Coming Clean

Superman #18
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Bryan Hitch (variant)
Editor: Mike Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I had a keen interest in this issue, as it brings together to major interests and influences in my life: the super-hero genre and journalism. The latter element isn’t as examined as prominently as I’d hoped in this issue, but it’s felt nevertheless as part of Clark Kent’s identity. Ultimately, this is the sort of story I was hoping we’d see when it was announced Bendis would take the reins of DC’s Superman titles. The focus here is on character above all else, as he shakes up the status quo of an iconic character’s existence. There’s an inspirational, hopeful tone to Superman’s confession to the world here, and it made for an enjoyable reading experience. But there are other questions to be explored – ethical failings and potential fallout that I hope Bendis examines in coming issues.

In light of recent events, Superman comes to question decisions he’s made in his life – chief among them, his choice to live a double life. He sets out to reveal to the world that he is Clark Kent, but before the big press conference, he’s got a few people close to him that need to know before everyone else.

Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have been a go-to creative team at DC for huge, action-packed epics, and while I find their art pleasing, I didn’t think it would be all that well suited for an issue that sets aside the bombastic elements of the genre in favour for a more reflective, character-driven focus. However, they manage to instill the enormity of the moment with their sweeping vistas of impossible and majestic cityscapes. The Thanagarian backdrop for the United Planets scene makes for an interesting contrast with the personal, introspective conversation Superman has with Adam Strange, for example, and the choice to present Superman’s press conference with a massive crowd against the enormity of the Daily Planet building also conveys how huge and pivotal this decision is.

There was a problematic sequence, visually speaking, later in the issue, though. The two-page spread featuring Superman’s press conference and the reactions of various super-heroes to the news on live TV didn’t flow well at all. It took me a minute or two to figure out the proper order in which to read the panels and – more importantly – the dialogue. It disrupted the moment, the story, which was unfortunate.

One of Bendis’ greatest strengths is his dialogue, especially when he brings larger-than-life figures down to earth through their words. I loved the hilarious exchange between the Man of Steel and Adam Strange, and it unfolds in the context of a utopian vision of government that actually takes action on critical issues. And Superman’s speech to the world about who he is was well crafted, capturing the essence of the character. It wasn’t just about revealing his secret identity, but about revealing why he does what he does, what makes him an essentially decent person.

Mind you, one of the most powerful scenes in the book was the one without any dialogue or narrative captions. Clark’s moment with Perry White was perfect, conveying everything one needs to know about their relationship. Bendis makes it perfectly clear these two men are more than work colleagues – they’re family. The writer also sets aside the bluster for which Perry is known and delves into a more vulnerable side of the character. I loved that page.

Bendis, through the characters, makes the wholly relevant point that Superman’s secret identity, years after his debut, serves no purpose. Initially designed to protect those close to Clark, things have played out so those same people are close to Superman in the world’s eyes. The one aspect that Bendis doesn’t explore here is the fact that Clark – and Lois, for that matter – has now compromised himself professionally and legally. Every piece he wrote as a reporter about Superman is now questionable. It’s ironic that by embracing truth – a central tenet of his profession – Clark has invited questions about his truthfulness and trustworthiness as a journalist. Furthermore, as a guy with a job, assets, a mortgage, presumably, he’s also made himself a different kind of target for those Superman has roughed up over the years. I get that point of this key issue was to celebrate the moral center of the title character, and as such, the writer has focused on a positive tone. My hope is that Bendis will delve into the consequences of this decision in the coming issues. 8/10

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Coming Clean