by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Superman always finds a better way.
Superman purist, Traditional
I’m paraphrasing pretty heavily here, triangulating a sentiment from the dozens of arguments I read (and participated in) in the wake of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but the idea that Superman can always come up with a solution that doesn’t involve murder is a ubiquitous one in Superman fandom. And I agree with that idea as it applies to that film — Superman certainly could have at least attempted something else (or the movie could have done a better job convincing us that he had exhausted his options) — but something about “always finding a better way” doesn’t quite feel like Superman to me. His moral compass true, and he’ll never fail to aim for a solution that satisfies his sense of what’s right and wrong, but the thought that he always comes up with a solution would rob those morals of any real consequence. While some Superman stories might resemble Sherlock Holmes in that “seeing how he solves it is the fun” kind of way, one of the most interesting things about Superman having such a strong morality is that it might be tested or bear some emotional cost. That’s a point Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Fabok leverage twice in Man of Steel 6, as Superman fails to “find a better way” in both his superheroing and family lives.
For Rogol Zaar, that failure means deferring to Kara’s half-solution of sending him to the Phantom Zone. It’s the kind of superhero nonsense that constitutes more of a loophole than an actual solution — Superman just happen to have a high-tech weapon that allows him to neutralize any threat without killing them — but Bendis clearly isn’t treating this as an actual ending to Rogol Zaar’s story. Indeed, Superman refers to the Phantom Zone as “a band-aid,” setting up that he’ll at least try “find a better way” down the line. In that way, this story might not quite be about a failure to come up with a perfect solution, but about the need to find one. This is the Sword of Damocles that will hang over (at least the first bit of) Bendis’s run on the Superman titles. If it’s failure, it’s the motivating, first-act-of-a-Mighty-Ducks-movie kind.
Clark’s failure at home is a little more decisive, if hopefully less final. Jon and Lois leave with Jor-El, not just because Jor-El asks or because Jon wants to, but because Clark can’t offer a better option. That is, he fails to find a better way. It’s the kind of thing any parent might feel, but especially the parents of a child not quite like either of them. There’s something about Lois’s line about how Jon has “special needs” and that she doesn’t always know “what the right thing to do is” that is so human, I suspect Bendis might be inserting a bit of his own life in here. Both Lois and Superman are trying like hell to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean they know what the right thing is. In this case, they have to accept that they don’t know (and can’t come up with a better way), so Jon and Lois leave.
But those two failures hint at what I suspect will be Bendis’s approach to Superman. It’s not that he always finds a better way, it’s that he always tries to find a better way, but he does fail sometimes, in spite of himself. Jor-El hints at yet another failure: a failure of Superman’s imagination. To Jor-El, Kal’s superheroics mark “just the beginning” of what he’s capable of, though he doesn’t offer any further specifics. Is is greater mission in the field of science? Politics? Religion? These are areas that have been mined to great effect in Elseworlds stories, but there’s a lot left on the table, and seeing how Bendis incorporates any and all of these ideas into the DCU proper should be interesting. At the very least, this issue (and miniseries) makes for an intriguing appetizer to the next era of Superman.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?