Comics Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #3

Brian Michael Bendis raises the stakes for the Last Son of Krypton…

Man of Steel #3.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #33 by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ryan Sook, Jason Fabok & Wade Von Grawbadger / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

Rogol Zaar arrives on Earth and is ready to take on the Man of Steel…

In review

After a slightly patchy second issue, this week’s instalment of The Man of Steel kicks things up a gear as Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for the impending conflict between Superman and his new nemesis: Rogol Zaar, the maniacal brute who may have been involved in Krypton’s destruction.  The fact that Bendis has taken such a creative risk and shakes up the established Superman mythos is a gutsy one but impactful and will no doubt have readers debating for some time.

Via flashbacks in the first two issues of The Man of Steel, we’ve learned of Zaar’s hatred for the Kryptonian civilization and his desire to eradicate it completely – a ‘quest’ that now brings him to Earth is pursuit of the Last Son of Krypton.  Zaar is a formidable force and Bendis pulls no punches in that respect, the book’s opening pages depicting the decimation of the Fortress of Solitude at the hands of the deranged ogre.  It’s a dramatic and emotional blow that is going to change Superman’s world forever.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, it isn’t – it’s just gripping and compelling stuff that makes comics a great reading experience.  Bendis retains a strong hook on the character of Superman and all that he stands for, but like the world we live in things can often seem hopeless and even DC’s first hero can face those situations.  There’s still a little fun to be had before the emotional gears begin to turn as Superman continues to investigate the mysterious rash of fires in Metropolis, this time enlisting the help of a certain Dark Knight Detective in an enjoyable – and quite funny – cameo from one of DC’s other mainstays.

Ultimately, Bendis gives us a Superman that isn’t completely invulnerable (and exploring those vulnerabilities is what makes the character more relatable) as he soars to the Fortress to discover the damage, joined by Supergirl it’s an effective sequence of scenes that engages the reader and leads to the book’s finale as the Kryptonians face off against Zaar – which ties nicely into Bendis and Jim Lee’s short in Action Comics #1000 and sets anticipation for next week’s issue rather high.

In terms of the art, it’s surprisingly good – Ryan Sook’s style is not too dissimilar from that of Ivan Reis, sure it’s not quite as lavish but his characters are powerful and emotive and the action is epic and exciting.  Jason Fabok returns to pencil the continuing interlude concerning the absence of Lois and Jon that’s being threaded throughout the series.  It’s a tantalising tease and Fabok’s work is always a highlight – given that he’ll be pencilling the whole of #6, it promises that the series should conclude on a high, so long as Brian Michael Bendis continues to deliver the goods.

The bottom line:  The Man of Steel starts building momentum as it heads toward the half-way point and Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story continues to show promise.

The Man of Steel #3 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

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Comic Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #1

Bendis takes on the Man of Steel… 

Man of Steel #1.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Jason Fabok / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

A powerful threat from Krypton’s past looms as it’s Last Son prepares to face his greatest challenge…

In review

Following his short stories in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, former Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis presents his first full DC comic with The Man of Steel #1, commencing the weekly six issue series that will lead into Bendis’ run on Superman and Action Comics beginning next month.

Most would argue that Superman is in no need of a creative relaunch given that Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi and Dan Jurgens have been doing just fine with the character and given readers some of the strongest Superman comics since before the New 52.  Coupled with the fact that some people love Bendis and more and more these days seem not to, it’s understandable that a number of fans will be approaching this title with caution.  There needn’t be any worry because on the basis of this first issue, Brian Bendis clearly loves the character and has a strong handle on the Last Son of Krypton, whether he is soaring into the skies as protector of the innocent and vulnerable or seeking truth and justice as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  Unlike John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini series this one isn’t a reboot, just a little bit of a refresh and a new start without undoing any of the work produced over the last couple of years.

Bendis paces things gently in The Man of Steel #1 which functions very much as a scene-setter as he establishes the basics and teases the larger overarching narrative.  Via flashbacks, we’re reintroduced to Rogol Zaar, the brutish new villain designed by Jim Lee and introduced in the Bendis/Lee short in Action Comics #1000 and whereas that dropped readers straight into an all-out brawl here we get more character depth, an idea of his motivations and ominous hints at an intergalactic conspiracy relating to the destruction of Krypton.  Zaar could turn out to be both an imposing and personal threat for Superman (and his adopted home) with potentially high stakes so hopefully Bendis delivers.

Those set-ups aside, Bendis keeps things fairly simple (there’s some wordy exposition here and there but nothing too dense) as we see Supes tackle Gotham criminals Firefly and Killer Moth, out to cause trouble in Metropolis, whilst he investigates a series of electrical fires.  In these scenes, Bendis nails the core tenets of the character – conveying that sense of strength and inherent good but also dipping into those subtle nuances of loneliness that can occasionally haunt him.  Brian Bendis proves equally adept when dealing with Clark Kent as mild-mannered news reporter and family man, scenes with Lois and Jon being both heartfelt and fun.

The art by penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado (with Jason Fabok contributing the final two pages of the book) is pretty solid as is to be expected.  There are a few spots where it feels a little rushed (and unfortunately the red trunks are still here) but otherwise it’s business as usual from the pair with powerful, emotive characters and beautifully composed environments enriched by Alex Sinclair’s colours.

Anyone expecting explosive all-out action and gripping drama from the outset will likely be disappointed by this premiere issue, but if every Superman (heck ,any) comic was like that it’d soon become boring, right?  With The Man of Steel #1 Brian Michael Bendis and collaborators Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Alex Sincalir and Jason Fabok provide readers with a taste of potentially exciting things to come.

The bottom line:  A promising new beginning for Superman, The Man of Steel #1 demonstrates that Brian Michael Bendis has a good handle on the character and gives tantalising hints at what’s ahead.

The Man of Steel #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #600

It’s a farewell from Brian Michael Bendis as he caps off his run on The Invincible Iron Man…

 

Inv Iron Man #600

Cover art for Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man #600 by Chris Sprouse (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Warning! Contains Spoilers.

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr, Mark Bagely, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna, Andrea Sorrentino / Colours by:  Marte Garcia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiold & Rachelle Rosenberg

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Finale : Tony Stark emerges from the shadows as Iron Man returns to face the threat of the Hood and a face from the past…

In review

The 600th issue of The Invincible Iron Man is a milestone for more than one reason, the book’s numeric value aside it’s not only the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title (which commenced in 2015) but also the prolific writer’s final comic for Marvel (for the foreseeable future at least) as he departs for DC after working at the ‘House of Ideas’ for almost twenty years.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 serves as a fitting, albeit slightly muddled and not overly spectacular final chapter in “The Search for Tony Stark”.  It’s not the greatest comic Bendis has ever written, nor is it an out-and-out classic issue of The Invincible Iron Man but it does the job adequately.  Following the events of issue #599, Tony Stark is back and ready for action as he faces a hostile takeover of Stark Industries, a threat from Hydra and demons from the past as Riri Williams must decide where her future lies now Iron Man has returned and Victor Von Doom seeks retribution.

Where The Invincible Iron Man #600 does succeed is in its revelations, chiefly the resurrection of Rhodey (who had fallen at the hands of Thanos in Civil War II) – this could be a huge spoiler for some (hence the warning at the head of the review) but surely most readers will have been expecting it, given that very few characters ever die and then remain so in comics…notwithstanding that the issue’s cover can be seen as a giveaway.  Anyway, it’s handled brilliantly being both emotionally satisfying and funny and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Rhodey/War Machine in Dan Slott’s forthcoming run.

There’s a tragic and heart-wrenching climax to Victor Von Doom’s tenure as the ‘Infamous’ Iron Man and one that may precipitate his return to a more villainous path – another area for Dan Slott to explore with the impending Fantastic Four relaunch.  The return of Stark’s biological father (see the International Iron Man limited series), Jude also adds to the drama whilst helping to bring things full circle.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 does become a little jumbled though.  Despite its increased page count there is so much going on and barely enough space, although the pacing never feels rushed.  It can also be a bit of a trying read at times, much of the book is narrated by the A.I. version of Tony Stark and it’s quite dense as Brian Michael Bendis packs in a lot of exposition that serves to both recap events of his entire Iron Man saga and set the stage for the future.

There’s still room reserved for some action, the highlight of which is Stark’s attack on the Hood and his gang as he fights to prevent Stark Industries from falling into enemy hands, Jim Cheung’s beautiful double-page splash featuring numerous past Iron Man armours – evoking memories of Iron Man #300’s Iron Legion.

The expanded roster of artists is a little tricky, granted some of Marvel’s strongest talent has been engaged here and it’s a particular pleasure to see David Marquez contribute but it’s a shame that the whole book couldn’t have simply been divided up between Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev in the same manner as previous issues, but it’s perhaps partly necessitated by the jump to 42 pages.  Still, it’s fairly consistent overall but the random jump between artists can be a little jarring.

In the end, it feels like Brian Michael Bendis may have had more up his sleeve for Marvel’s Iron Avenger but with his time at Marvel now up we can only see what’s in store with Dan Slott’s Tony Stark:  Iron Man.  The Invincible Iron Man #600 isn’t perfect but Bendis has produced a memorable run on the character (and given us Riri Williams in the process) and although it’s not as fulfilling as it could have been, there are certainly some good moments within.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” comes to an end in Brian Michael Bendis’ flawed but enjoyable final issue of The Invincible Iron Man.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #598

Brian Michael Bendis nears the end of his final Iron Man story…

Inv Iron Man #598

Alex Maleev’s cover for Marvel’s ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #598 (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev / colours by:  Marte Garcia and Alex Maleev

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Part Six : as the Avengers try to locate Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom finds himself in a tight corner, Riri Williams heads to M.I.T. to continue her own search for the former Iron Man…

 In review

Brian Michael Bendis delivers touches of intrigue, drama and action in the latest instalment of his final Iron Man story before departing for rival publisher DC.  Commencing his tenure during Marvel’s ‘All-New, All-Different’ relaunch back in 2015, Brian Michael Bendis has given readers a decent run on The Invincible Iron Man (as well as enjoyable limited-run spin-offs International Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man).  It’s fair to say that the title has been slow at times but never short of an entertaining read, whether it has concerned the adventures of Tony Stark or his post-Civil War II successor, Riri Williams – a.k.a. ‘Ironheart’.

“The Search for Tony Stark” steps towards its impending conclusion (in issue #600) and whilst there’s isn’t a great deal of progression in actual plot and the ‘search’ itself not quite as engrossing as one would hope (the story will likely read better once collected), Bendis takes time to focus on his main players, Riri Williams/Ironheart and Victor Von Doom/’Infamous’ Iron Man with a couple of brief appearances from the likes of Captain America (literally for one page) and Blade.  It’s good to see Blade pop up and his instant rapport with Riri helps restore her drive after having the Ironheart armour confiscated.  It remains to be seen if Bendis has more use for Blade but as is, it’s a neat little cameo that has some narrative importance.

Meanwhile, Victor Von Doom continues to have a rough time of it – now faced with the Hood and his rag tag crew of villians, out to strip the former ruler of Latveria of all that’s left of his worth.  It’s hard to imagine that Marvel will want to maintain Von Doom’s hero/anti-hero status for much longer but Brian Michael Bendis has added numerous layers to the character and in the process made Victor Von Doom all the more interesting which, in turn, will make him all the more compelling as a villain should Marvel choose to take that path.

Whilst it’s a hefty dose of gloom for Victor, Riri is back to her bright and optimistic self as she is reunited with her armour and along with fellow Iron compatriots Arno Stark, Tony Ho and Madison Jeffries press forward in the quest to locate Stark…and run into some familiar foes along the way (with a twist).  It’s fun and enjoyable stuff that’s a perfect contrast with the bleaker proceedings that Von Doom faces.

Art is once again divided between Stefano Caselli, handling Riri Williams’ sections of the story and Alex Maleev presenting the Von Doom portions.  As with previous issues it works extremely well, Caselli bringing an energetic, slightly cartoonish style to Riri’s world (punched up with the help of Marte Garcia’s colours) and Alex Maleev delivering moody and gritty visuals that befit the darker tone of the ‘Iron Doom’ segments.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” continues slowly but Brian Michael Bendis still delivers strong character work and together with the beautiful art, The Invincible Iron Man remains a solid read.

The Invincible Iron Man #598 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ #797

Dan Slott brings back the Green Goblin, will Peter Parker go down fighting?

ASM #797

Another striking cover from Alex Ross for Marvel’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ #797 (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Dan Slott / pencils by:  Stuart Immonen / inks by:  Wade von Grawbadger / colours by:  Marte Garcia

What’s it about?

“Go Down Swinging” Part One : an increasingly unhinged Norman Osborn is ready to return as the Green Goblin and make Peter Parker’s life a living hell…

In review

Sounding almost like a mission statement, the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man sees long-serving writer Dan Slott kick off his final storyline with the opening chapter of “Go Down Swinging” and it’s a delightfully dark and ominous beginning that holds promise for what will surely be a grand finale.

Picking up on the events of the previous “Threat Level: Red” arc (and the recent, disappointing Venom Inc crossover which saw Flash Thompson return as the Anti-Venom), Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen present us with a deranged, psychotic and down-right scary Norman Orsbon, now bonded with the Carnage symbiote, as he prepares to make a return as the Green Goblin and eliminate Spidey once and for all.  This is perhaps the most chilling interpretation of the iconic villain that’s ever graced the pages of a Spider-Man book and it makes The Amazing Spider-Man #797 all the more an unnerving read – there are some pretty shocking moments within.

Slott makes this issue of The Amazing Spider-Man even more of a page-turner with a continuous tease as Osborn unloads his madness and obsession with taking down the Webbed Wonder on an unknown victim, bound, gagged and shrouded in the shadows of a dilapidated, cobweb littered apartment.  Whilst much of the issue’s page count is devoted to Osborn’s mania, there’s still some space reserved for Peter Parker as Slott takes time to weave key elements of Spider-Man history into the narrative, the highlight of which is the romantic interlude between Peter and Mary Jane whose union was controversially erased by J. Michael Straczynski’s “One More Day” storyline back in 2007 (which also restored Peter’s secret identity).  It’s a wonderfully heartfelt moment that’s bittersweet and a touch nostalgic for older Spider-Man fans, rendered beautifully by Stuart Immonen.

Speaking of Stuart Immonen his return this issue is a welcome one, producing layouts that are stronger and more detailed than ever, the definition of the moody and exciting visuals enhanced by the skilled embellishments of inker Wade von Grawbadger and colourist Marte Garcia.  Immonen’s departure from the title to make way for Marvel’s latest impending relaunch is going to be a significant loss for the title.

Gently cranking the tension up throughout, Dan Slott closes out The Amazing Spider-Man #797 with some tantalising final revelations, setting up rather high stakes as Spider-Man’s most formidable foe is ready to strike.

The bottom line:  Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen deliver a tense and shocking opening for their latest Spider-Man arc as “Go Down Swinging” gets underway.

The Amazing Spider-Man #797 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37

Will the iconic Green Lantern be forced to kneel before Zod?

Hal J GL Corps #37

Rafa Sandoval’s evocative cover for DC’s ‘Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps’ #37 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Rafa Sandoval / inks by:  Jordi Tarragona / Colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Zod’s Will” Part One : Hal Jordan investigates unauthorised mining on the planet Jekuul only to find that General Zod has claimed the world for himself…

In review

Kicking off a new story arc, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 once again proves that this is one of DC’s strongest titles and has been since it launched during their Rebirth initiative.  Like most opening chapters, this issue is a little light on actual story but by its closing pages sets things fully in motion for what looks like another promising arc for Hal and his fellow GL Corps members.

This issue opens ominously with a bloodied and beaten Hal Jordan, seeming virtually helpless at the feet of General Zod, banded together with his wife, son and the Eradicator Superman.  It’s quite a powerful and disconcerting opening (beautifully realised by penciller Rafa Sandoval, but more on the art later) that immediately grabs the reader before writer Robert Venditti circles the narrative back to preceding events – not an original method of story execution but necessary in order to deliver the cold shocks of that opening.

Part of the appeal of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps is that, as the book’s title suggests, it doesn’t reserve all of its focus for Hal Jordan himself and Venditti has always taken time to explore and develop the other principle Green Lanterns, particularly Corps leader John Stewart who, following the events of the previous arc has lost faith in the Guardians and his place as a Green Lantern.  It’s a tight and dramatic sequence that whilst heavily dialogued, allows Venditti to quickly explain the current status quo and discuss the virtues of the Green Lantern Corps, their achievements and how much the Guardians value Stewart and entrust him with the leadership of their intergalactic police force.

With some closure given to the “Twilight of the Guardians” arc, Venditti neatly moves along as Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner are sent to investigate unauthorised activity on the planet Jekuul…to discover that Zod has claimed the world as his own ‘New Krypton’ (thus tying into events over in Action Comics).  The threat of the Kryptonian General has been building gradually since his appearances in Suicide Squad and Action Comics and Robert Venditti doesn’t disappoint in presenting the reader with a powerful and imposing villain who doesn’t hesitate to ‘deal’ with Jordan and Rayner as trespassers, providing an exciting and action packed close to the issue that pays off those opening pages.

The art by Rafa Sandoval is, simply, amazing and probably his best work on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps thus far, with bold characters, detailed space/landscapes and energetic action scenes that provide the book’s visuals with a rich, cinematic quality, embellished by Jordi Tarragona’s inks and Tomeu Morey colours.  Like Tom King’s Batman this is one of DC’s more visually consistent titles which is no mean feat considering numerous other twice-monthly shipped DC books fall victim to frequent artist rotations or generally lacklustre art (something that’s certainly afflicted sister title Green Lanterns), but with the likes of Sandoval and Ethan Van Sciver working regularly on Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, partnered with writer Robert Venditti it’s always a solid read.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval deliver an exciting and tense issue of one what continues to be one of DC’s best comics, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #37 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #36

Tom King dives deep into the heart of DC Comics’ most complex and enduring friendship…

Batman 36

Clay Mann’s striking cover for DC’s ‘Batman’  #36 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Tom King / pencils by:  Clay Mann / inks by:  Seth Mann / Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“Superfriends” Part One : for many years Batman and Superman have fought alongside each other and even against each other…with Bruce Wayne’s engagement to Selina Kyle, the two heroes explore what they truly mean to one another…

In review

Whilst there has been an absence of an ongoing Batman/Superman title during DC’s Rebirth (now rebranded under the ‘DC Universe’ banner) both characters have still played a part in each other’s storylines as well as appearing together in the likes of Justice League and Trinity.  The history and dynamics of the relationship between DC’s Dark Knight and Man of Steel is a complex one, both fight for justice but their methods somewhat differ as do their morals – this has often lead to conflict between the two characters but there’s always been the notion that their core values are in alignment and a sense that they share an unspoken brotherly connection.

In Batman #36, writer Tom King takes the simple premise of a parallel narrative as the story jumps between Batman and Superman’s current crime thwarting efforts and uses it to flesh out and provide a deeper and more personal understanding of a complicated ‘friendship’ (as Superman finds himself questioning whether Batman really wants or needs a friend) between two men, born of different worlds – literally and figuratively.  With the world of Batman comics shaken by the recent engagement of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, this seems the perfect time to tell such a story where Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman agonise over whether one should call the other to discuss the news.  It’s a straightforward concept but it’s in the execution where King excels and having each hero’s respective partners in crime fighting and life – Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Lois Lane – function as the voices of reason is the genius stroke, whereby Bruce and Clark are able to divulge their true feelings of respect and friendship.

“Superfriends” is elevated further by returning artist Clay Mann (aided by inker Seth Mann) who’s powerful, attentive and intricate visuals are of great benefit.  His style has a sort of scratchy and nourish look to it that would generally seem a stronger fit for the dark and gritty world of Batman, but Jordie Bellaire’s well utilised colour palette makes it work equally well for the brighter and more optimistic world of Superman.

Tom King’s run on Batman has been a highlight of DC’s Rebirth and beyond, and whilst some arcs have been stronger than others (how could “Rules of Engagement” have hoped to top “The War of Jokes and Riddles”?) it’s been a consistently strong title and right now, DC’s best comic – if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers one of his strongest issues of Batman yet and together with artist Clay Mann gives readers a compelling insight into the bond between two of DC’s finest.

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.