Comic scribe Brian Bendis turned heads last year when he announced he would be leaving Marvel Comics after two decades to take over writing Superman at rival publisher DC Comics. With Man of Steel #1 out today, the first in a six-issue mini-series that aims to kick off a fresh start and set up key elements of his upcoming run on the Superman solo comic and its sister series Action Comics, Bendis shared some insight with IGN about how he approached writing the Last Son of Krypton. Given that his first major success at Marvel was writing a now-considered-classic take on Daredevil, it’s fitting that the lawyer with super-senses has been his biggest help in figuring out how to write Superman.
“Oddly, of all the characters I’ve ever written, the one [Superman is] the most similar to in a weird way is Matt Murdock, where his senses and his perception of the world is very different than ours. He hears and smells and tastes different than us, and that affects his abilities to interact or choose where he’s gonna be and what he’s gonna do,” Bendis explained. “It wasn’t obvious until I started writing it, and I went, oh, you know who else would close their eyes and listen to the world? Matt.”
Warning: beware of spoilers for Man of Steel #1!
Superman’s ability to hear pretty much everything going on in Metropolis has often been treated as a strength, allowing him to zero in on keywords and phrases that signal danger, but Bendis is more interested in taking that seeming omniscience and exposing its flaws. In Man of Steel #1, two Metropolis criminals are seen having an argument, and when one starts to get angry, the other is less afraid of him and more worried that the Big Blue Boy Scout will hear them. He tries to shush him with warnings like “You’re pulling all his triggers” and “He listens for yelling. He listens for things like, ‘Where’s the money?’” Of course, it’s no use, Superman has already picked up on their nefarious conversation and swoops in to take out the trash. But while the day is seemingly saved, this is actually a small clue to a big threat coming Superman’s way. Or to be more precise, one that’s been right under Superman’s nose for quite some time.
“There are people in Metropolis, working Metropolis for all it’s worth, right underneath Superman’s nose,” Bendis teased. “What kind of people are that good at it, that he doesn’t even know what they’re doing? That is a story I’m very excited to tell. As we have talked over the years about [other Bendis-penned comic series The United States of Murder, Inc.] and its history, a lot of people don’t even remember that the FBI did not know the mafia existed for years. They were able to keep themselves completely in the dark. There were like a thousand unsolved murders on the eastern seaboard back in that time, and until someone came forward and said, listen, I’m a member of a crime family and I need help, they had no idea it existed. So, there is an invisible force in Metropolis with no ego. It’s the opposite of Lex Luthor, they do not need Superman’s attention to run their business. And that is the scariest thing that Metropolis could ever face. … Over the course of the next few issues, you’re gonna see there’s a whole kind of underground. ‘Don’t get his attention, don’t say the following words out loud, he’ll hear them. If you say Kryptonite, he’ll hear it. He’s listening.’”
As Bendis was transitioning from Marvel to DC late last year, he was suddenly stricken ill with a staph infection that nearly ended his life. His face swelled up to the point where he was blinded and he was rushed to urgent care. Bendis currently has a clean bill of health, but while his brush with mortality is now a thing of the past, he has carried a part of it with him into his Superman run. It turns out that the first name of new villain Rogol Zaar was actually the name of the doctor who treated him in the hospital. As Bendis tells it, he was blind and he kept hearing “Doctor Rogol” over and over again, and while he understood that she was helping heal him, in his mind she also became associated with the great pain he was enduring, and so he decided to express that suffering in his work by way of a fearsome nemesis for Superman, one that carries with him information that will change everything Superman thought he knew about his beloved home planet of Krypton.
Rogol Zaar already made a big impression in the pages of April’s Action Comics #1000 where Bendis wrote a short story that ended with the villain claiming responsibility for destroying Krypton. Although well-read Superman fans have heard that twist before in other stories (an alien race destroyed Krypton in Superman: Earth One and Brainiac was the one responsible in Superman: Brainiac), Bendis says Rogol Zaar is “very different from every other Superman villain” and that he’s not worried about treading familiar ground because there’s much more to reveal about how and why this villain did what he did.
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“This is a unique perspective [Rogol Zaar] has, and a unique perspective of the entire DC universe. And his history to the DC universe will start to unfold over the course of Man of Steel and maybe even beyond. So, and what he’s illuminating to Superman and Supergirl and the other DC heroes, is that there’s been a lot more going on in the DC universe than they were aware of, and maybe it’s time for them to get more aware before things start falling on them again,” Bendis said.
Reading Man of Steel #1, it’s impossible to ignore the numerous small hints that something is amiss with Superman’s family life with wife Lois Lane and son Jon Kent, including a cliffhanger where the whole family is suddenly overcome in white light. (Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the cliffhanger pages are by artist Jason Fabok, who will be drawing these short family sequences in each issue of the Man of Steel mini-series, which will pay off in the sixth issue drawn all by him.) This development will likely cause a spike of fear in those who were enjoying Superman’s restored marriage and the focus on his family life throughout the Superman Rebirth that had been running since 2016. When questioned about whether fans should be worried about the new state of the super-family, Bendis offered only a vague response.
“They are the most uncommon family, they are not normal people. Lois is not a normal person, none of them are normal,” Bendis said. “So, for them to attempt a normal construct may be be doing themselves a disservice, where there are other things they can do as a family that would get them what they needed as a family, and that’s what we’re gonna explore. We’re going to try something very unique here with Lois and Clark.”
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