Fan reactions have been incredibly divisive over the sort of stories they’ve gotten so far, which is to be expected when you hand the reins of the most important superhero of all time over to someone who’s been playing for the other team. With plenty of highs and lows, major status quo changes, new characters, and a fresh look at old faces, we’ll take a look at what’s worked and what hasn’t so far.
10 WEAKNESS: Decompression & Pacing
This is an oft-debated issue among readers of Bendis’ work throughout his entire career. You either love the way he can make moments stretch on for panels and panels, squeezing as much dialogue in there as he can, or don’t. It can sometimes, when done poorly, grind a story to a screeching halt, where it really struggles to pick up momentum. Superman and Action Comics don’t struggle with it as much as some of Bendis’ previous works, but some readers are tired of the writer’s business as usual style.
9 STRENGTH: Easter Egg Title Pages
One of the subtler things that has made Action Comics and Legion of Super-Heroes stand out among the crowd have been Bendis’ title pages. More often than not, each of these series has opened up with a single page spread featuring everything from Clark’s desk at the Daily Planet to assorted Legionnaires providing recap pages digitally. Each of these are filled with so many small Easter eggs that readers have been spending several minutes or more searching for them before getting to page two. It’s a nice stylish touch, and one that shows both a respect for the series’ fans and their respective titles’ histories.
8 WEAKNESS: Inconsistent Villains
While you can’t fault him for introducing original villains to start off his run, their impact has been inconsistent thus far. Marisol Leone, the Red Cloud and “Invisible Mafia” in Action Comics have been snoozers thus far, even with Leone’s supposed impact as the secret owner of the Daily Planet. Leviathan has proven to be a worthy adversary with a unique voice, but was somewhat undermined by the reveal of his identity, which, to be fair, is usually the case for villains whose alter ego is kept secret.
Rogol Zaar in Superman felt only slightly less one-note than a Doomsday clone, yet Bendis’ treatment of Jor-El has been a highlight of the series up to this point. Unfortunately, after wrapping up the “Unity Saga” arc and his launching of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Bendis has chosen to throw Superman toe-to-toe with Mongul instead of any number of more interesting villains in the stable. Here’s hoping the antagonists get stronger as the series ages.
7 STRENGTH: Bombastic Action
Man, it feels like every page of Bendis’ Superman title is HUGE. Full of incredible splash pages and earned battles, the action in Superman feels more impactful than it’s felt since Grant Morrison was writing Action Comics. This is a direct result of working with a master, as Ivan Reis is no stranger to massive comic stories (see his incomparable work on both Green Lantern and Justice League). Reis is able to bring the heat to every page, making the final conflict between Superman and Rogol Zaar feel as exciting as it should have been considering how much lead up there was. Reis’ artwork has elevated the story to feel deserving of its namesake.
6 WEAKNESS: Dragging Storylines
Bendis is, without a doubt, playing the long game here. Every issue, every event, every piece of plot, seems to be part of the greater narrative whole of his vision for Superman and his family. However, many of these stories have overstayed their welcome.
Some have managed to rebound from the drag to great effect like the “Unity Saga” arc of Superman, while others have fallen flat and lost readers interest as time goes on like Event Leviathan. While the world-building he’s been doing has been admirable, there are definitely times readers have yearned for the conclusion of his storylines.
5 STRENGTH: The Supporting Cast
Since Bendis took over, the Super-books have felt bigger than ever, with a growing cast of characters that feel important to the story rather than just set dressing. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen have gotten more spotlight than they’ve seen in years, and as a result, have gotten titles of their own from Greg Rucka and Matt Fraction. Perry White feels like more of a human being than a newspaper editor caricature.
Bendis has even found ways to sneak a few of his favorites in there like Naomi, Manhunter, The Question, and, most recently, even the beloved Conner Kent. All of these characters feel not only warranted, but essential to Superman’s life, and all feel like they’ll have a major role to play going forward.
4 WEAKNESS: Crossovers
This is less prevalent in the Superman title, which has stayed largely self-contained, but the momentum that Action Comics had early on its run has been derailed by the events and crossover issues with the Year of the Villain and Justice League. While Action had initially found its stride early on, focusing on the more mundane lives of Clark Kent and his Daily Planet coworkers, what we liked about the book fell by the wayside as Event Leviathan came on strong. Where readers thought was a home for smaller stories had become an event book, and continued in that direction after Event Leviathan ended and Year of the Villain began. Just slow it back down at some point, please?
3 STRENGTH: Legion of Super-Heroes
Bendis has been able to greatly expand the scope of his Super-narrative by adding Superman’s son, Jon Kent, to the roster of the newly relaunched Legion of Super-Heroes. While his track record with team books has been hit (Avengers) or miss (X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy) over the years, Bendis does feel right at home with the Legion.
The massive cast of teenagers actually allows the oft-parodied “Bendis-speak” to feel natural and warranted, and he’s always had a strong voice when writing teen heroes. While the book has yet to really take off and get to the cosmic levels many fans have been waiting for, the momentum he’s built thus far is primed to have a major payoff down the line.
2 WEAKNESS: Super-Dad No More
Oh man, how we miss Jon! Before Bendis came on to helm the Super-titles, Peter J. Tomasi had been writing the Superman title and focused on family driven stories involving Clark, Lois, and their son Jon. It was a breath of fresh air, allowed the Super-family to progress beyond many of the tropes of superhero relationships, and felt like readers had discovered something that had been missing for decades. While aging Jon let Bendis bring a Superboy back to the Legion, readers lost those sentimental, heartwarming, truly Superman-feeling stories of a man and his son before we really got to appreciate them. We looked forward to reading about these father-son adventures for a long time, but Bendis cut that chapter short.
1 STRENGTH: Truth
The most recent developments in Bendis’ Superman stories have found the hero revealing his secret identity to the world. Now, the world knows that Clark Kent is Superman and vice versa. The fallout of this shocking revelation to the world has been spectacular, and Bendis has really shined in these smaller moments where Superman’s friends and family have come to grips with this new reality. Both the Superman: Heroes and Superman: Villains one-shots provided a poignant look at the DC Universe’s reaction to the news, while the fallout is being dealt with in the pages of Superman. What could easily have been passed off as a gimmick feels more like a natural progression for Bendis’ Superman, and it opens up a whole world of stories ready to be told.
Brian Michael Bendis is switched from writing from Marvel to DC. He is currently on his run as Superman with divisive opinions on how he is doing.