Okay, can we pause for a second? I feel like I'm missing a very crucial piece of information here. Despite my lack of experience reading comics, as I've made clear in weeks prior, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about Superman. Not an expert, of course (how can I without reading the source material?), but not an idiot either. He's my favorite superhero, and I've seen every television show and movie about him ever made. I've also done my fair share of internet research into his history. So I really thought I had a good grasp on the mythology and canon of Superman.
And then Brian Michael Bendis delivers THE MAN OF STEEL #4 and everything I *thought* I knew about Superman goes out the window. Because…Jor-El is alive? What?! Superman's father survived the destruction of Krypton…and Clark, Lois and Jon all knew it?! I mean, I am definitely missing something here!
We meet Jor-El in this week's issue when we finally get a clue as to what happened to Lois and Jon in the recent past. It turns out that Jor-El showed up unannounced to the Kent residence and demanded that Jon come with him in his fancy spaceship because he was his grandson, a Son of El. Color me shocked because…
1. I thought Jor-El was dead.
2. Clark, Lois and Jon were not surprised to see him turn up.
3. Sorry to repeat myself but I thought Jor-El was dead!
Yeah, I'm definitely ready for next week's issue, I need to know what happens next.
Aside from Jor-El's arrival and Superman and Rogol Zaar finally coming face-to-face for the battle of the century, not much plot moves forward in this week's issue, but it's cinematic as hell. Since this is number four of six total in Bendis' miniseries, this is most definitely what would be considered the third act of a blockbuster movie, when the hero and villain go head-to-head in a destructive and deadly fight. But wait…do comic book runs even work the same structurally as films?
I guess I've been operating under the assumption that issues #4 and #5 would be the big title fight between Superman and Rogol Zaar and then the last issue of this run would be the emotional conclusion filled with conversations and a nice wrap-up at the end after Superman inevitably beats him. But seeing as how this is the first comic book I've ever read, I'm just now realizing my assumptions should all be thrown out the window. This could actually only be just the beginning, and I'm buckling up for the ride.
After three issues of exposition, relationship-defining world building, I have to admit, I quite enjoyed the simplicity of issue #4. The action was breathtaking, from the absolute chaos Rogol Zaar left in his wake to the extremely close attention to detail in the frustration, despair and exhaustion in Superman's face. I've extolled the virtues of the artists' work in each issue so far, but Kevin Maguire and Jason Fabok especially deserve a shout-out for the beautiful work in this week's book. I could feel each flash of emotion on Superman and Supergirl's faces, as well as the absolute lack of effort Rogol Zaar needed to put in to beat them to a pulp. He was just toying with them!
And even before Superman and Supergirl were bested, the artwork really—excuse the awful pun here—painted the picture of Superman having a complete and total grasp of his physical strength. While Superman is fighting for his life and trying to avenge the people of Kandor, Clark reveals he uses a self-devised ranking system for determining how much strength to put behind his punches, which is truly impressive. And add to that his ability to keep so calm under pressure that during a knock-down, drag-out fight through buildings, which turns the streets of Metropolis into rubble, he's able to think clearly and figure out Rogol Zaar's strategy. In all the TV shows and movies that I've seen Superman in, this is the most mature and capable version.
And yet he's still being tossed around like a rag doll by Zaar, which is perhaps the scariest part of all. Zaar flicks Supergirl away as if she's a gnat, and the way she ricochets off the top of a building means he really has nothing to worry about from her while he absolutely tramples Superman. I'm really getting nervous for the last two issues.
Sydney Bucksbaum writes about the DC Universe for DCComics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SydneyBucksbaum.