In his first full-fledged foray into writing Superman, Brain Michael Bendis has been swinging for the fences with each issue of The Man of Steel. From introducing a genocidal villain and destroying huge chunks of Superman history, to bringing the Rebirth resurrected Jor-El back into the fold, the first four issues of the aforementioned miniseries has covered quite a bit of ground, while sometimes feeling like the book is treading water... which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Bendis is great at filling in pages with exposition and cutaways that may feel incongruent with what is occurring in the primary story, only to bring things back around at a later date. The long game, after all, is just as important as the big splash page shockers. However, with the penultimate issue of The Man of Steel out this week, we’re having a tough time seeing how everything Bendis has set up outside the centralized plot will come together in the finale.
The pacing in The Man of Steel has so far echoed Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. From issue to issue, it feels like the connective tissue is present, but the flow comes in huge waves instead of a steady narrative stream. In a property like All-Star Superman, the disparate chapter to chapter sequencing works since the series was more of a meditation on the character instead of a book designed to set up events to have huge implications for the DC Universe and the Superman brand as a whole. Man of Steel has always felt a little out of place in this mold, but somehow, Bendis has made it work, and Issue #5 is no exception.
Last week, we saw Superman go nuclear and destroy what was left of The Fortress of Solitude after Rogol Zaar trashed the place and threatened Kal-El’s family. This week’s issue is less about the shock and awe of Rogol Zaar’s reign of terror against all things Kryptonian, and more about the fallout of those actions and the twisted logic that brings the reader to see the madman’s endgame. And while this thread seems to be tightening with some great emotional weight, everything else is playing second fiddle.
Metropolis Fire Chief Melody Moore’s investigation into the recent string of arsons makes an appearance this issue, bringing with it some great comedic moments, but other than a vague assumed connection to the main plotline, her appearance doesn’t do much to further things.
The same can be said for the Jon and Jor-El subplot. For the past four issues we’ve been given small glimpses into what was occurring in the Kent household, only to discover it apparently leads to nothing more than grandpa wanting to take a kid on a road trip. Now to be fair, Bendis can cover a lot of ground in a short panel count (especially when he employs his signature whirlwind of dialogue bubbles), so these subplots could bring it on home next week.
The strongest moments of The Man of Steel #5 are the more meditative ones. A scene in which Superman is recovering from a beatdown on the moon does a wonderful job and allowing Clark to reflect on how Zaar’s actions affect Supergirl. The things left unsaid could fill tomes, and how Bendis and Hughes use that silence is beautiful and relatable, especially when Superman realizes his cousin’s pain is quantifiably heavier than his own since Kara actually remembers Krypton. She has memories of being part of its people, and she feels real loss, while Clark never knew the world he calls his home planet. For all intents and purposes, he’s an Earthling.
The artwork in The Man of Steel has been handled surprising well thus far. Having multiple artists take the reins from page to page within an issue can lead to some choppy transitions (remember those Dark Nights: Metal preludes?), but the rotating art team is working together great, here. If a scene changes, usually the art team changes, which makes the inconsistent styles less jarring than one might anticipate. Adam Hughes, Jason Fabok and Alex Sinclair are maintaining that level of quality the previous issues have established.
While not the best the miniseries has had to offer so far, The Man of Steel #5 is another solid issue and has us chomping at the bit to see if Bendis can stick the landing. The subplots have left a lot to be desired, but the main struggle between Earth’s most popular Kryptonians and a genocidal maniac moves at a breakneck speed and doesn’t slow in this issue.
With all that being said, the biggest takeaway from The man of Steel #5 comes early in the issue when Superman asks the same question the reader has regarding Rogol Zaar: “Why have I never heard of him?” This might be the key to unlocking the true history of Krypton and how the subplots tie everything back together.