Written by: Brian Michael-Bendis
Art by: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jay Fabok, Alex Sinclair
Published by: DC Comics
When I reached the last page of Man of Steel #1, my first though was: “That’s it? Really?”
To be perfectly honest, I’ve mostly been indifferent to Bendis taking over virtually the entire Superman line, starting with this mini-series and transitioning to Action Comics and Superman in July. Bendis is a name I’ve been told I should care about since I started reading comics, yet it’s one I have never really been impressed by. So the all-caps, bolded “Bendis is coming” announcement from DC really didn’t resonate with me in the way I imagine it did for some.
For that audience, Man of Steel #1 is probably going to work at least decently well. It’s basically more of the same kind of writing from Bendis, which means it reads a lot like almost every other superhero book on the shelves. There’s too much internal monologue, a few “witty” quips, poorly written female characters, etc, etc.
Even on a structural level, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. The introduction sets up a new big bad that will “alter the way we see Superman forever!” (it won’t). Then there’s the transition to villains being villains, a cold open of sorts (which sucks). Next, Superman shows up, defeats them easily, and diverts his attention to a more pressing concern (with zero tension). Of course, after that’s been dealt with (a fire in this case), our hero can’t help but think something deeper is going on (spoilers: there is).
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, I guess.
In all fairness, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula. I didn’t even expect more from Bendis–after all, I’ve found him a boring, by-the-numbers writer for years. But why does this, of all the books coming out of DC right now, deserve the huge marketing push its getting? Man of Steel #1 isn’t special. Rather, Bendis’ debut is formulaic and ultimately more of the same from a writer who hasn’t had a new idea… ever?
The generic nature of the book even extends into the art. Much like Bendis, Ivan Reis’ pencils are competent but unexciting, the ultimate in Jim Lee-inspired DC house style. The layouts, pencils, and colors all technically get the job done, even with a shift in artist (to Jay Fabok) at the end of the issue. The problem is just how passionless it all feels, devoid of a human touch.
Look, obviously a lot of time and effort went into making this possible, from all members of the creative team. But if all it resulted was… another superhero comic, what was the point? Why does the issue feel like it’s actively avoiding taking risks and experimenting? Are the creatives just not capable of it? I would buy that narrative, but I would just as quickly believe there was a strict “no risks allowed” editorial policy.
Ultimately, I don’t think Man of Steel #1 is so horrifically awful so as not to be fit for human consumption. What it is is formulaic and boring, devoid of any meaningful stakes, and pretty low on the list of good ways to spend $3.99.
In other words, a DC comic. Take that as you will.