The king of… what now? (Superman #20 Comic Review)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Oclair Albert
Colorist: Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper
Letters: Dave Sharpe
The Superman title has been wrapped around two stories. One being the main focus of Superman letting the world know he is Clark Kent, and how that changes his relationships in the world. The last two issues showed that a majority of the public is supportive and thrilled with the news. Everyone loves Superman, so learning he is Clark Kent changed almost nothing (that is until this issue here). The other story line has been one that has been dangling in the background, coming in and out with almost no connection. It is Superman helping start the United Planets (think intergalactic UN). When issue #19 ended Superman was being beaten by Mongul during a United Planets meeting. The comic this week finally makes this story relevant.
This comic focuses on the more negative backlash to Superman outing himself. The Daily Star team is upset that Superman working for The Daily Planet effectively kills all competition in the media. The argument is sound, how do you compete with a news team that has Superman. He makes the news and writes the news. However, not everyone at the Star agrees. Superman has saved the city more times than they can count, and the lives of billions are around directly because of his service. Many people at The Daily Star are happy to give him a pass. This all changes when the United Planets story gets leaked to the press. Once they find out that Superman is representing Earth (and he isn’t even technically “from” Earth) it creates a panic that Superman might be abusing his power. Tying both storylines from the previous issues together in an organic way that empowers both of them.
I have been enjoying Superman but not loving it. Bendis has a clear understanding of the character, and is able to handle the extended cast and relationships in meaningful ways, but so far has been unable to put them in a compelling story. His character work id some of the best Superman has seen, but the plotting needed a lot of work. This all changes with this issue. While my previous complaints stand, and I do not believe they read well as single issues, this comic made it all click. It is a great example of “writing for trade” that Bendis is known for. Issue by issue may be weak, but they do become something greater than the sum of their parts. But issue #20 stands alone as a great comic. Every plot line weaves together perfectly, and the conflict is meaningful and multilayered. The United Planets seemed like a throw away but now is the catalyst for xenophobic fears towars Superman. And it is all framed in a way that makes the reader actually see where the antagonist is coming from. I would also be upset if Earth was part of an intergalactic government body and we had no idea (admittedly I would support Superman as our sponsor). Superman comics have been political in the past, and arguably the character was created as a socialist icon. Bendis has elevated this book to a “must read” status. It was always fun, but now it is meaningful. If only we could get this version of Brain Michael Bendis writing Action Comics.
Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Oclair Albert all pull art duties here, and somehow they create a unified piece. When I saw the credits page I was just waiting for a jarring experience. But they all emulate each other quite well. It isn’t directly stated who is inking and who is penciling (maybe it flips) but this is a great example of teamwork. Even switching from the newsroom to outer space you can still see a cohesive artistic style. I believe even when this is collected in trade and you see it standing next to Ivan Reis solo issues, it will read well. If DC is going to continue to throw multiple art teams at a book, they should use this issue as an example of how to do it.