It's always a bit unsettling when your heroes reach a breaking point. Larger than life superheroes seem *larger than life* because they never get exasperated or let their spirit break. That's why we look up to them in the first place—it's what we all wish we could be like when times get tough. But Superman has always been, for me at least, a true inspiration in that no matter what he faced, he never lost sight of his morals, manners and love for life.
That's why reading this week's THE MAN OF STEEL #3 felt like such a gut punch. It starts on the most ominous note, with Rogol Zaar somehow finding his way to Earth and pinpointing with extreme accuracy the location of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. You know that whatever happens next is definitely not going to be good.
And even I, a comic book newcomer, know all about the treasures that Kal-El keeps locked safely in his Fortress. These precious, one-of-a-kind artifacts are kept in a literal "fortress" for a reason, and setting someone obsessed with the cleansing of all Kryptonian life loose in a safe haven for Krypton's legacy is…well, again, not good. And like I said, even though I'm a new to reading comic books, when Rogol exclaimed, "Kandor!" and the panel showed the very top of a bottle that had caught his eye, I knew exactly what he had found.
I realized that while we hadn’t witnessed how the Kryptonian genocide in the past came to be in this series so far, and how exactly Rogol caused it, we were about to witness an equally devastating one in the present. Thankfully, Brian Michael Bendis only rips our hearts into a few million pieces by implying what happens instead of outright showing it, but honestly that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. And not even the surprise cameo of Batman on the next page is enough to distract from the knowledge of what was happening at the Fortress while Superman tries to do some good in Metropolis by enlisting his caped crusader friend in the arson investigation. Because when Superman has to speed away at the sound of an alarm at the Fortress, we're thrown right back into what’s probably one of the most devastating moments Superman has ever lived through.
I don't think I'll ever shake the image of the most powerful man in the universe breaking down in agony while his cousin, Supergirl, could only hold him and cry with him. But the realization that this mysterious attacker found and destroyed the Bottle City of Kandor—the last surviving Kryptonians stuck in a bottle until Superman could figure out a way to safely get them out and return them to normal size—was too much for him to shoulder. The next few panels are absolutely chill-inducing, with all the death and destruction laid bare.
Honestly, it was pretty hard to process the next few pages, jumping back and forth between the present with Superman trying to catch the trail of Rogol while also revealing the shape of whoever attacked Lois and Jon in their kitchen. And despite my hunger for answers for the Lois and Jon mystery over the past few weeks, I barely even glanced at those panels. I couldn't tear my eyes away from Clark's face for the rest of the issue.
So, yes, it's hard to watch your heroes break. Thankfully, Superman isn't one to wallow in pain—he's already set to bring justice down on whoever destroyed the Fortress and Kandor. But to see Rogol's actions oh-so-easily crack that steely façade in just his first attack was intense, and more than a bit scary. Rogol is only just getting started, and his first hit was direct and brutal. Whatever he has planned next, I cannot even fathom…and it's clear that Superman isn't even thinking at all in the wake of Kandor's destruction. He's just acting on pure emotion and instinct, and I don't think it's going to work out well for him.
When all is said and done, this week's issue didn't cover much ground as far as the story goes, and yet it feels like nothing will ever be the same for Supes. It's impressive that Bendis is able to cause this much game-changing drama in only a few sentences of action, and with only three issues left to go and so many questions still left unanswered, I'm officially at a loss with any predictions as to what's going to happen next. Bendis is really taking the saying, "Kill your darlings," to heart. And that's terrifying.
Sydney Bucksbaum writes about the DC Universe for DCComics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SydneyBucksbaum.