Action Comics #1001
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Patrick Gleason and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Brian Michael Bendis is nothing if not consistent. He plodded through a miniseries aimed at clearing the table for himself in Man of Steel, but in Action Comics, he’s still tying up loose threads from that story. So we plod forward a bit more. There’s no denying that Bendis has a handle on Superman as a character, but his tepid pacing mars an otherwise solid book. The highlight is the continued evolution of Patrick Gleason as he gives us a different look at the Man of Steel than we were used to on his Superman run.
If the arson plotline from Bendis’ Man of Steel miniseries really enthralled you, you’re in luck, because this issue is a pretty direct continuation. But the more we get to dig in to it, the thinner it seems. Obviously, that’s part of the bit, right? That a string of fires is a problem “too small” for Superman? (Even one of the characters mentions that at one point.) Still, Bendis is able to have some fun with his characters despite the relative insipidity of the plot. Flat out, he writes a really great Clark/Superman. I’ve said it before, but this is the hero that has been missing from the DCU, and his interactions with small-time crooks is really fun - he remains a good sport when a terrified henchman tries to throw a gun at him — and Clark’s alter-ego dynamic at The Daily Planet works well. But the big reveal of a new villain named the Red Cloud ends the book on a hollow note. There’s nothing about her name or design that leaves a lasting impact so the book. So Bendis gives us a pretty typical issue for him: the plot barely moves, the character work is decent when the characters aren’t leaning into the plot, and your mileage may vary with the new villain. It’s kind of a wash.
But Patrick Gleason is a revelation on this book. What we’ve seen from him in the past is a heavily inked style that recalls Doug Mahnke a bit. The Mahnke influence is still evident here, but Gleason’s taken the foot off the pedal with his inks and lets colorist Alejandro Sanchez really inform the tone of the book with his textured coloring approach. The result is something that feels really classic right off the bat. Easing up on the shadows does affect the level of contrast, but Gleason is able to maintain a balance - the work is a lot more open, allowing for keener expression work and composition. Gleason’s gotten away from the overly stylized characters that we’ve seen in the past, treating readers to a much greater range of faces and body types. It would have been enough for Gleason to just give us more of the same, but his continuing development is a boon to this issue.
At this point, Bendis is a very known commodity. Whether you love him or hate him, this issue isn’t going to sway you to the other side and will likely only reinforce the opinion you already hold of him. But art fans who want to see how an artist can keep their style fresh and resonant even when they’re treading familiar territory should be following Gleason’s every move. He is without a doubt one of the best Superman artists of the last decade, and he’s continuing to build his legacy here.