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Review by Jesse Schedeen

Superman's New Comic Showcases a Sad Hero (Superman #1 Review)

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What's next for Clark Kent?

Newly minted DC writer Brian Michael Bendis made a solid first impression with the Man of Steel miniseries. Now his Superman run begins in earnest as he takes over both of the character's monthly titles. On one hand, this first issue is such a direct continuation of Man of Steel that you almost have to wonder why DC published that story as a discrete book in the first place. But on the other, there's a grander sense of ambition fueling this relaunched series, one that hints at a promising future to come for the character.

Picking up shortly after the climax of Man of Steel, Superman #1 sees Clark dealing with his newly solitary existence. With his Fortress of Solitude trashed and his family missing somewhere in the cosmos, Supes is a man out of sync with the world around him. This issue banks on what is easily the greatest strength of Bendis' run so far. He's able to create conflict for the character that challenges him in entirely non-physical ways. Rogol Zaar is a perfectly fine villain, but he pales in comparison to the drama generated by Clark losing his family. And Bendis succeeds in highlighting that conflict without going overboard. His Superman is still a kind, heroic figure, just one burdened by a little more sadness than before.

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This issue touches on some continuing threads from Man of Steel (particularly the state of Clark's Fortress), but Bendis turns his attention to what could be the defining question of his run - is Superman the best and most effective hero he can be? Is racing across the planet to put out fires (sometimes literally) better than taking a more active hand in shaping the course of human civilization? Bendis isn't the first writer to ask these questions, but it's always a topic worth exploring.

As much as Bendis deserves credit for highlighting and celebrating Superman's innate humanity, this issue wouldn't have the same impact without Ivan Reis' art driving the story. Reis renders the ideal Superman. His towering physique conveys strength and purpose, but there's a clear warmth and kindness to Supes' body language and facial expressions. Reis' art often stands out the most in the quietest and most intimate sequences. His rendition of Clark silently reflecting on his lost family life is haunting. His take on an extended conversation between Superman and Martian Manhunter, with the latter serving as a dark, remote counterpoint to Clark himself, is stunning.

Reis' work never looks better than when inked by Joe Prado. Prado fills out Reis' detailed line-work and brings a lush texture to the page. The Superman/Martian Manhunter scene showcases this better than any. And colorist Alex Sinclair is able to heighten the mood of the story. Sinclair's work fleshes out the aforementioned flashback sequence, contrasting the warm, saturated look of the past with the glum, dimly lit present.

There are some elements weighing down this otherwise enjoyable start to the series. As strong as the Supes/Martian Manhunter scene is conceptually, in execution it's hindered by J'onn's weirdly inconsistent voice. He seems to shift from formal speech to a more casual mode at random. The ending also manages to derail some of the issue's momentum, abruptly shifting the story in a different and less enticing direction. Hopefully the series can recover that momentum going forward.

The Verdict

It can't quite sustain its momentum through the final pages, but this issue serves as a compelling start to DC's latest Superman comic. It's one that emphasizes the Man of Steel's humanity, focusing more on Clark's loneliness and search for purpose than it does battles with villains. It's also a comic that makes the most of its talented art team.

Great
Despite an underwhelming ending, Superman #1 offers a compelling, character-focused start to the series.
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Superman [2018] #1