Following the 1986 crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC rebooted their entire universe, including their most iconic superhero Superman; writer/artist John Byrne retold the origin story in the six-issue limited series The Man of Steel, making changes to the character which included him being the sole survivor of his home planet Krypton. This particular title is a clear influence in the direction that Brian Michael Bendis is going for in his DC debut.
This is strictly not a hard reboot as it doesn’t ignore everything in the Rebirth era, although Bendis has his own ideas when it comes to the domestic and cosmic sides of Superman’s world. When a remorseless killer called Rogor Zaal arrives on Earth, bringing wide-scale death and destruction, Kal-El and his cousin Kara discover this new threat’s determination to complete his mission of eradicating the Kryptionian race, which began with destroying Krypton.
Introduced in the Bendis/Jim Lee short from Action Comics #1000, which is republished here, the truth about Krypton’s destruction and the monstrous presence of Rogor Zaal feels like familiar territory for those who are well-versed in Superman’s comics history. It also doesn’t help that the villain’s motives remain unclear and like with other one-dimensional monsters like Doomsday, Rogor Zaal serves more as a physical threat for Superman to fight, which allows the numerous artists involved to craft some visually impressive action sequences.
On the domestic side, things fare a bit better in terms of how Clark Kent tries to go on with his life following the disappearance of his wife and son, which is getting the most gossip around the offices of the Daily Planet, much to the chagrin of editor-in-chief Perry White. In terms of conflict within the streets of Metropolis, there is a series of random fires that Supes and deputy fire chief Melody Moore are investigating. Although there is the potential of showcasing Superman’s investigative skills, there’s not much emphasis on this mystery as everything else, and these six issues are not enough to sustain the amount of story that Bendis establishes — while at the same time feeling like set-up for what is to come in Bendis’ subsequent titles.
As heavy as Bendis likes to be with his dialogue, he knows how to write Superman; he doesn’t present the character as a godlike figure and gives him a social presence towards any innocent bystander. His brief interactions with some of his fellow Justice Leaguers are witty and shall we say, super friendly. However, it does seem like Bendis has taken a step backwards with the character, especially after Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Superman run (although far from perfect) presented the Man of Steel as a family man — which was a bright new direction. It is revealed what actually happened concerning the disappearance of Lois and Jon Kent and it seems wrong to sideline these two important figures that brighten Superman’s life.
There is a common problem with Bendis, which is his desire to collaborate with every artist who has ever lived, and this collected edition features the work of thirteen artists. Some artists are better than others, from greats such as Ivan Reis and Jason Fabok, to mediocre illustrators like Kevin Maguire and Adam Hughes.
Considering the excitement over Brian Michael Bendis writing DC’s most iconic superhero, this superfluous weekly series doesn’t do much justice for the Man of Steel.