The Unity Saga has been an interesting journey thus far. Promised to be the epic tale that finally brings about the creation of the United Planets from Legion of Super-Heroes in present day, it’s an ambitious epic. Spanning the cruel depths of the Phantom Zone to the ancient cosmic wars between Tamaran and Thanagar, it’s an all encompassing galactic saga built around the cosmic wars and struggles in DC lore. And more than that, it’s about one key recurring figure amongst all the violence across the ages: Rogol Zaar.
Zaar claims to have destroyed Krypton and was the key weapon and operative of The Circle, a sort of cosmic Illuminati made up of Sardath of Rann, The Hawk Emperor of Thanagar, Myand’r of Tamaran, Appa Ali Apsa of the Guardians of the Universe and Lord Gandelo, a new creation and a galactic overseer. The group has operated for ages in great secrecy, whilst making incredibly important decisions as to the very fate of the universe. It’s all incredibly unsettling to learn about and throughout the run, that’s what the creative team has made the story about. How do you deal with and reconcile such horrifying truths? Reis, Bendis, Sinclair and Reed have been really exploring, through Superman, how we, as a people, can truly look at the horrific violence and conflicts of the past and present and try to reconcile them in order to build bridges and find some measure of peace and unity. That’s the struggle at the heart of everything and thus the war wages against this one man, this Rogul Zaar, who connects so much of this ugly and violent history across the universe. The living document and representation of all that needs to be addressed before there may be any hope for a unity.
This issue really picks up from the previous one, with Zod’s arrival. Majority of the issue revolves around the action, firmly rooted in Clark’s inner monologues as instantaneous battles occur on the page. Ivan Reis really gets to let loose, as we’re treated to seven continuous and glorious double-page spreads depicting the lightning fast action. The spreads take up 14 pages of the 22 page book, but it’s absolutely worth it as Reis renders some of the most powerful and visually striking Superman imagery of recent times. It’s almost evocative of some of Walt Simonson’s Thor work and it’s a blast to witness. Sinclair’s colors light up the world and give it a real atmosphere that clicks just right, bringing the intense action to life. His work also keeps and enhances Reis’ great sense of movement, really helping sell the action beats.
But it’s not just great artwork that makes the issue. Josh Reed’s lettering thoughtfully and meticulously works with the artwork, maneuvering just right to bring attention to the right parts and to not take away from what matters. Where others might opt for boxed captions, Reed chooses simple text, often over blank white spaces, placed in the corners of the page, to convey the story. This is action happening at speeds we cannot perceive, the captions are Superman’s thoughts during this incredibly quick battle. So rather than box these up and trap the thoughts, letting them out freely on the page as the events occur around them, with the thoughts at times almost reacting to the image, Reed allows us to experience what Superman himself is experiencing. This is what it’s like to be in this moment, as thoughts flow freely with blurring events happening one after the other. It’s a great and inspired decision and it works perfectly, especially once we move out from that moment and return to Earth, where the captions are once again placed in a firm blue box.
Bendis has consistently had a great voice for Clark throughout his tenure, balancing the larger than life icon and unique alien point of view with the approachable and more down to earth aspects of the character. It is perhaps the closest to Mark Waid’s take on the character and there’s a lot of careful thought put into the struggles of Superman and his roots are never forgotten. It comes through incredibly well here in the opening sequence, where Clark discusses the common belief regarding him having to ‘slow down’ to be with Lois and how rather than being difficult as most tend to assume, it’s incredibly easy. He notes that it’s much harder to live in the speed, at that pace, which is isolating and it makes for a difficult existence. Bendis has a masterful grasp on the character and does a fantastic job, writing an icon who truly understands what being one entails and does his absolute best to live up to that. Here’s a man who lives up to his legendary myth.
This issue is no different, as it showcases a Clark Kent who’s truly wrestling with this incredibly difficult position he’s in. Here he’s been told this man, this monstrous zealot, essentially committed genocide against his entire race and he’s even borne witness to his massacre of the last remaining refugees. Here’s a criminal who’s behind cosmic holocaust and then he’s met with the arrival of an extremist in the form of Zod. Zod shares his fury and pain, perhaps bearing far more than Clark himself, and if let loose completely, he would commit murder. What does Superman, the greatest man in the universe do at this juncture? Allow murder and tarnish his entire life’s work or stop Zod and let the monster persist? There is an answer here and it’s a difficult one, one that requires rationality from those beyond him. Unity. As one expects of the hero, Superman does his best to take this high road. Intervening between Zod and Zaar initially to slow things down, he makes his position known and then despite being beaten for it, he rises and strikes Zaar, yelling ‘For Kandor!’, letting out publicly for the very first time the words that echo in his heart. The words he’s saved only for those closest to him, he now roars them out-loud. Establishing his position in this struggle, whilst stategizing and thinking through all the possibilities and motivations of those involved, Superman makes the best judgments he can in the moment. That’s the other thing worth noting about this Superman, he’s incredibly thoughtful and intelligent, no dull brute or some generic caped crime-fighter.
The battle is then suddenly interrupted, with the crew of S.T.A.R. Labs finding a way to summon Superman back to Earth from the Phantom Zone. Even as Superman desperately wishes to return to fight for the legacy of Krypton, he has responsibilities on Earth he needs to address first. Adam Strange reminds him of this fact, telling him it has been a long day. Superman is then called off to save lives and ultimately, Superman puts saving the innocent above all things. But still, even as he does his job, the thoughts of Zaar, Zod and all the questions nag at him as he contemplates in his desperate need for answers. He thinks of his father and how Jor-El ultimately must have the answers to the questions he’s been asking and he thinks of his son, which leads us to the big stinger at the end with the return of Jon Kent. He’s relatively older now, in his teens, dressed in a more armored outfit.
Two other things also worth discussing are Zaar and Adam Strange. The former, after Clark’s departure, manages to best Zod and continues to beat him mercilessly, with the crowd cheering his name. Zaar tells them ‘No! Not me! We! My strength is yours! Your strength is mine! We! Together! We! Together!’. This is really intriguing, as it poses Zaar as a warrior fighting for a cause, for people beyond himself, even if we don’t quite know what said cause is and what motivates him. He weilds his strength for others and calls their strengths his own. There is a perverse unity here amongst the rogues, as Zaar leads them. All of this sets him up for some potentially interesting developments and reveals in the future, playing as almost the fighter and warrior of the violent and cruel. That can play in fascinating ways when you throw him up against a hero like Superman, who finds for the best parts of us. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run did it to great success with Super-Doomsday, the corporate slave icon and fascist Superman.
Now in regards to the latter- Adam Strange whispers Zaar’s name and curses under his breath, clearly indicating knowledge in regards to the being. It makes sense considering his close ties to Alanna, Sardath and Rann. Considering his importance as a space hero and the ultimate goal of the story, his role and place should be fun to follow.
Superman #6 continues to be a brilliant cosmic epic with great character moments and action set-pieces, with a creative working in perfect sync. The struggle for unity is a hard one and this galactic saga knows it. Pushing the universe further while unveiling new layers in its past, this is the book for cosmic fans everywhere.
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