Nothing has changed.
It’s the day after one of the biggest days in Superman’s life. His relationship with the world around him has been altered irrevocably, and his life as Clark Kent will never be the same. Bendis’s tenure on Superman has been inconsistent, to say the least, but he’s had a good handle on the world of the Daily Planet and Clark’s more Earth-focused life. That continues as this issue deals with the fallout of Superman finally revealing his secret identity to the world at a public press conference, as seen in Superman #18. With pencils by Ivan Reis, inks by Joe Prado, Danny Miki, Julio Ferreira and Oclair Albert, and colors by Alex Sinclair, this issue continues what is probably the most interesting Superman story we’ve gotten since the major relaunch.
This issue’s strength is when Bendis gets to focus on the cast of the Daily Planet. For the faults of this run so far, Bendis has a pitch-perfect voice for Perry White, and his Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane work really well in that environment. There are a lot of really delightful lines and callbacks that flesh out the relationship Clark has with the people he loves. Unfortunately, this really delightful scene gets cut short when the inkers change, causing the art to look significantly different. Reis is a great artist and he doesn’t really ever look bad, but the jump in inkers from Joe Prado to Danny Miki is really noticeable and kills a lot of the enjoyability of the book. That said, Bendis still does a good job writing the rest of the Daily Planet bits — it’s genuinely great to see how regular people are reacting to learning that Clark Kent is Superman, and there’s a sense of significance to every interaction he has. No one is too small for Superman.
United Planets?! Are you kidding me?!
Where this issue really falls on its face is when it goes back to the overarching Unity Saga story. While the formation of the United Planets in mainstream continuity is something that’s conceptually interesting, nothing about its execution has landed well. This continues into Superman #19, where even Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert aren’t able to make this storyline engaging. It really feels like the United Planets are the afterthought of the book, which is not a good look for the entity for which the Unity Saga is named.
The attention given to the United Planets isn’t the only problem here, though. This issue abruptly cuts away from the story about Superman revealing his identity to visit the United Planets, where Mongul just attacks and screams about how Unity is impossible. It’s frustratingly on the nose; when the villain is just screaming “YOU’RE WRONG! THIS IS GOING TO FAIL!” he loses a lot of his menace and believability. It’s additionally frustrating because he’s right — just in this single fight, the forces of the United Planets start to splinter and break apart, incapable of working together due to a cliched butting of heads and egos. There’s nothing that feels interesting about this, and it’s made so much worse because on the other half of the market, Marvel’s X-Men line has been doing far more interesting things with the creation of a new political entity and the conflicts that arise from it.
This issue is very hit and miss. When Bendis is focusing on Clark and the people in the Daily Planet, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and honestly exactly what the book should be. Unfortunately, when he goes back to his overarching plot the entire book grinds to a screeching halt, becoming a plodding, poorly paced mess. This has typified Bendis’s tenure on the Super-books, as he is a lot stronger when he focuses on the people around Clark rather than the universe around Superman. I’m not really looking forward to the future of the main Superman book, but at least there’s some interesting content coming up in the Superman: Heroes and Superman: Villains one-shots.