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‘Superman: Vol. 1 – The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth’ (review)

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Ivan Reis,
Joe Prado, Oclair Albert
Published by DC Comics


First, a little background. For the past several years DC Comics has dramatically changed their characters with a publishing initiative called the “New 52”, which reimagined their universe for a modern audience.

After an initial push, it proved to be more of a turn-off for longtime fans and those newer fans, responsible for the initial sales bump, dropped off.

The company, re-established itself with a new focus, dubbed “Rebirth”, which once again captured much of what the audience enjoyed about the characters. With writers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason on Superman and Dan Jurgens on Action Comics, the Superman titles flourished like they hadn’t had in years.

Then DC announced that Brian Michael Bendis, who had spent eighteen or so years as Marvel’s top writer found himself itching for a change.  And that meant coming to DC Comics and playing in their universe.

And Bendis wanted Superman.  This was no disrespect to the talent involved, but when the top guy from the other team comes over and wants to play, you give him what he wants.  Bendis gracefully allowed the current creative teams to wrap up their stories and help set-up his taking over.

Bendis’ run on Superman began with a six-issue series, Man of Steel, which set the stage for his upcoming run.  With Lois and son, Jon, in space with his previously thought dead father, Jor-El, Superman is forced to confront a threat, Rogol Zaar, a Kryptonian threat and addition to his rogue’s gallery.

The story now picks up in Superman: Vol. 1 – The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth, which collects the first six issues of Bendis’ run.

And I’m not that crazy about it.  His run on Action Comics thus far has been great, but here, it just feels like an ongoing rehash from one issue to the next.

One of Bendis’ greatest strengths is his dialogue.  Unfortunately, he’s chosen to go narrative heavy.  To the point that it actually detracts from the storytelling.  And his usually great ear for dialogue is virtually non-existent.  Often it seems that the more successful a writer is, the editor puts greater trust that the writer is always right.  That isn’t the case here.

Unlike many of the major DC characters which ship bi-weekly, Superman and Action both ship monthly.  That’s fine except this collection includes the first six, of a presumable twelve issue story.  That’s a year before this arc concludes, which as a reader is far too long.  If you’re trying to attract monthly readers, a one year story that lacks direction might not be the best way to do it.

Rogol Zaar is back, and he’s nothing more than a more intelligent Doomsday (or a far uglier Mongul).  His presence lends a physical threat, but as any true fan of Superman knows, the only real threat is the endangerment of the people of Earth.  General Zod shows up, The Earth finds itself in the Phantom Zone, and we get appearances from the Justice League, The Tamareans, The Atom, Livewire, Adam Strange and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace‘s Nuclear Man.  I wanted to like it, but it just feels by the numbers, perfectly satisfactory but without anything to set it apart as special.

One shining spot is the art.  Penciller Ivan Reis and inkers Joe Prado and Oclair Albert depict an iconic Man of Steel. Drafting both normal and exotic locations, aliens and supporting characters, Reis, Prado and Albert deliver some of the best artwork on the stands today.  Color work from Alex Sinclair is also strong, although there are some strange lettering choices from Josh Reed.

Although Bendis’ take on the character is spot-on, it’s the story that seems to be suffering the most.  Hopefully, the book will shift into a stronger direction at the conclusion of the second volume of the Unity Saga.



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