Action Comics #1002
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Patrick Gleason and Alejandro Sanchez
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
While his run on Superman deals with world-shaking, space-faring threats, Brian Michael Bendis’s street-level storytelling on Action Comics proves to be some of the best work he’s done in recent memory, as he and artist Patrick Gleason show us all the moving parts that make Metropolis a living, breathing city. By exploring the inner workings of The Daily Planet - as well as Metropolis’s seedy criminal underworld - Bendis and Gleason deliver a satisfying second installment that fleshes out Superman’s supporting cast while exploring Clark Kent’s own humanity.
Clocking in at only 20 pages, Action Comics #1002 leans into Bendis’s strengths as a plotter, bouncing from scene to scene but in a way that never feels abrupt - there’s so much to see in Metropolis that you might miss the fact that Superman himself only appears in three pages (one of those pages being a news photo at the Daily Planet). In that regard, it feels like Bendis is giving his Metropolis-style answer to Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s Gotham Central - while the heart of the story involves Clark Kent and The Daily Planet investigating yet another smear against the Man of Steel, Bendis takes a Gangbuster-esque spin on the Guardian as he crosses paths with the mysterious Red Cloud, all while spinning plates with the various double-crosses in the Metropolis underworld. The result is that you feel invested in all things Metropolis, and given Bendis’s penchant for decompression, you really feel a sense of weight and meaning.
And just as Bendis explores Superman’s external settings, this becomes a superb entree for delving into Clark Kent’s internal state as well. Watching Clark Kent in action, even if it’s just for a short period, speaks volumes, as Bendis has this mild-mannered reporter making friends at a grizzled biker bar mourning the loss of one of their own. (And in so doing, ties a bow on the mystery of Metropolis’s rash of fires, by establishing another mystery of the cover-up.) But unlike his run on Superman, where we get to hear Clark’s optimistic internal monologue, Bendis’s Action Comics works through implication, the sense of moodiness that haunts Clark - and eventually hits readers with a punch to the gut, as we get some unexpected answers as to what really happened to Lois Lane.
All of this is realized masterfully through artist Patrick Gleason, whose already excellent style continues to evolve. Inking himself, Gleason has embraced a fluidity in his linework that really enhances the expressiveness of his characters - part of the reason why it doesn’t matter that we see so little of Superman is because all of his characters are engaging to watch, from hard-browed Perry White to the scruffy-chined Guardian to the heartbreaking look in Lois Lane’s eyes. When Gleason inevitably does get to show off the Man of Steel - in two silent pages, as we watch Superman take a second to vent upon some ill-fated asteroids - it’s a showstopper of a moment, but it’s also just the cherry on top. Colorist Alejandro Sanchez also knocks it out of the park, really establishing a unique sense of place for every setting, thanks to his smart use of color palettes - in one particularly smooth bit, Sanchez actually lets readers flip back and forth between time periods, shifting his flashbacks to the hazy reds of a dive bar. It’s great stuff.
There’s a reason why Siegel and Schuster called the city Metropolis - it was meant to convey a sense of urban grandeur, a vastness that could encapsulate readers from around the world. It’s not just a city, but the city, a place filled with thousands of stories that needed a mild-mannered reporter from Krypton just to keep pace with it all. Of course, Superman stories over the past decade or so have focused on Smallville, on Krypton, on an ever-shifting status quo - but Bendis and Gleason smartly bring us back to the source, showing us what kind of place would draw the admiration of the universe’s most powerful being. The level of care and attention brought to the various corners of Metropolis showcases this creative team’s greatest strengths, and makes Action Comics a can’t-miss title from the DC publishing line.