Man of Steel #4
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Kevin Maguire, Jay Fabok, and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Sometimes you’ve just got to rip it up and start again. Brian Michael Bendis finally commences with some of the punching in this one and gives us a bit of a better understanding of what the new status quo is for the Man of Tomorrow. Kevin Maguire lends his talents admirably to the proceedings but this miniseries still feels like a bit of a failure to launch. If this is what Bendis has been building towards, why has it taken so long to get to it?
I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point, but Rogol Zaar continues to be a dud of a villain. He’s not visually compelling. He doesn’t have a particularly compelling hook to him. He’s already more successful than a number of Superman villains have been, but he doesn’t seem all that formidable. Bendis gives us a slightly more cerebral Superman in contrast to the brute force of Rogol Zaar, and while that works from a structural standpoint, it serves no end. If we’re supposed to care about Rogol Zaar’s mission, that’s nowhere in the text, and trying to figure it out is far less interesting than Bendis’ Superman just generally being Superman. So while I can appreciate that the conflict moves forward a little bit here and the two main players actually come to blows, it’s so unsatisfying that I’d much rather have Clark just investigating arsons and taking down minor criminals again. Bendis is good at writing those small moments, but he’s losing his way with the bigger mysteries here. And he’s made a hypocrite of me - I’ve said for three reviews that I want to plot to start moving and the second it does, I’m longing for the smaller character moments. We should be able to have it both ways. Bendis needs to find that balance.
That said, I like Kevin Maguire’s art on this issue. There’s a some solid superhero storytelling at work here, and his expression work plays to Bendis’ script. That’s a big key to an artist nailing a Bendis issue - the dialogue needs to have naturalistic quality to it that can only come across with really focused expression work. The last page in particular is a really good indicator of Maguire’s skill with that aspect of the issue. Rogol Zaar remains an ugly villain and boring character design, but Maguire does what he can with it.
Meanwhile, the action beats work well throughout, with my only knock against Maguire is his very off-model Hal Jordan (Maguire draws him like he might have used Duke Nukem for reference, and it is jarring). Jay Fabok turns in a couple more pages toward his part of the plot here as well and they maintain that same sort of straightforward consistency that we’ve grown used to from him. Alex Sinclair’s color do a nice job of tying everything together.
Man of Steel is a frustrating work. The Fabok page reveal has been teased out for so long that it almost feels like a non-event when it happens because juxtaposed with the threat of Rogol Zaar, there’s no good indication of what it really means. Pacing, pacing, pacing. That remains the issue with Bendis’ writing, because he’s not balancing plot and character work at all. And it’s starting to feel like the reward for readers’ patience won’t even come in this miniseries, but rather in Action Comics #1001.