If you were for some reason worried what Superman would be like in the hands of Brian Michael Bendis, fear not — the last son of Krypton is in excellent hands. SYFY WIRE reviewed an advance copy of the first issue of The Man of Steel, a six-issue weekly miniseries that will set up events for what Bendis has in store for the monthly series, Action Comics and Superman. Then we spoke to Bendis about the first issue of The Man of Steel, to be released May 30; writing Superman; creating a new villain; and the newer wrinkles that make him every bit as relevant for the modern reader.
Similar to when John Byrne launched his Man of Steel miniseries back in 1986, which established how Superman would be treated from that point on, Bendis’ The Man of Steel 2018 mini-series will be the starting point for his take on the character. But while Byrne’s landmark series rebooted the character, Bendis makes it known that he has been passed the current Superman baton and will be following what Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, and Pat Gleason did with the character during their runs.
“I’m happy to report that Superman was in no way broken, dinged or damaged. But Dan, Peter and Pat set me up with all of these pieces to apply and go nuts,” Bendis told us. “What we’re using in The Man of Steel miniseries is a valentine to what John did, but completely different in that the John Byrne mini-series was indeed the John Byrne show. This is me expressing myself through collaborations, through these artists I’ve always wanted to work with, and these characters. It’s more about my feelings and love for the art and characters starting with The Man of Steel #1 than it is an ‘I’m going start everything over and throw everything out’ kind of story.”
As is commonplace with new creative teams, there’s a tendency to start anew. However, Supes has already been through the DC New 52 and the Rebirth initiative in a short time span, with the latter being a critical success. Many of the readers who have been enjoying Superman during the Rebirth era of DC feared all that quality work would be cast aside.
“I know people were worried about it, but I tell them that you don’t have to worry, we’re not throwing everything out,” he said. “We’re writing Superman stories that take place in the modern day. They’re going to be dangerous and exciting, and they’re going to be in continuity.”
In the first issue of The Man of Steel, Superman interacts with the head of the Metropolis Fire Department on her first day on the job, and there’s a tone and warmth to the characters that is specifically familiar to how Bendis writes superhero comics. For readers familiar with both Bendis’ entire body of work and Superman, it’s a scene that reassures you that DC has the right guy to steer Superman for the foreseeable future. But it almost didn’t happen.
For those still in the dark about Bendis’ health scare in December, after his announcement of his DC deal, he was stricken by a MRSA (staph) infection that caused massive swelling of his face, causing temporary blindness and months to recover. Bendis feared he might never be able finish his last obligations to Marvel Comics, as he was pages away from finishing a decades-long run. Others like Jessica Jones were books that readers could only see him writing as the creator of the now-popular private eye turned Netflix star.
“I was so frustrated that I might not be able to -- it’s hard to describe, but if I was losing my sight, I would’ve given anything for one more week of sight to finish,” he said. “Every time I would have a moment when the swelling would go down and I’d be able to see, I would crawl over to my computer to try to finish Defenders. I was struggling so when I was out of the hospital, and ready to go, one of the first things I got to write at full blast was The Man of Steel and at least I could feel, oh good, I get to write again feeling well while I’m writing.”
As for nailing the proper tone of Superman in The Man of Steel, Bendis explains that a lot of things went into it. “It was so clearly raw emotion, like the whole thing. Even in the quieter moments, I can feel the raw emotion of how happy I am that I’m getting to write the book. I definitely feel that The Man of Steel benefited from that, but I wasn’t conscious when it was happening.”
Rogol Zaar - The New Villain
If Superman was going to have a new era under Bendis, he’d also need to have a new villain, and The Man of Steel is where Rogol Zaar is introduced. But to get here, Bendis underwent an intense Superman re-read, which meant reading as much material that’s been done previously.
“It’s an intense amount of material, not unlike when you take over the X-Men,” Bendis shared. “You’ve got a lot to read; no matter how much you think you’ve read, you’ve got a lot more to read when you take into account mini-series, specials, else worlds, etc. I made a list of things I hoped to accomplish, such as more supporting cast, villains, things that compared to his peers, he doesn’t have as much of. Superman has great villains, but compared to Batman or Spider-Man, about a third as many. I had a similar frustration writing Iron Man, where there were all of these great villains, but he could use a bunch more, right?”
In the middle of his re-read, Bendis started to think about what a modern villain is today and what could get under Kal-El’s skin. So he called DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, asking him if DC has ever done a story about what really happened to Krypton. Bendis said that DiDio responded in the cutest voice ever:
“What really happened to Krypton?”
It was in this response that Bendis knew from previous experiences with collaborators that he would have a good time at DC Comics, because they want to hear a story, and with that, the ideas came pouring in.
“From there we started building who Rogol was, what he meant to the Krypton heritage, what he means to Superman, the challenge that he puts into Superman’s life. He really is almost like an immovable object that Superman can’t use all of his normal tricks against." Bendis explained. "His tricks are quite something, too. He also tests his belief system, and that is a big part of Superman, is believing his heritage, believing his father and believing where he came from.”
Superman and Parenthood
DC Comics is hoping that Bendis will bring new readers to Supes; nearly 20 years at Marvel has earned him a loyal following. Some who make the journey with him may find Superman is a little different than how they last remember him if they haven’t read any Superman stories in the New 52 or Rebirth initiatives. Superman has a son now, introduced in DC’s Convergence event in Convergence: Superman #2 as the biological firstborn son of pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane.
While Superman has always had stories about his extended family dating back to the 1940s and 1950s, Jonathan Kent is such a different character to build around. I asked Bendis to think about the Superman he grew up with and then one he gets to write, and how much Jonathan Kent changes the approach to Superman as well as the new places he believed he can go.
“I am so excited in what they’ve developed around Superman, it’s completely unique in the superhero genre. Coming here to the mythology that has been built again to a modern-day scenario, I gotta tell you, I’m a father, I’ve got four kids, it’s what I think about all day, processing my weird life,” he said.
“I’ve got a weird life compared to other fathers. A lot of parents go to work all day, I’m home in my pajamas all day, playing with superheroes with all of them. It’s a very unique experience for them. Writing the responsibility of fatherhood vs. the über responsibility of just being a part of society is something I’ve rarely ever written about, and it’s consumed a third of my life.”
“It’s a great deal of fun to write, to be honest with you. Also, what they’re trying to accomplish is a normal thing, and they’re not normal people." he shared. "There’s nothing normal about Clark, Lois, or Jonathan. So this attempt at normalcy may be in itself the most eccentric thing they’ve done, because they need to come to terms with the fact that we’re not normal, so maybe we should make our own rules, so we might look into that a little bit.”
As a father of two myself, it’s one of the few times that I connected deeply with Superman in a profound way during Jurgens’ latest run in Action Comics and what Pat and Peter did in Superman. So Jonathan serves as a different entry point into the Superman mythology, and given the 80 years of Superman, as a writer, Jonathan is still a relatively new toy to play with.
“It is so much because as much as Dan, Pete and Pat did,” Bendis acknowledged. “And there’s so much more to do, they’ve set it up so well. On top of this, I have another weird observation when I was writing Spider-Man, I always had Peter’s nervous energy in me, I related to it on a visceral energy level. That’s how I am. As I got older, you settle down, you don’t have to be so worried, everything’s fine. You get a little more zen, and that’s what Superman has. I have an inner peace, and writing that is something I’ve never written before, and I think you see that in The Man of Steel as well. I relate to that more centered adult than the teenager.”
Any time new collaborations start, there is an intense amount of legwork and digging that goes on, from research to getting to know artists and finding out their strengths, desires, and passions. There are character designs, and getting a feel for the workflow, knowing how much or little script is needed to communicate the launch point at which an artist can run wild. The Man of Steel will have a total of seven different artists, six of whom Bendis has never worked with before. They are Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Adam Hughes, Ryan Sook, Evan “Doc” Shanier, Kevin Maguire, and Jason Fabok.
“We put together a list of the best DC artists that I’ve never worked with. There are a few artists at DC that I worked with that I talked about, me and David Finch or me and John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson. I want to work with them, and I loved working with them, and it is exciting that I get to do that again, but it was also exciting to work with people I’ve never worked with before that I love so much,” he said.
While some collaborations require some discussions on the phone about writing to their strengths and interests, others just need to look at an artist’s social media feed to know who draws what.
“When I was arranging the scenes, in which characters would come by and visit, it was very clear to me that Doc Shanier would draw Green Lantern or Plastic Man. It just so happened that it would be Green Lantern because Green Lantern was a better fit for the story.”
Assisting on the Doc Shanier issue is Steve Rude, the co-creator of another science fiction-based superhero, Nexus.
“Steve Rude, our guest legend, came in to help Doc with his issue, and they are gorgeous pages as well. By the way, Steve Rude on Man of Steel is one of the best stunts ever, because no one cares more about Superman or what he represents more than Steve, so him signing on to do this was a pretty big deal for me.”
After reading The Man of Steel, it's reassuring to know the new collaborations have translated to results that readers are going to like. When the artists and writer are in a good rhythm, so are the comics. You can feel the energy of these new creative endeavors for Bendis.
“Writing what they want was a blast, and most of them wanted me to write Superman kicking ass and really being Superman. That seemed to be the uniform request from every single artist. There was a tone to Superman that they all wanted to accomplish.” said Bendis.
“The bonus for people reading the mini-series is that all the artists were on an email chain with each other, constantly sending art to each other, keeping each other updated on designs and choices. Each of them were subconsciously torturing each other with their artwork. Everyone was trying to be better than the other, you have Adam Hughes trying to outdo Ryan Sook, who’s trying to outdo Ivan Reis. It became something that you can’t plan, it just has to happen, and everybody got into it.”
“Now guess who gets to benefit? Me and you!”
Below is a preview of The Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado. Check back next week when we will have an interview with Jason Fabok about The Man of Steel #6.