Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bendis is Coming: The Failure of Disassembling the SuperFam


Bendis is Coming: The Failure of Disassembling the SuperFam
By Jon Wayne


To say the arrival of Brian Michael Bendis at DC Comics was very hyped would be a vast understatement. “There are very few creators who can be an impact player from the moment they walk in the door, and Brian is one of those people. As soon as he walked in, you knew he was going to make a difference. Not only the attention he brings but the quality of story he tells,” Jim Lee, then-DC co-publisher and current chief creative officer, told the New York Times in April for an expose on Bendis. The headline of that expose? “Can This Man Save Superman?” Dan Didio, DC’s other co-publisher said, “Even if Superman is not our best seller, the success and the positioning of the company works because of Superman. If Superman is working well, the entire line seems to be working well. If it’s not working well, then it seems like something’s out of whack. It’s intensely important for us to make sure that the Superman franchise is in good hands.” From what they were saying, one could’ve been forgiven for thinking the two main Super-books at DC, Action Comics and Superman, were in dire straits.


However, the truth is that neither book was in trouble and frankly they were some of the best books published throughout DC’s Rebirth initiative. That’s because with that initiative came the publisher’s decision to attempt to focus on the core themes of the DC universe: legacy, love, and hope. And nothing DC has done in recent years embodied those traits as much as the development of Superman as a father to a new Superboy and the return of his marriage to Lois Lane. The “SuperFam” of Clark, Lois, and Jon was easily the best thing to come out of Rebirth, and with the amazing work done by legendary Superman scribe Dan Jurgens, and WSDC favorite Peter J. Tomasi and their wonderful art teams with gems like Patrick Gleason and Tyler Kirkham leading the way, Superman was in very good hands. Jurgens and Tomasi happen to be two of my favorite writers in the industry, and to start Rebirth they were captaining both of my favorite characters’ main books. It was a good time to be a SuperFan.


So when it was announced Bendis would be taking over both Super-books, I was cautiously optimistic. The way he talked about the character, both Superman, and Clark Kent, felt generally up my alley. He wanted to tell bold, new, socially relevant stories in Superman, and he wanted to examine the importance of reporters in a world where suddenly “the truth” is a subjective concept in Action Comics. “These are big, big issues that we deal with,” he explained in that NYT piece. “Truth, justice and the American way. These things are under siege. This is the world we live in. These are not absolute things anymore. These are things worth fighting for.” While I had my trepidations about watching two of my favorite creators leaving my favorite character for a guy I’d barely read, and have friends who are very much anti-Bendis and who warned me he’d fail to deliver on such cool concepts, I was intrigued and on board. Especially when it was revealed that Ivan Reis would helm the art duties on Superman and Gleason would takeover on Action.


But then the build-up to our introduction to “Super-Bendis” began, and noticeably missing from basically all promotions were Lois and Jon. The rollout for his Man of Steel miniseries began and it became clear to me and most real Superman Fans that Bendis didn’t have a story, and that his opening salvo was mainly just a money grab. He sold me on telling bold, new stories fitting for a 21st century Superman, yet he fell back on rehashing classic themes of the character while needlessly changing his history and removing the biggest development to the character in the past decade from the field: his family. For no other reason than shock value and to get people to keep buying the next issue to discover their fate.
Nominally Rogol Zaar should’ve been the most important part of Man of Steel, but it was the mystery of Lois and Jon that really drove the interest in the series because Zaar was never really fleshed out beyond being a xenophobic, tin-pot, strongman. Sure, it was revealed that somehow he was responsible for Krypton’s destruction, but that was never explored. No, the real point of Man of Steel was Bendis giving us his version of deconstructing – or dare I say, disassembling - the world’s greatest hero. How does one do that? According to Bendis, apparently, that means taking away his family while trying to convince people he gets the character by having him fly around and saving people. That was fine in issue #1 of Man of Steel, but eight issues later and I’m still waiting for Bendis to show me some plot development or some semblance of a genuine story. Show me you understand the character by writing an interesting story, don’t tell me you understand the character through over-narration and repeating panels of Superman saving people. Any child in the world could tell you Superman saves people, showing me that (with incredibly great art and not a “bold, new” story, mind you) does not prove you have a grasp on the character. If this is the best he’s got through nine issues, I’m very worried.


I see the allusions to Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, but the reality is that whether you love him or hate him, Morrison is pretty damn good at deconstructing DC characters, it is kind of his thing. He literally wrote the book on deconstructing superheroes and looking at them as our modern mythologies. Bendis is not well known for his ability to deconstruct characters. In fact, he’s taken a lot of flack over the years for how he goes about “disassembling” some of the most legendary figures in comics. Chief among them came when he was just making it big at Marvel in the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline where the team collapsed and was reformed under his watch. He was asked about the similarities in the situations between that and helming Superman by CBR, and he responded by saying, “I’ve thought about [Avengers Disassembled] a lot. They weren’t wrong. There was a criticism there that I take to heart. It’s not that I would have changed the story of Avengers, but the glee with which I did things, I could have been cooler with it. So I thought about that a lot coming into this. It’s tough when you’re coming on, but the book has been in a good place creatively. There’s nothing to blow up. There’s no reason to do that. I’m coming in strong, and big stuff is going to happen with Superman — but it doesn’t have that “Haha!” attitude.” Nine issues into his run, with solicits for six additional issues out there, I think it’s time to call B.S. on that one Mr. Bendis.


Through the solicits of the Man of Steel miniseries, the focus was Lois and Jon, but the plot behind that mystery moved along about an inch per issue in the series. Literally. We’d get maybe one new scene each week giving us more. While we got some touching SuperFam moments in Man of Steel #6 and Superman #1, it reeked entirely of DC and Bendis needlessly disassembling Superman, with some “gotcha!” moments from Bendis. But here’s the rub: I don’t want to strip away Superman’s family to see who he is without them, we saw who he was without them for almost his entire existence until recently! I want to see him with them! The greatest hero in the DCU deserves happiness. Wasn’t that the point of Dan Jurgens’ last arc on Action Comics? Where Booster Gold broke the rules of being a Time Master to prevent Lois from being murdered so that Superman could still have his family? Where is that? What about the hoopla surround Action Comics #1000? A million and one variants, marketing up the wazoo, and a focus on how great Superman is? Yet he we are not four months later, and the ending of Action Comics #1001 showed again that Bendis wants us to believe the family may be coming apart at the seams by having Lois evidently abandoning her son in space and not returning to her husband, instead writing stories about how she’s married to Superman! What the hell is going on?
I cannot emphasize enough how this controversy surrounding the SuperFam is what Bendis wants. Back in that same interview with CBR, they asked him if fans should be worried about the best thing to come out of DC in a while, and his response was candid, if not also very telling. “What I’m looking forward to is all good fans of Superman, being good people top to bottom, that I will accept, graciously, all of the apologies I’m getting in a few months.” I’m sure I don’t need to explain how arrogant that sounds, but it also sounds like a man who relishes making readers suffer for his own satisfaction. Weird Science DC Comics editor-in-chief, Jim Werner, said on the site’s podcast last week that it seems like Bendis is trying to drive the character to a place where only his (Bendis, not Superman’s) loyal fans will follow. Given this quote, the earlier one about not having the “haha” attitude in disassembling Superman, along with similar things he’s said over the past few months, I’m starting to agree with that sentiment. Further proof in the form of solicits for upcoming issues of Action Comics that reveal Bendis clearly wants readers to fear that Lois is back on earth and having an affair with Lex Luthor. True Superman fans know that is nonsense, but Bendis wants readers to fear that. Seems to me like you’ve definitely still got the “Haha” attitude about your work, Mr. Bendis. He didn’t have to make the mystery of the SuperFam the focus of the books, but he chose to do so when he removed them from the board and while boring readers with over-narration and dialogue fit for an Arrowverse CW show.
In the en,d Bendis took over promising big things for my favorite character, but nine issues in and $35 later, and what have we really gotten? Rogol Zaar still hates Kryptonians, Trish Q wants to save the Daily Planet by writing about how Lois left Clark, and the SuperFam is still missing. While I’m 100% positive Bendis will bring them back, he will then be forced to fix something that didn’t need fixing until he started messing with it.
If, as Mr. DiDio says, the tone of Superman sets the tone for the rest of the line, where are all the values espoused by DC during the early stages of Rebirth in the Superman books? Where is the legacy? The love? The hope? The SuperFam embodies the tenants of Rebirth better than anything else the company published in the last two years. Everything the company sought to return to the DCU two years ago can be found within these three characters. They embody the legacy, because with a new Superboy we are given the promise that one day he could grow into an even better Superman. They embody the love, because what is a family without love? And they embody the hope because Superman gives his everything for everyone on Earth, every single day, and if he can do that and still have enough time to be the world’s greatest husband and father, then that gives me – and all of us - hope that we can be the very best version of ourselves and still have enough time to have a loving family to come home to. When you take that away, are you taking away everything that was promised with Rebirth? I sincerely hope not.


9 comments:

  1. I think you should focus more on the numbers as to your argument about whether Superman and Action Comics were connecting with fans as a whole, and how Bendis's numbers compare. Otherwise, this feels too much like "I like the Super-family (for very valid reasons), and Bendis is not providing anything valuable in taking them away." Sales analysis (or even analysis of projections) would be much more persuasive.

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    1. The only sales you can look at so far are man of steel, but there isnt really a comparison to it. Though, ending in the 60,000s seems to be a dissapointment. We will have to wait some months to see where the superman (#1 did great, but #1s always get a boost) and action comics (which did a lot less than i thought it would) are at. My guess is they settle around the same as what they were.

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  2. "Love and hope" This is the book that opened with Jon frying a cat and its last story arc turned BIZARRO into a child abuser? Look, I get a lot of complaints people have about Bendis, but how is temporarily displacing Lois and Jon (and Jon is still appearing in Super Son, so it's not as if he got rid of him period) so that Clark can find them again, emphasizing their importance to him, worse than... Fucking Bizarro beating his kid (no seriously, how was that a thing)?

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    1. Super Sons did come out after the fact because of complaints and they had to wedge it in to take place before Man of Steel. And Bizarro is the opposite of Superman so...

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    2. I don't like Bendis personally, but I do think the biggest problem was having him on both Action and Superman. Why not give people a choice if they aren't so hip on BMB?!?!

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    3. No it didn't, it was annouced before Man of Steel was even finished. And no, Bizarro is not his opposite, he's literally never worked like that, WTF are you talking about? In Silver Age, he was a loving father and husband and in modern takes, he's a simpleton who never the less is trying to be a hero but is easily manipulated and misguided. Him trying to be his opposite is meant to be funny, since he's, you know, a comic relief character. He's not him Mirror universe Superman.

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    4. The simpleton bizarro is a clone, this is the modern take of bizarro world bizarro...they are different characters!!! It is a world in the multiverse and yes, it is the opposite/mirror image. Its not the 60s, he doesnt have to be comic relief! I dont like it myself, but it was just a different take

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    5. And yea, man of steel was going on and already written. Tomasi thanked everyone for asking dc for the book which was announced way after man of steel was written and solicited. These things are written ahead of time

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    6. And since you wanted to throw shade at me, here is from DCs description of Bizarro: "The character was created by writer Otto Binder and artist George Papp as a "mirror image" of Superman and first appeared in Superboy #68 (1958).

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