Superman: Action Comics Volume 1: Invisible Mafia
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Patrick Gleason and Yanick Paquette and Ryan Sook
Colours by Alejandro Sanchez, Nathan Fairbairn and Brad Anderson
Letters By Josh reed
Published by DC Comics, hb, £19.99
Reviewed by Alisdair Stuart
All is far from well in Metropolis. A series of fires have ravaged buildings across the city and SUperman has been named as a suspect. At the same time, a deadly new meta begins tightening their grip on the city’s underworld. Then there are the rumours about where Lois Lane is, the gossip columnist pushing Clark for a story, the truth about where Lois and a reporter a heartbeat away from the story of a lifetime. Life in the Big City is far from simple.
It is massively fun though. Marvel veteran Brian Michael Bendis’ initial step across the aisle was a distinctly wobbly six part mini-series that established the new status quo and very little else. This is a massive improvement, and, like all good Superman stories, gets three things extremely right; Clark, Lois and Superman.
Clark first. The best moments here come when we see Clark given equal billing to Superman, and not just Clark as disguise but Clark as human being. There’s a confrontation with the gossip columnist late in this volume that has real tension to it and another moment where you see the mask slip just a little and the pain he’s carrying behind it becomes visible. This is Clark not as the relaxed Cary Grant-alike he likes to be but as a man pushed into a corner and reluctant to push back. That puts him off balance in a subtle, effective way that ties back into the larger plot. It also, especially in the Yanick Paquette illustrated issues gives you a visceral look inside a big part of the mythos. This isn’t Superman: Disassembled but it’s certainly Clark Kent Dissected and all the stronger for it.
Pauqette’s expressive, flowing style builds neatly from Gleason’s brawny art and feeds directly into Sook’s slightly more noir-ish approach. It also leads to the best issue by far, which sees Clark and Lois reunited. This is the point where Bendis has to square the impossible circle every legacy character faces; keep the plot going but keep the basic beats the same. He nails it, and in doing so also re-emphasises Clark’s humanity, god-like abilities and just how deep and sincere the love he and Lois share is. Plus the issue is funny, hot and includes the sweetest final page I’ve seen in a long time.
But most of all, the book gets Superman very, very right. The opening gag is Clark politely calling every play a couple of burglars are trying on him a few seconds before they do. A later scene has him rescue someone at the Planet, apologise for the shock, suggest they seek medical attention and give them a list of possibilities. A moment in the finale has him explain how many people mistake his empathy for weakness and that was the point I punched the year. Superman, Karl-El, Clark Kent, they’re all the same profoundly decent, compassionate man. He’s methodical, careful, rarely acts rashly but remains a deep bass note of kindness that resonates through his city. A note that, here, is perfectly tuned.
Gleason, Paquette and Sook’s art has a clear through line of evolution that gives the book a coherent style, one aided by the rich and urban colour work of Sanchez, Fairbarin and Anderson. Reed’s letters tie the book together as invisibly as they do strongly and Bendis’ script understands the characters on a visceral level. Metropolis may be in a bad way, but this team, and the Man of Steel, are very much on the case and I like their chances.