use Superman to get Ray over with readers who may not know Ray’s character.
Specifically having Superman comment how Ray good Ray is once the Earth got transported from the Phantom Zone served two purposes. First, it continues the theme that Superman loves and appreciates his teammates. Second, it re-establishes how Ray is a big-time Justice Leaguer who is damn good at what he does. I also like that Bendis manages to do all of this with just one dialogue. That is incredibly effective and economical writing that helps to get Ray over with the reader as a big deal and also further character work on both Superman and Ray. It is small details like this that separate average writing from good writing.
Bendis also delivered some excellent character work and wonderful dialogue in the scene with Superman and Jon. This was easily the crown jewel of this issue. I love how Bendis writes both Superman and Jon. Both characters have excellently crafted external voices. Bendis also generates quality chemistry between this father and son duo.
Bendis also used this scene to effectively highlight Superman’s core beliefs. The use of Batman to demonstrate how people having different opinions does not mean they are wring was perfect. This was an effectively crafted learning moment for Jon. This scene felt so natural and real. I also love the touch of Jon zinging his father about how he likes Batman the same way as he likes Lois Lane. That was a great line that I just did not see coming.
It also felt like Bendis was delivering some meta-commentary about how people on Social Media often shout down those who have differing opinions and brand them with negative labels. I love when a writer is able to construct a scene that has a deeper meaning to it outside of the actual story going on in the panels.
Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Oclair Albert combine to deliver some stunning artwork. Superman #4 is a beautiful issue. Reis can deliver dynamic action scenes just as easily as he can dialogue heavy talking heads scenes. Reis gives the characters’ plenty of emotion and personality thanks to the excellent facial expressions that he gives the characters. The artwork is rich with detail and attention to care. I also love the Bronze Age feel to the artwork. That is absolutely a compliment. I cannot praise the art enough on this title.
The Bad: Superman #4 had a few warts. The biggest one is the main villain. Rogol Zaar is still a completely shit villain. It is a stupid name. A stupid character design. And a wretchedly uncreative and one-dimensional personality. Rogol Zaar comes across as a character that Bendis created in about 10 seconds with zero effort whatsoever. Rogol Zaar is hard to take seriously given his lame 1990’s style personality and design. Bendis totally mailed it in when creating this character.
Well crafted villains create massive heat with readers that get the readers engaged in the story. Those kind of villains are the kind that readers love to root against. Rogol Zaar is the kind of villain that generates go away heat from the reader. The reader just wants this kind of villain to go away and not appear in anymore issues.
I applaud Bendis for being able to keep his Bendis speak to a minimum. Unfortunately, Bendis is in love with his own voice and just cannot go an entire issue with zero Bendis speak at all. So, what we get in this issue is Bendis speak with the Flash. It comes across as out of character for Barry. It is as if Bendis’ sum total knowledge of Barry’s character is from watching Ezra Miller in the Justice League movie. The Bendis speak is so dumb sounding that it pulls the reader out of what was an engrossing story up to that point. Bendis speak in these kind of moments is like nails on a chalkboard.
Bendis then ends Superman #4 with more Bendis speak. This was so unfortunate. Because, Superman #4 was a fun and enjoyable read. But, Bendis ends the issue with the comic book equivalent of a fart in the elevator. Therefore, the fun issue ends with a thud and the readers walks away with a bad taste in the mouth from the dumb final page.
Repeating the identical panel over and over and over is such a tired Bendis approach. It only serves to slow down the story and pull the reader out of the moment. Then Adam Strange gets that “witty” Bendis speak complete with an ill-timed and inappropriate joke given the moment and context of the story at that point. Bendis falls victim to his weaknesses by forcing dumb “humor” Bendis speak on a character that does not match it and in a moment that is simply not appropriate for it.
This is so forced and ill-timed that it ruins the impact of the surprise twist of the Earth not reappearing back into our universe and the heavy gravity of the situation. This final page comes across as terribly tone deaf and ends the issue on a flat note. Also, the shocking surprise and the grave threat that the reader should be feeling is completely robbed by the ill-timed humor.
Bendis’ story overall for this story arc is thin. Everything is right on the surface. There is no real depth to the story. That is not much in the way of dense substance for the reader to chew on. The plot lines are basic and lack the complexity and detail of a truly creative story.
Lastly, while I love the Silver Age vibe of this issue I will acknowledge that it is not for every reader. I like the lack of pseudo-science overly explaining Ray’s plan to save the Earth. However, some readers may view that as lazy and flimsy writing by Bendis.
Overall: Superman #4 was a fun read. No, this is nothing all that unique or creative. But, it is a nice solid straight forward mainstream super hero action and adventure. There is certainly nothing wrong with that! I am encouraged by Bendis’ effort on this issue. If Bendis can clean up a few small details then Superman is going to turn out to be a really enjoyable mainstream super hero title. I am encouraged by the direction that this title is taking at this point.