Writer: Francis Manapul
Art: Bong Dazo
I usually associate Francis Manapul’s name on a comic with exquisite art. I do not like the art in this book as much as I liked Manapul’s stuff that I read earlier this year in in Detective Comics. But that’s because he is not doing the art in this book. Bong Dazo is. Manapul is writing. But let me tell you, this is an absolute clinic on how it should be done. It is an opportunity to present the Man of Steel in a unique way, and this creative team nails it in tone, in spirit, and in the hope that a man who can fly, and falls, can fly once again.
In the wake of the death of Darkseid, some members of the Justice League are infused with the power of gods. Superman has become the god of Strength, although this issue is titled god of Steel. Both terms ring true if you consider the notion of Superman being roided out beyond his normal power level, and relieved of the moral compass that normally guides him in his application of that power.
I am not sure if Manapul has ever taken the reins on a Superman title before, but he is spot-on in this issue. There is an incredibly beautiful monologue from Jimmy Olsen as he reminds Superman of who he is and how he feels. The concept that these two are such friends that Olsen knows how a being of Superman’s power thinks and feels and can articulate it back to him during a period of Clark’s disillusionment…textbook Superman tone, at least New 52 Superman. I have read a bit of the better runs of Superman in Action Comics and the main Superman title; the stuff that preceded Romita Jr, and those issues were some of the best Superman comics I’ve ever read. This issue from Manapul and Dazo blows all of them out of the water. Let me say that between the Superman and Batman tie-ins to this event that I have read, this is the first event since the New 52 that has achieved the degree of quality that I expect from DC when they do a major crossover like this.
The artwork in this book is astounding. Superman in the Black and White costume while also being devoid of skin pigment is an incredibly cerebral rendering. This Superman features the classic curled hair bang over his forehead akin to the Christopher Reeves Superman. Power crackles from his eyes periodically. It is almost as if in his presence the power is being sucked out of the atmosphere into him. While Romita Jr is not on this book, I see similarities to him in how Dazo renders the civilians, but without everyone having the squared off jaw like I see in much of Romita Jr’s work. I also love classic Jimmy Olsen in the bow tie. The pinnacle of Dazo’s storytelling is on a 5-panel stacked horizontal page where Superman grasps that something is woefully wrong with him as he is left alone but for the presence of a lone bird. Initially dismissive of the bird, he laments its departure, his eyes transition from the cold white they have been to his classic blue, and he takes off to save the city he has abandoned. Heartwarming.
I’m not sure what DC’s setup and plan is for this Darkseid War of the gods. I love the arc of Justice Leaguers infused with more power than they should ever be allowed to harbor. I expect to see some great stories out of this, and the Batman issue and this one have met those expectations. Every primary member of the League has questioned their own humility, feared their own corruption by the power that they already possess, and the potential of further corruption by the grant of even greater power. Now we have that exact setup; this is the most extreme test of character that many of them will face. What I hope is that the results of this event are not the throwaway outcomes that DC has been fat-fingering since the New-52 reboot. Where we get engaged in these events only to realize that the outcomes really don’t matter. Even if that is the end result, I expect that these issues of the Superman tie-in with the remarkable work of this creative team will still stand apart as a bold creative body of work. Bravo, gentlemen. Bravo.