Story-arc: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth.
Writer(s): Brian Michael Bendis.
Penciller(s): Ivan Reis.
Inker(s): Joe Prado & Oclair Albert.
Colourist(s): Alex Sinclair.
Letterer(s): Josh Reed.
Publisher: DC Comics.
Release Date: March 5th 2019.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
Following writer Brian Michael Bendis’ transition from Marvel to DC Comics and his first story with one of DC’s greatest superhero (The Man of Steel), he now pursues his foray in the heroes’ lore in two distinct series, Superman and Superman: Action Comics. His latest story arc, Superman: The Unity Saga – Phantom Earth is now his second attempt at consolidating his reputation among readers and his latest opportunity to obtain the respect and trust of fans as he showcases his understanding of the Big Blue Boy Scout. With a character that has greatly evolved conceptually over the past 80 years, it is no secret that the task before him is inevitably monumental but the directions he can take are nevertheless infinite. From exploring the hero’s family dynamics, his love interests, the city of Metropolis, Krypton, his own place among humans or his grasp on intergalactic conflicts and temporal meddling, Brian Michael Bendis has his plate full with ideas to explore. And so the question subsists: Where will he go with his Superman run?
What is Superman: The Unity Saga – Phantom Earth about? Collectings issues #1-6, the story picks up right where The Man of Steel ended with Superman having to henceforth live alone without his loved ones who are off on a mission to teach his son Jon of his place in the world and the extent of his powers. Confronted with this new situation, Superman also finds himself reevaluating his role on Earth and what he can do more for mankind. Unfortunately for him, his latest mission is forced upon him when he realizes that Earth has somehow been sent into the Phantom Zone, the interdimensional prison where all villains are usually transported too. Who is behind this planetary catastrophe? What are their motives? How is Superman going to get them out of it? This challenge will push Superman to reflect on his priorities and the sacrifices he dares to contemplate for everyone on a daily basis.
Rest assured, Brian Michael Bendis writes a compelling Superman who, under psychological duress, is having a tough time being grounded in his routine life as Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman. Although his portrayal of the hero draws upon some of Superman’s most virtuous beliefs and builds upon the premise of The Man of Steel, there seemed to be an underlying theme of invincibility discernable in all the pompous action sequences scattered through this story arc. To further accentuate the grandeur of Superman, Brian Michael Bendis also fully exploits the heroes’ prestigious status among heroes and places him in a particular situation that forces his hands immensely and thus leaves an enormous burden on his shoulders. With decisions piling up one on top of the other, the load he takes on is pretty impressive but the inconceivable beat down he embraces in this story arc took me out of the intensity of the moment far too often.
In fact, the beat down that Superman suffers in this story arc comes from a newly-introduced villain who brings into play the brute force of Doomsday with the strategic thinking of General Zod. The development of this key character who plays an immense role in Superman’s origin story by retconning fundamental story elements stays relatively shaky and a bit unconvincing, but it remains to be seen how much juice Brian Michael Bendis will be able to squeeze out of this new rivalry. Ivan Reis’ artwork however remains an exquisite strength to this volume with his ability to deliver grandiose and explosive events. His ability to convey the epic scale of the stories he works on continues to be impressive, complimented by the wonderful and flashy colours by Alex Sinclair. A drastic change in the panel configuration and lettering of the last issues was also unexpected but a very welcome change in style.
Superman: The Unity Saga – Phantom Earth is a straightforward exploration of the Man of Steel’s leadership and his physical endurance accompanied by Ivan Reis’ bombastic and striking artwork.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!