We’ve all seen this before, right? A superstar writer takes over Superman in the wake of a major line-wide event, putting his own spin on the character with a prequel miniseries in advance of relaunching the two main titles. John Byrne took the reins back in 1986 after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and now, Brian Michael Bendis does the same in the thick of DC’s Rebirth initiative with the identically titled The Man of Steel #1, drawn by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.
Well, it’s not exactly the same. Byrne’s takeover was a much-needed course correction for DC’s flagship character, after Superman suffered through decades of stagnation and lackluster stories. No such corrective action was needed this time — Dan Jurgens had been proving his continued adeptness with the character in Action Comics, and Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi had been delivering delightful stories over in Superman. Both runs were strong and will be missed, but Bendis shows he can bring strength of his own to the character.
Foremost, Bendis’ Superman isn’t any kind of drastic reimagining or upheaval — instead, his Man of Steel is exactly the kind of hero he has always been in the character’s best incarnations. Stoic, yet approachable; imposing, but friendly; heroic to those meaning well, but a nightmare to those seeking to do ill. Bendis gets the essence of the character and doesn’t try to fix what’s not broken — instead, he capitalizes on it. There are plenty of new developments, but the focus is a refresher on Superman’s place as an inspiration, and as a protector for those who need it.
Bendis does his best to calm readers’ potential apprehensions — this is Bendis’ Superman, yes, but he’s still all of ours, as well. Bendis even keeps his trademark irreverent chatter between characters to a minimum, for those concerned. The character of Superman isn’t reshaped by Bendis — if anything, it’s the other way around.
Reis and Prado — who, unlike Bendis, have already handled the character plenty of times, and will join Bendis for the relaunched Superman ongoing series starting in July — don’t try anything fancy, either. Their Man of Steel is bold, majestic, and has a presence that fills the page, as well as the entirety of the issue — an approach used by countless artists, but the only one that’s really needed. Colorist Alex Sinclair uses another familiar and fundamental approach that works well: save the primary reds and blues for Superman, making the character stand out in every panel he appears.
For all the fundamentals that are adhered to by all creators involved, though, the issue is more than just a safe and accessible primer to a character that doesn’t really need any kind of reintroduction. A new villain, first introduced in Action Comics #1000, continues to prove to be a potentially viable threat. Another instantly likeable character stands to be a new face in the supporting cast. And, a surprising but eerily familiar occurrence caps off the issue, hinting at a possible connection to a landmark DC event from years past.
Did we really need another Man of Steel #1? Probably not, but like a second helping of dessert, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t go down good. The initial Rebirth era of Superman might sadly be over, but the Bendis era is off to a fun, fitting and worthwhile start.