Action Comics #1005
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ryan Sook and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
You know the episodes of your favorite shows where they introduce a new character and cast as a “guest appearance” and then next season, they’re spun off into their own show? That feels like Action Comics #1005 in a nutshell, as Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook take us on a tour of Metropolis’ underworld, opening with a short sequence in one of the city's seediest establishments that could have been expanded to be an entire issue. Since his jump to DC, Bendis has been playing with the artifacts and neglected characters of the DC Universe, but here, he and Sook also show a Metropolis that’s different than the glistening city we expect it to be. Five issues into his Action Comics run, Bendis continues to put his stamp on the Man of Steel, writing a layered story of shadows, corruption, and even some good old-fashioned villainy.
While we’ve seen Bendis applying his taste of crime to Marvel superheroes for years, seasoning Action Comics with it reveals the elasticity of Superman and Metropolis. The opening pages, stunningly colored by Brad Anderson, reintroduces not just a DC character that we haven’t seen in a while but also a DC artifact - the Dial H for Hero dial. If Bendis is including the mighty Justice League whenever he can in the main Superman title, he goes far more street-level here, as we get a great Steve Ditko tribute when the Question comes knocking.
Sook and Anderson’s underworld dealings depict a different Metropolis than we’ve seen recently. Bathed in Anderson’s glowing yellows, oranges, greens and purples, Sook’s artwork looks like it would fit more in a Batman comic more than a Superman comic book. Ryan Sook and the Question were made to go together, and just as we realize this while reading this issue, the scene cuts away leaving us to hope that we get to see more of this combination in the near future.
Part of the beauty of writing Action Comics is that Bendis can write a bit more than just a Superman story here; he gets to tell a Clark Kent story. It’s apparent that Bendis is having fun with Superman, getting to show a Clark Kent who’s really in love. While Lois doesn’t appear at all in this issue, her touch lingers as Clark thinks about her - it takes only a few panels of Bendis' writing and Sook's art to show that this is a marriage that still has a lot of road ahead of it. Bendis and Sook show Clark as a husband, and it will be interesting to see Bendis get a chance at writing Clark as a father when Jon returns.
At times, Bendis’ Metropolis more resembles its sister city Gotham than it does the home of Superman and The Daily Planet. This issue advances multiple underworld threats, from the identity of the Red Cloud, to the fire arson mystery, to the secret crime cabal that has learned how to avoid detection from a superhero who can see through walls. At least two of these shadowy threats are related, but it’s not Superman who is making the connections - he's too distracted by his journalistic tendencies and his marriage to Lois to see that some of these threats are one and the same. In that way, Bendis’ Superman isn’t some all-knowing/all-powerful being. He’s also not some godlike alien from another world. He’s a man who sometimes lets himself get distracted by the life around him.
Brian Michael Bendis’ Action Comics is clearly covering the more human and personal side of Metropolis, especially when compared to Bendis’ Superman run and its more cosmic, big action focus. This issue shows how Bendis is creating a criminal underworld within the city, more reminiscent of his Powers or Daredevil runs than DC’s oldest superhero. This is a city that’s usually battered around by Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and even Giganto, not by crime and corruption. This may be Superman’s city, but Bendis shows us its underside that needs a different touch than the last son of Krypton might be able to provide. Where X-ray vision and flight may be overkill in taking down crime, maybe a journalist’s well-researched and righteous piece may be just what the city needs.