The big news coming into the Man of Steel mini-series was that Brian Michael Bendis gained the reigns on Superman. What would his slow meticulous look at Superman be like? Would it be focused on Jon coming of age and be heartwarming but insightful? Would he ditch Lois and Jon? How would Supergirl tie in? Would Rogal Zar be interesting? Would it be on par to Tomasi's run? Coming in with so many questions, there's bound to be some disappointment. Ultimately, this series wasn't just a disappointment, it is a sign of things to come. The key figure of Man of Steel is Superman and the series has a lot of Superman. As Clark Kent, he faces a sense of loneliness and helplessness as the forces of his life fall apart. While he misses Lois, the Daily Planet is running out of money. While Jon is gone after his birthday got ruined, he feels Metropolis falling apart. As Kal-el, a new villain has arrived to destroy everything he's ever touched, and a villain who will happily commit genocide and killed Krypton and potentially Earth to get his way. The dual nature of Superman is well explored as the parallels in his life all lead to hitting rock bottom. Tomasi was about Superman finding Normalcy. Bendis is about losing that Normalcy, which works. The fan reaction to Bendis's run is partly the break from this normalcy, but in that break there's a lot of interesting stories that can be told which is something Bendis delivers on. While Superman plays a big role in the story, every other character except Rogal Zar takes a back seat in the story and shows up in basically one issue. The daily planet story mostly takes place in issue 2, while Lois and Jon play out in about a half issue worth of conversation split over the course of the comic. The new fire chief gets a small section. However each of these characters are more compelling than Superman. While this seems like a dock on Superman, it's more about Bendis's ability to create interesting characters. When I want to see more about the new Firefly who shows up in the first issue and then never shows up again, there is a clear well designed characterization of who's who. I want to know more about Fire Chief Moore in the same way I want to know more about Mrs. Robinson and Perry's psyche. The side characters are the real highlight. It's just a bummer there isn't more time with anyone. My first problem with the miniseries is Rogal Zar who though terrifying doesn't really become anything more. The best villains need time to develop and Rogal Zar just didn't have enough spot light. I want to know what Krypton did to him and how he killed Krypton. I want to know who he was before and after he killed Krypton. Instead I have lots of questions and the only answer is that he hates Krypton. He's filled with anger and hate, but with no clear reason. He's incredibly strong but not so different power wise from Doomsday. When Bendis takes the time to do what few writers still do and create new villains, he has to make sure the villain is just as interesting as the hero. Instead, Bendis is focused on shock value of the character. Commiting genocide makes you evil but doesn't nessecarily make you interesting. Is Pol Pot an interesting person because he killed millions of Cambodians? No, but it makes him a horrible person. Rogal Zar is only interesting as a strong angry male alien and frankly, he's a bad villain. Fortunately, Rogal Zar's Story will be explored as the run continues.
My other problem is pacing. While the story has a lot that happens, the Jon and Lois plot moves at a slow drag. Issue 1 teases something is happening while issue 2 reveals it’s a ship. Issue 3 reveals there is a man in the ship. This slow pacing creates unnecessary drag. It would have been much more interesting to have issue 1 be the entire lois plot and then watch everything fall apart. On a reread, the knowledge of what has happened makes the text more interesting. Which though not a bad thing, isn’t a great thing either.
Coming into Man of Steel, we knew two things. One, Superman’s classic undies were back. Two, Lois was gone for some reason. One place Superman succeeds is answering the questions. Would it focus on Jon? Not really. Would he ditch Lois and Jon? More or less. How would Supergirl tie in? Telling Rogal Zar’s Story. Would Rogal Zar be interesting? Slightly. Would it be on par with Tomasi’s run? No. While there’s a lot of no’s to those questions, Man of Steel does really interesting things which pave the way for a new angle for superman. Bendis’s Superman isn’t about the moment to moment that Tomasi’s run what about. Instead it’s about asking and answering questions and then asking more questions. The story feels slow paced because it is. However, you can argue that the series provides answers and asks lots of them. Bendis isn’t shy about answering those questions either. Jumping ahead a year, many of the loose threads have been answered and new threads have emerged. While Tomasi’s Superman is about the day to day, this Superman is about the adventure of finding the answers and the fun of asking questions.
Where to continue the story
Action Comics: The Clark side of the story. Focusing on the supporting cast of the Superman family.
Superman: The Superman/ Rogal Zar side. Also called the Unity Saga.
Supergirl: The search for the truth behind Rogal Zar’s past.
Generally, this order is also the order in terms of best series to worst. But Superman and Supergirl aren’t all that different.
FYI, I’m not great at judging art so I choose to focus on the writing.