Superman: The Unity Saga – Phantom Earth by Brian Michael Bendis

details
Title: Superman.
Story-arc: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth.
Volume: 1.
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.
Format: Hardcover.
Release Date: March 5th 2019.
Pages: 168.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
ISBN13: 9781401288198.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.

thoughts

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.

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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.


EXHIBITA

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!

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17 comments

  • I’ve never really managed to lock in with Superman. I don’t know what it is about his character – but nothing I’ve ever watched/read has made me bond. I do however really like the sound of Earth accidentally ending up in an interdimensional prison! That sounds fascinating. Also I kind of feel like it may have happened in real life. Come save us, Superman!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaaha I totally understand. I feel like a lot of people have a tough time with Superman even though he’s an icon to anything superhero-related. But I assure you that some of his stories are truly wonderful. You just got to choose wisely. As for Earth being in an interdimensional prison right now… I feel ya hahahah With time we’ll find out if Superman will drop by to save us! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  • Great to hear your thoughts on this my friend, although I was slightly more taken with it – yet your opinion of this first Bendis Superman arc seems positive overall (the second Unity Saga arc which is underway now builds the story further). I think my only slight negative is that I wanted a bit more exploration and a bit more complexity in respect of Rogol Zaar – but who knows, we may get that further down the line.

    Some readers are saying they prefer Bendis’ work on Action Comics (it’s good stuff but my overall preference is the reverse) so you may find that stronger as it’s a bit more character focused without too many ‘beat downs’ (ironic, given the book’s title)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was curious to see if I’d love it as much as you but man, I think it still needs time to develop. I’m still not sure about Rogol Zaar. His introduction isn’t as impressive as The Court of Owls’ introduction for me. If by the next volume, Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t work his prime-days magic, this run might not become as huge as it could be. I also saw that he’s got so many other projects with DC as well. I’m not sure how he can multitask so much! I do look forward to seeing how Action Comics turns out though. You never shared your thougths on your blog for that one right? I only seem to remember some issues of Man of Steel and Superman.

      Will be dropping by your posts really soon! Saw Captain Marvel the other day and I’m definitely curious to see what your reactions are now more than ever! 😀

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      • I haven’t covered any of Action Comics yet but hope to at some point. I do wish we could get a Superman villain (aside from Lex Luthor and Zod) with s similar level of complexity as Talon/the Court of Owls. The closest really was Wraith in Superman Unchained. I still think Bendis’ tenure on Superman had potential, like a lot of his runs it’ll probably take a little time for it all to build up but I’m optimistic!

        Liked by 1 person

  • I’m glad that, despite not being the best comic you’ve read thus far, Superman as a character was interesting enough to keep reading. I know very little about the DC universe and my first ever introduction to the Man of Steel was really through Smallville! I know, I know, but to be honest I retain virtually no memories from the show at all so cannot really say I know any more about Superman than I did before xD I watched a few of his most recent movies but that was about as far as I went.

    I do like the art in this one quite a lot and it’s nice that the changes they made were for the better! Here’s to hoping the next volume is a bit more enjoyable for you 🙂

    Brilliant review as always, Lashaan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Sophie! I totally understand that Supz can be quite hard to fall in love with, especially when socially we have a pretty goofy/cheesy idea of what he is all about. And it’s pretty cool that you watched Smallville! Fans of Superman tend to love that show! But I do assure you that there are some great Superman stories that can break anyone into tears. While others will have you cringe, but that can be said about just about all characters hahaha But yes! The artwork is fantastic here. It’s just the story direction that could’ve used a little boost! 😜

      Like

      • I remember it being cool, but I was so young back then I’m not really sure I would find it cool now xD
        Plus, it always reminds me that the actresses who portrayed Chloe and Lana were apparently in a cult and were arrested? Some messed up stuff like that LOL (and I can’t unknow it now…)
        Anyway, I’ll definitely check out some Superman stories then 🙂 Do you recommend any in particular?

        Liked by 1 person

  • I agree that Superman himself was written well in this story, but I disliked the story enough that I dropped it pretty much right after this story ended. It’s not just a retcon of Krypton’s destruction, but it betrays the whole point of Krypton’s destruction. That and before this, the Superman series was almost more of a family drama than it was a superhero comic. That made it feel unique and special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear that Bendis’ Action Comics run is more focused on family drama unlike this Superman run. I do look forward to finding out if it’s better in that regards. But yes. There’s a lot of risky moves in this run regarding Krypton.

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