DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Young Animal, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up.
THIS WEEK: Ultraman is not a fellow we’d invite out for drinks.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ivan Reis and Brandon Peterson
Inker: Joe Prado
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Josh Reed
One of the defining characteristics of Brian Michael Bendis’ work writing both Superman titles (Superman and Action Comics) as well as his pair of Wonder Comics books (Naomi and Young Justice), is that the veteran creator seems determined to touch upon nearly every corner of the DC Universe. This makes sense, given that he spent nearly two decades at Marvel, with a good 50 percent of iconic (some might say the most iconic) superhero properties out of his reach. And as Bendis himself has pointed out at conventions, his age these days doesn’t lend itself to prolonged runs the way it once did.
In Action Comics, this first manifested in brief not-quite-cameos for characters like The Guardian and The Question, before now spiraling into a storyline called Leviathan that seems likely to incorporate all of DC’s (apparently many) shadowy crime organizations, spy agencies and clandestine operations. In Superman, it has meant that Clark and the rest of the Kent family have bounded between planets and dimensions, bringing in segments of the more science fiction-heavy concepts that have long been part of the DNA at DC.
In this week’s Superman #9, the prodigal Jon Kent continues to tell his parents about where he has been, which for them was only a couple weeks but for him has been years. This just so happens to be Earth-3, which is home the evil alternate Justice League, the Crime Syndicate, last seen (to my knowledge) during the Darkseid War storyline that essentially marked the end of the New 52. Most importantly, Bendis gets access to Ultraman, the group’s Superman, enabling him to write a character that is pretty much everything Clark is not. Past depictions of this character have simply made him aggressive or amoral, and, to be certain, Bendis does that here as well, but he also really leans into some other despicable character traits that might be more familiar to readers than being willing to take over a planet or murder someone with heat vision eyes.
In Superman #9—which has present day and flashback segments, drawn by Ivan Reis with inker Joe Prado and an assist in places by Brandon Peterson—Bendis gives us a maddeningly volatile and inconsistent alternate reality Superman, one whom is as prone to sudden rage-fueled violence as he is to self-indulgent rambles and ugly self-pitying sobbing. It seems almost as if Bendis thought of what really made Superman tick—how admirable he is, how dignified—and leaned into the opposite, making Ultraman not only violent and evil but also a guy you just really would never want to spend time around.
This, to me, speaks to another hallmark of Bendis’ nearly-year-old Superman writing tenure (like that little seguey?), his willingness to try something new and different, while logically extending the core qualities of the characters. This has made some superhero fans uncomfortable—the fellow at my local comic book store grumbles about Jon Kent’s accelerated puberty pretty much every Wednesday—but for me personally, it’s working, and the Ultraman we get in this issue is a prime example of why, with the whole: I’ll see you one planet dominating maniac, and raise you a guy you would also never want to go on a car trip with.
And while I still think Action Comics is maybe an easier book to really love than Superman, I’m increasingly not differentiating the two comics in my head, instead thinking of this Bendis Superman era as one amalgamation of trying something new with one of the oldest still-standing (flying?) characters in all of pop culture. Jon, for one, is slowly getting more agency here. The Rebirth era of Superman was nice, a great reminder of the core of the character, but this one to me seems poised to give Jon Kent more agency than he’s ever had before (perhaps even a full blown Legion of it), and I’m all the way in on that.
Basically, both Superman and Action Comics have felt like they’re building to major things. I’m not sure where we’re going in the end—and really, I don’t even have a guess—but this issue almost certainly pushed us closer. Now accepting guesses, theories, and outrageous claims about what Superman’s waking vision (which was gorgeously illustrated in the opening pages of this issue) meant, and whether it will somehow come to pass. I’m also dying for someone to annotate that one two-page spread with all those characters (see above). I’m not detail-oriented enough to do that sort of thing myself, but I love it when others take the time.
- Wonder Twins #2 by Mark Russell and Stephen Byrne made me chuckle to myself I don’t know how many times. This book has a sensibility that feels like it’s custom-tailored for me. There’s also a real Superior Foes of Spider-Man thing going on with the bad guy (poor poor Drunkula). Wonder Twins is one of those comics where you can feel the creative team having fun, and I love it.
- G. Willow Wilson’s run keeps improving with Wonder Woman #66. She’s putting Diana with characters we haven’t seen her confront (meaningfully) in some time, and the book has been all the better for it.
- In Catwoman #9, guest writer Ram V. and guest artist John Timms put together a stylish heist story that plays around expertly with form. This run has been one of DC’s better offerings in consistently great artwork, regardless of who is drawing it, and this issue is no exception.
- I’ve said this before, but Cover #6 was my favorite issue of the Jinxworld series to date. The meta comic by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Mack is such a charming look behind the scenes of the comicbook industry. Unflinching and honest too, with Bendis regularly taking shots at himself. This issue, besides being a great finale for what I believe is the book’s “first season,” is worth the price of admission alone for a two-page spread that depicts some of the industry’s most famous comics creators, some with their real first names (Frank Miller is Frank) and others with goofy analogs (Tom King is Bill Prince).
- Scott Snyder’s Dark Multiverse is the gift that keeps giving (doesn’t seem like the right phrase…), insofar as it continues to let him tell twisted alternate Batman stories in continuity. This week’s The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight one-shot is a collaboration with writer James Tynion IV, artist Eduardo Risso, and colorist Dave Stewart, a really smart meditation on a range of topics, from gun rights fallacies to the militarization of the police to capital punishment to surveillance and corruption.
- Supergirl #28 injects levity into these proceedings with a burgeoning love triangle…yet it doesn’t have to sacrifice any of the drama in its plot to do it. This book has been great since it reoriented and sent Kara on a space quest with Krypto. Basically, it’s a steady must-read, just like the rest of the Superman line at present.
- Red Hood Outlaw #32 sees former New 52 Teen Titans member Bunker seemingly starting to suspect continuity has been tampered with, noting, “But—sometimes I feel like reality is…arbitrary. As if everything I believe has been reset and reborn and rebooted again and again.” The use of the word “reborn” is interesting. After last week’s Doomsday Clock #9, I can’t help but feel like we’re on the brink of a major continuity shift, line-wide…
- Titans is really stumbling to the finish, which is fine because I don’t want to end up mourning it the same way I did (and still am) Green Arrow (RIP…for now).
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.