DC ROUND-UP: The Bendis SUPERMAN Run Progress Report
DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as
Young Animal, Wildstorm, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: We look at Superman #4 and the overall state of the Superman titles. Also, Hawkman #5 is another solid issue for a surprisingly-accessible series.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Ivan Reis
Inkers: Joe Prado & Oclair Albert
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Josh Reed
It’s been six months since Brian Michael Bendis got the keys to Superman at the end of Action Comics #1000. Since then, Bendis has taken on two Superman monthly titles while presumably deputizing Marc Andreyko and Kevin Maguire to extend his overarching plot in Supergirl. Add a six-part Man of Steel weekly series, and the SuperBendis era has now spanned roughly 16 issues. As such, it’s time for a progress report.
With this week’s Superman #4, it’s increasingly clear we’re getting a best case scenario from this run. Bendis jumped to DC after nearly two decades as a defining voice at Marvel, with multiple all-time great stories to his name. His last major event, however, was 2016’s Civil War II, which mostly tanked. Bendis’ potential to succeed on a high-profile Superman run was a source of much speculation before it began. Anyway, progress report: I think it’s fair to say he’s so far exceeded expectations, even reaching outstanding at times while rarely tipping into needs improvement.
This week’s Superman #4 explores a major strength of this entire run: its ambition. Bendis is steadily recasting Krypton’s destruction as genocide, which has the potential to drastically heighten the significance of Superman being a refugee. It’s a timely notion too, given one lesson humanity has repeatedly learned in the eight decades since Superman’s creation is that massive tragedy is rarely accidental, often spurred instead by base fears, vast misunderstandings, flawed convictions, lazy beliefs, profiteering, or some combination thereof. In Superman #4, Bendis continues to develop this through his antagonist, Rogol Zaar.
Zaar is an embodiment of bigoted hate. Shrewd and capable, he’s a genocidal maniac who believes destroying the Kryptonian people is noble. Zaar’s very existence has caught Superman by surprise, and normal tactics for vanquishing him are ineffective (sound familiar?). It’s powerful stuff for our times. There’s even a panel in Superman #4 wherein Zaar tells Superman he’s fooling Earth into thinking he’s a good guy, all but calling him fake news. Coupled with Supergirl investigating a cosmic cover up by a powerful governing council over in her own book (Supergirl #23 was excellent this week too, btw), and—well—you can see where this is headed.
While I remain ambivalent about Zaar’s design, the art in Superman #4 was strong, as the art has consistently been throughout Bendis’ run. On this title, Bendis collaborates with Ivan Reis (inked by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert). There are four massive two-page spreads in Superman #4 wherein Reis’ clear linework and imaginative designs create memorable cosmic visuals. I’d have to count, but I feel like that number is par for this run. Reis, for his part, has long been a dependable purveyor of DC house style, if not the flashiest artist, but there are hints here of an ascension to the top tier of Superman pencilers, even if he’s not there just yet.
That’s not to say this issue (or run) is perfect. Bendis is packing tons of ideas, yet also using an increasingly evident trick to do it, specifically thinking here of Kent family flashbacks, another of which appears in Superman #4. Bendis has sent Jon and Lois away, limiting their appearances to Clark’s recollections. This has done decent work to make Clark relatable, but the longer it persists, the more it feels like a trick to bench the family that was here when Bendis arrived. It’s his prerogative as a storyteller, of course, and makes sense given the scope of his ambitions, so I’m amenable to taking this all back once the family end-game is clear (and, to be fair, previews for Action Comics #1004 foreshadow more Lois). Still, I think the clock is ticking loudly on these flashbacks and how meaningful they can feel.
For the most part, though, this Superman run sees a self-aware Bendis playing to his strengths, expertly using his keen ear for dialogue without being self indulgent. Bendis’ Superman sounds like a patient and comforting dad who cares and tries his hardest, always. Bendis is a master of machine gun conversations and one-liners (for which mileage varies depending on sense of humor), but he’s writing Clark with restraint, finding subtle jokes in the world around him. It works.
Overall, Superman #4 is another step forward for an entertaining run with vast potential. I’m hesitant to come off too bullish, though, because tweaking an 80-year-old world-famous character’s core in a lasting and poignant way is a high wire act from start to finish. While it’s one thing to praise ambition, Bendis’ story should be thoroughly scrutinized throughout. For now, though, I thoroughly recommend it.
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie
Colorist: Jeremiah Skipper
Letterer: Starkings & Comicraft
I continue to find this current Hawkman run baffling. Like, really truly baffling, and not in the same way most Hawkman runs confuse. See, in the space of its first five issues, Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch have taken a character who has long been among the most convoluted in all of superhero comics, and they’ve created a story that’s so accessible, I could almost give it to newbie readers or non-comics familiar friends. Yes, Hawkman is currently DC’s most streamlined book, which is a thing I never thought I’d say.
So, I’m going to start this review by trying to figure out how they’ve done this. I think it’s that this Hawkman is the first comic about this character to be built on an admission that his history is totally confusing. At this series’ start, the creators subtly acknowledged to the audience, Look, we get it. This backstory is difficult, and then rushed headlong past that by having their hero investigate himself, looking specifically at his own reincarnations throughout not only time but also space. It’s a small tweak, and it helps explain how Hawkman is connected to both Thanagar and ancient Egypt, simultaneously enabling a connection to a host of new planets, including Krypton. It’s Indiana Jones by way of DC cosmic, and so far I’ve enjoyed it all quite a bit.
Hawkman #5 largely keeps the accessible momentum going, employing another relatively straightforward concept within a simple structure. The first page grounds (heh) our hero within the microverse where he has encountered his good friend Ray Palmer, The Atom. We get a splash of the two heroes hugging (all smiles) beneath narration reminding us what’s going on (There’s nothing better than running into an old friend). The second page brings a quick but efficient run down of what the microverse is, followed by a mission statement for what our heroes will be trying to do in the coming pages, and we’re off.
Hawkman #5, like the rest of this run, succeeds on the wings (heh heh) of not overthinking its ambitions. It stumbles with pacing more than past issues, bogging down in its first half with a barrage of science talk as Palmer literally uses a chalkboard to Atom-splain what’s happening. The pacing quickly recovers, though, and soon it’s back to the giant monsters, swinging magical maces, and sweeping two-page spreads that have dotted this run like a trail of candy leading us down a path of the book’s central mysteries.
Obviously, it’s unclear how long Hawkman will last (in almost eight decades of life, the Hawkman character has never headlined a book that #50). There is a best case scenario (that again!) though, wherein Venditti and Hitch are building a foundation for a story that will continue taking readers to forgotten and under-explored corners of the DCU for a long while to come, spanning lengthy stretches of both time and space. That’s the picture I have in my head as I give this week’s issue a hearty recommendation.
- Wildstorm: Michael Cray #12 is a satisfying maxi-series finale. This book basically took Cray from his brief appearance in The Wild Storm, to the status quo he lands on here: blending with a powerful new other, an alien or demon or demonic alien (I wasn’t clear on which). In the process, we got entertaining stories about our hero disposing of evil alternate Justice Leaguers, save for Supes and Bats. The ending was smart and I liked this comic, but the real appeal here was the journey.
- Having The Witching Hour crossover in Wonder Woman is a nice chaser for Steve Orlando’s brief-but-superb run on the book. Wonder Woman #56 gives context as to what’s happening and why, as James Tynion’s decision to throw Diana at the darker corners of DC mysticism continues to be a fascinating study in contrast.
- Titans #27 sees the team mourning the loss of Nightwing as leader (headwound, amnesia, etc.), providing a look at dynamics plus a quick soul check. I liked it. This book has worked well since No Justice with its smaller cast, and it also helps that there’s a goal—managing emergent meta events—to guide direction. The Rebirth run sometimes felt like a bunch of legacy characters milling around conspicuously ignoring where they fit into continuity. Titans is simpler now, with less baggage, and it’s looking better for it.
- In Suicide Squad #47, Captain Boomerang is an Australian James Bond…who gets missions briefings from a hologram projected by a beer can. Funny stuff.
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