13th Nov2018

‘The Man of Steel’ Graphic Novel Review (DC Comics)

by Phil Wheat

Written by Brian Michael Bendis | Art by Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ryan Sook, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, Jason Fabok | Published by DC Comics

man-steel-cover

A remorseless killer called Rogoal Zaar has arrived on Earth, bringing wide-scale death and destruction in his wake. Only Superman and his cousin, Supergirl, stand between Zaar and the completion of his mission – the complete annihilation of the Kryptonian race. But even as Kal-El and Kara struggle to contain this new existential threat, the Man of Tomorror faces a completely different challenge in his adopted home city of Metropolis, where Clark Kent still lives and works – but without his wife and son.

Collecting the first 6 issues of the comics, and DC Nation #0, The Man of Steel will go down in US comics history as the first DC Comics title from writer Brian Michael Bendis, who made the move from a long-standing exclusive contract with Marvel to an exclusive contract with DC – seemingly tasked with revitalising Superman and Action Comics in much the same way he did with pretty much the entire Marvel Universe.

That revitalisation of Marvel, in particular with New Avengers, is actually what got me back into comics as a whole. Taking apart the Marvel universe with House of M and Avengers Disassembled, Bendis rebuilt Marvel’s avenging heroes as more of a street-smart team rather than the “clean-cut” heroes they had been: bringing Spider-Man, Wolverine, Clint Barton (as Ronin/Hawkeye) and Doctor Strange into the fold alomng with Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage. This combination of heroes made for a more interesting, sometimes chaotic, book. And a book that, honestly, was probably the blueprint or what the Marvel Cinematic Universe became… After all Bendis was the man behind the original Civil War story, the idea of a Superhero Registration Act, the Avengers splintering into two teams (with one in “hiding” at Doctor Strange NY home); Bendis also was the architect behind the Ultimate Comics line – including Ultimate Spider-Man (the blueprint for the Spider-Man movies) and introducing the world to a black Nick Fury, drawn to look like Samuel L. Jackson – and we all know how that panned out!

All of these stories have shaped the Marvel movies as we know them; and Bendis’ contribution to Marvel as fans, both hardcore and mainstream, know it cannont be understated. Which means his jump to DC was both shocking and exciting. For me the move was an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, I really LOVED Bendis’ work on New Avengers, but on the other… it’s Superman. A bland, uninteresting hero who had lost me as a reader in the post-Death of Superman era. So I like Bendis trhe writer but dislike the subject matter he was tackling – however his Marvel work overcame the same issues I had with other clean-cut heroes. So it could also work for DC’s biggest superhero. Right?

Turns out that IS right!

The first collection of The Man of Steel is filled with everything I loved about Bendis’ previous work: intrigue, action, happiness, sadness, and  – given this is a Superman book – plenty of heart. It also expands on what I knew about the end of Krypton (a story that has, in all honesty, been told a myriad of times) and ties it into a much bigger story – one that looks, within these pages, to involve the wider DC universe. It’s the intrigue that has me most interested in this book however – Bendis uses the same “crime-fiction” style of storytelling, as he did in his other comic work, to weave a tale that has as many questions as it does answers. I’m totally hooked on where this book is going and, given this is a Superman book, there is no higher praise I can give it. I really WANT to see where this goes, I really WANT to know what impact this tale will have on Superman, Supergirl and the rest of the DC heroes that Kal-El comes into contact with.

And that’s another solid aspect to this book. Bendis is not afraid to use Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League in this story – they’re not necessary to the story yet their inclusion makes this feel much more tied to the DC universe. It’s very much the same kind of world-building Bendis did at Marvel – characters pop in and out of books, being utilised where they need to be, bringing heroes together in the way they SHOULD be. After all Superman is a part of the Justice League so why wouldn’t they appear in times of need? It makes sense, yet its also something I always felt DC struggled with.

By the time the final page of The Man of Steel rolled around I was more, MUCH more, than eager to read on – not only did I want to find out more about the Clark Kent/Lois Lane/Jor-El story but that cliffhanger is the kind of hook that will reel me in each and every time… Superman as a possible villain or being framed? Count me in!

The Man of Steel is out now from DC Comics. You can order a copy right now at Amazon.

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