Superman #5 // Review
Superman gets an unexpected ally in Superman #5, by writer Brian Michael Bendis, artist Ivan Reis, inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado, colorist Alex Sinclair, and letterer Josh Reed. This issue takes a break from the action of the last one, setting things up for a titanic tussle between Superman, Rogol Zaar, and someone who will be very interesting in meeting the destroyer of Krypton.
After having a vision of hope, General Zod, Kryptonian supremacist and Superman’s nemesis, wakes up to hear the news that Earth has disappeared. In the Phantom Zone, Superman makes a strategic withdrawal from Zaar and his forces. In what would be Earth orbit, Zod meets up with Adam Strange, just as the Atom and Flash’s plan brings the Earth out of the Phantom Zone, and demands the Phantom Zone projector be used on him so he can retrieve Superman. Superman confronts Rogol Zaar, but before Zaar and his army can attack, Zod shows up.
Bendis isn’t known for epic storytelling. He’s certainly tried over the years, writing multiple event comics over at Marvel, but his style doesn’t lend very well to big, showy conflicts like writers such as Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison. Bendis has always worked best in smaller, more character driven situations. However, in Superman, he’s found a nice middle ground. This issue is mostly just set-up, but it feels big. There’s no action, but it ramps things up and sets up a battle between Krypton’s destroyer and the man whose life has been devoted to protecting Krypton at all costs. It even gives a good reason for Zod to care about helping Superman beyond all of that. The vision he receives in the beginning of the book explains why a man who has always been Superman’s nemesis would care about recovering him from the Phantom Zone and helping him. Bendis is planting seeds for the future, while also getting the tone right in the present.
One of the biggest complaints about Action Comics right now is that nothing is really happening and, when something does happen, it’s not very interesting. It’s the Metropolis book, the character book, and it should be the place where Bendis shines. However, he’s yet to find a story there that can hold interest. The fact that he’s knocking it out of the park on Superman, investing things with an epic feel that has always been tough for him, is the biggest surprise of his DC career so far. This story isn’t perfect; jumping right back to Rogol Zaar so soon after The Man Of Steel defangs the ending of that book, and there’s still a lot about Zaar readers don’t know. He’s not a compelling villain, but he works in this particular story because it’s a simple story. He doesn’t need to be a Lex Luthor-level villain, full of pathos and evil. He just needs to be a monster that can take the fight to Superman. There are a few places where Bendis throws in his penchant for lame jokes with Adam Strange’s dialogue, but it doesn’t adversely affect the tone of the comic. He has a profound grasp on Superman as a character, using an inner monologue to show him struggling with his rage against the man who destroyed his planet, and making the most Superman decision he can. It’s a nice touch.
Ivan Reis’ art is a big part why the book feels so epic. There are multiple double page spreads throughout the book, and any other artist might not be able to sell the scope of what’s going on as well. His Rogol Zaar is probably the best interpretation of the character, a hulking, ugly monster who looks like he can eat a star. Reis, Prado, Albert, and Sinclair work together perfectly to invest the art with the kind of powerful imagery it needs to wow readers and give the story the “event book” feel it needs to succeed.
Superman #5 does a lot of heavy lifting, continuing an already entertaining story and setting things up for the ending and beyond. A lot of the time in his career, these “setup” issues have been the most boring parts of the story, but Bendis and the art team work together to give this story the feel it needs to keep readers invested. A lot of readers aren’t completely on board with his Superman run yet, but showing them this book would go a long way to getting them into it.