Superman #2, by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Alex Sinclair, and Josh Reed, features Superman and his friends trying to keep the world from falling apart after discovering Earth has been banished to the Phantom Zone. What other horrible threats await them? Bendis and company gave readers a solid first issue, and this one keeps up that momentum.
A flashback shows a Tamaranean army being attacked by a Thanagarian army, but the Thanagarian army is being led by Rogol Zaar. In the present day, Superman and the Justice League are hard at work, trying to keep the stress the Phantom Zone is putting the Earth under from costing too many lives. Rogol Zaar comes across a familiar Kryptonian and destroys him, then sees Earth. Instead of impulsively attacking, he goes off to find an army. Back on Earth, Superman and the Flash try to figure out how all of this happened, but the shift to the Phantom Zone is affecting the way Flash is behaving, and he mysteriously collapses, just as Batman uses the League’s telepathic link to alert them that something is wrong with him, too. A beleaguered Superman realizes he might not be able to get everyone out of this one alive.
One of the best parts about this issue is the multiple single and double page splash pages throughout. Reis, Prado, Albert, and Sinclair create some beautiful images, whether it be of Tamaranean and Thanagarian armies clashing, Superman averting a disaster-per-panel, a reveal of a baddie most readers probably never thought they’d ever see in comics, and so much more. The art team is working together perfectly to give this issue that epic story feel. That said, it also helps that the panel composition is on point, and the art team work wonders with it. A lot of pages begin with an establishing wide shot, then fit in action and dialogue into inset panels. Even though those panels are smaller, the detail rarely takes a hit. Bendis has said in interviews that he’s writing for the art team of his Superman books, and here it shows. This issue is a fantastic example of a writer understanding his art team and giving them the tools to wow readers.
This issue is light on plot, and that works to its advantage, mostly. At this point, giving the reader too many clues to what is happening would spoil the story. It works so well, because it’s just showing readers what’s happening to the world after the shift to the Phantom Zone. It’s rather clever that Bendis has the different laws of reality begin to affect the planet adversely, and starts to tease that being here isn’t too good for the inhabitants of the planet either. It helps to establish more than one threat; it’s not just that the Phantom Zone is filled with dangerous beings from throughout Kryptonian history, but that the fundamental nature of the Zone is slowly taking its toll on the world. It adds an extra dimension to the whole thing. On top of that, Superman has to deal with knowing that, as the world deteriorates, he’s deteriorating as well. Without the yellow sun radiation, he’s losing his powers, so he has to figure out a way to solve this problem before it goes too far.
The flashback at the beginning of the issue is strange to say the least. It’s there to tie in later with Rogol Zaar’s desire to get an army before he attacks Earth, showing readers that he’s lead one before, but beginning the issue this way feels weird and disjointed. It’s kind of unnecessary to establish in this way, and might have worked better if it went into more detail, showing him actually leading an army, instead of just a few pages of two armies clashing and him at the head. It feels a little too much like trying to hold the reader’s hand, establishing something that really isn’t very important to the overall narrative. Besides, reintroducing Zaar already feels a little rushed, and he takes up page real estate that could be better used. It’s here where the paucity of plot in this issue shows its ugly head.
See, there’s a lot of good, smart things happening in this issue, but it all feels strangely presented. So much of it makes sense and works toward furthering and the establishing the threat, but the way it’s a little too freeform, a little too loose and incidental. The connective tissue is there, but this issue feels more like a lot of vignettes than a chapter in a single story. It doesn’t take away too much overall, but it all feels rather strange, almost aimless in a weird way. Events are thrown at the reader, but they aren’t all progressing in a logical fashion. If Bendis would have waited to put in the Rogol Zaar stuff, he could have focused more on the threat to Earth on its own instead of touching on it while also having Zaar find Earth and make plans for attacking it. It leads to some cool scenes and some wonderful art, but it’s a bit discombobulating on a story level.
Superman #2 works regardless of its strange structure and a big part of that is the amazing art. Reis, Prado, Albert, and Sinclair put on an artistic tour de force, throwing powerful, detailed images at readers that keep them turning the pages. Even though Bendis makes some strange decisions, it’s still an entertaining issue that sets up multiple threats for Superman to deal with. Everything about this book screams epic, and the art brings the whole thing to the next level. It allows the book to transcend the disjointing story choices and makes this a worthy follow up to the first issue. It fails in small ways, but succeeds in huge one.