Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Kevin Maguire and John Timms
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Superman is Clark Kent. The world knows it, and seemingly that genie can’t go back into the bottle (this is comics so of course, it will eventually). Superman’s teammates are concerned that he might be under the influence of someone or something else, and request he visits Dr. Fate for a psychological and mystical “checkup.” If you have been missing some of the previous Superman issues, this one does a fairly decent job as a news story and a recap.
The story is split into two parts; Superman’s conversation with Dr. Fate, and the rise of Xanadoth (who seemingly will be an antagonist soon). They also work as two opposing half working together. The Xanadoth story is pointing towards what is to come, and bringing the series forward, while the Dr. Fate story is more of a conversation piece to recap events. As they flip back and forth neither allows the other to overstay their welcome and provides some balance to the plot. By the end of the book Xanadoth has risen (not a spoiler as he is on the cover), and Dr. Fate concludes that Superman is not under the influence of anything (not something that was even in question).
I do enjoy a good Dr. Fate story, so I am always happy to see him here. It is a new character under the helmet but the same fun mystical experience is here. I think Bendis did an incredible job using the two stories to balance each other out. If this was all recap it would be pointless, and if it was all Xanadoth it would be a slight book. He also plays up some fun character moments between Superman and Justice League Dark that was nice to read. One of Superman’s only weaknesses is magic, so bringing him into that realm will be another way to give the story some agency and provide a real threat to Superman. Bendis has been able to create realistic and credible threats throughout his run so far, and while the plots do not always bear out, his character work is great. Regardless of how you feel about the book, I don’t think anyone questions if Bendis “gets” Superman.
The art here was an interesting choice. Two artists working on each half of the story. Kevin Maguire worked on the Dr. Fate parts, and John Timms is on the rise of Xanadoth. Two very different artists, but these are two very different stories. Thankfully they each stayed in their lanes and the book does not feel incoherent. The art is perfect for what was given to them. Maguire has a way with expression and cartooning that made a simple conversation between Superman and Dr. Fate become fun to read. And Timms, as a bit more of a 90s action-oriented feel to his art, so his build toward Xanadoth was inspired. I wonder how the series will grow from here, but I think this issue was a success art-wise.