Superman #4 // Review
Rogol Zaar, Jax-Ur, and their Phantom Zone army invade Earth in Superman #4 by writer Brian Michael Bendis, artist Ivan Reis, inkers Joe Prado and Oclair Albert, colorist Alex Williams, and letterer Josh Reed. Superman barely stopped Rogol Zaar before, so how will he stack up against Zaar and an army of the Phantom Zone’s worst? In a nice change of pace for a writer not known for his action writing, Bendis delivers an action-packed, well-paced issue.
Zaar and Jax-Ur attack Earth, and Superman is the first to respond. He buys time for what’s left of the Justice League to come up with a plan to get the Earth out of the Phantom Zone. The plan gets implemented, but a major wrinkle puts Superman’s life in danger.
As usual with this book, the art is fantastic and goes a long way in helping Bendis’ rather action-packed script. Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, and Alex Williams deliver some truly jaw-dropping pages. The panels are detailed, the action is fluid and clear, and the designs of the Phantom Zone army are cool and imaginative. The art changes a bit once Oclair Albert takes over inks from Joe Prado, with the lines getting a little thinner, but it works, as most of the action takes place on Earth from this point on and Prado’s heavier line work isn’t needed for definition as much. Regardless of what’s been happening storywise in the book thus far, the art team continually impresses.
As intimated in the introductory paragraph, Bendis isn’t a writer who is known for laying out great action scenes for the art teams he works with. In fact, it’s historically been the opposite. He’s worked with some of the best action pencillers in the business, and yet a lot of the time, his action scenes seem static and badly laid out. That’s not the case in this issue. Maybe it’s because he’s letting the art team do a lot of the heavy lifting with the action sequences, maybe it’s because he’s grown as a writer of action, but, either way, this issue delivers on the action. The pacing of the action works as Superman gets more and more overwhelmed by the forces arrayed against him. Every time he breaks loose and does some damage, more enemies stream in. It’s exciting and works perfectly.
There’s a flashback sequence between Superman and Jon where they talk about what it means to be a hero sometimes, and, at first, it seems out of place and what it’s trying to say doesn’t seem to fit. However, as the issue progresses, it makes perfect sense and fits with what’s happening. It’s a nice little touch because it reminds readers--and Superman--that Superman doesn’t always have to use his fists to solve his problems. The Atom’s solution to getting Earth out of the Phantom Zone is probably one of the most Silver Age DC moments in a while, and it’s a very nice touch. It’s weird to see a comic written by Brian Michael Bendis contain something like this; he’s not really the kind of writer who readers would expect to come up with this sort of idea. He’s always wrote in a Marvel style “punch stuff til it solves the problem” way or, in his case especially, “talk about the fight after it happened and then talk some more,” so this is a nice, fitting departure for him.
All in all, Superman #4 feels like the first comic where Bendis has really understood what it takes to write a Superman comic. Before, he’s consistently been able to capture Superman’s voice, but he was still writing him as a more simplistic, “punch stuff til it falls” type of character. Here, he fully embraces who Superman is in a way he hasn’t before, as Superman fights and thinks his way through the situation. It’s telling that Superman is able to guess how the Atom is going to solve the current problem while also figuring out a way to use his enemies against each other. This feels like a step forward in the way Bendis writes the character in particular and DC books in general. On top of all that, the art is gorgeous and makes the script pop. There have been a lot of readers unhappy with how Bendis is writing the Superman books, but this comic is one that they can be shown to prove that Bendis can write a great issue of Superman.