WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jason Fabok, and Alex Sinclair, on sale now.
With the much anticipated release of Brian Michael Bendis’ first full issue as a writer for DC Comics seeing the light of day this week, Man of Steel #1 has become nothing short of a landmark moment in the comic industry. For the last few decades, Bendis has been redefining Marvel Comics’ universe, where he and a who’s who of A-list artists co-created incredible new characters who have become runaway hits with fans and critics. But no matter how far-flung the tales Bendis wove with this pantheon of beloved heroes and villains became, he always kept to the storytelling principles that make him a writer new readers and old gravitate toward.
Before Marvel, Bendis was telling his own stories in creator-owned properties that lived in the genres of hardboiled crime fiction and noir. Books like A. K. A. Goldfish, Fire, Jinx and Torso were stories told with stark black and white art and swirling whirlwinds of dialogue bubbles that would give writers like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin a run for their money in the motor-mouth department.
These stories were often straightforward in their delivery, but deeply complex in themes and plotlines. They featured flawed heroes and morally ambiguous villains, massive betrayals, bait & switches and subplots that go ignored so long they’d be forgotten until bubbling to the surface to cause irrevocable damage when the characters least expect it.
Bendis carried over many of these aspects from his crime and noir books to Marvel, essentially shaking up the entire publishing line by killing big characters (and keeping them dead for quite some time), spearheading huge event books, and collapsing multiple universes and timelines on each other. His choices were big, and bold — and not always loved by the entire comic book community (discourse is never a bad thing, mind you). But no matter what, he always maintained his voice and affinity for character and dialogue-driven narratives. Now, despite being just one issue in, it seems clear that Bendis is bringing those hallmarks to Superman.
When it was first announced that Bendis was making the move to DC, fans were champing at the bit to find out what book(s) he was going to write. Many of us crossed our fingers for him getting his mitts on a Batman title. After all, his run on Daredevil for Marvel is one of the best crime-noir comic books ever published that featured a superhero, so the Dark Knight seemed like a character fit to be worked over by Bendis. However, much to many fans’ surprise, his first outing as writer for DC was tackling Big Blue with a five issue limited series, Man of Steel.
Needless to say, Bendis knows his way around superheroes. He understands their mythology and iconography and is willing to change their status quo at the drop of a hat if the story dictates. But whereas many superheroes he has written have been grounded or have some serious chinks in their armor, Superman is a character who is often seen as infallible. He’s a beacon of hope, and has been so for nearly a century.
That’s what makes the first issue of Man of Steel so interesting. The issue opens with a couple of minor, insect-themed members of Batman’s rogues gallery, (Firefly and Killer Moth) in a discussion/confrontation effectively treating Metropolis’ protector like a boogie man. In standard comic book fashion, Superman appears out of nowhere, effectively qualifying as these two baddies’ worst fear. Criminals arguing over the validity of their own effectiveness is something that has been in many early Bendis work, and it plays wonderfully here.
The crime-noir motifs don’t stop there, of course. We are introduced to a beautiful woman who clearly has a crush on ol’ Kal-El. (Of course, who wouldn’t? The guy is almost perfect!) While Melody Moore’s role in the bigger picture has yet to be explored, her inclusion (and alliterative name) are obviously very deliberate. And while she not become a homewrecker for the Clark/Lane household, she might be more connected to the string of arsons in Metropolis than we, or Superman, may realize.
This certainly harkens back to the B-plot of Bendis stories becoming a huge part of the overall narrative. Perhaps the huge world-ending villain Rogol Zaar that seems to be the big bad of this series isn’t the true bane of The Man of Steel’s existence after all. It would certainly be true Bendis’ fashion for this to be the case.