Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia is more my speed, a superhero-tinged but largely down-to-earth workplace drama, akin in ways to Gotham Central or even TV’s ye olde Lois & Clark. It has a mitigating effect on Bendis’ Superman Vol. 1: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth, which I found too action-focused to the detriment of forward plot. Taking both first volumes as a whole, however, they are excellent complements, offering together just about everything one could want from a Superman story.

There is material here that’s surely controversial, and Bendis’ take on Superman and his supporting cast won’t be for everyone. For me, I think Bendis is doing as well as he can with what I’m guessing he’s struggling with, and surely I’ll take a comic that challenges the reader over one that doesn’t any day. Add to that quite fine art by a trio of DC’s talents, and at the end of "round 1" I think the Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman era is off to a good start.

[Review contains spoilers]

Action Comics Vol. 1 is as much about the various members of the "Invisible Mafia" as it is about Clark Kent and Superman; that's maybe not for everyone, but again I'm predisposed toward a "Metropolis" kind of series. My enjoyment of the crime-book aesthetic helps mitigate how implausible it all seems to be. I really like the culture Bendis sets up of the criminals meeting inside a lead tube, not saying certain keywords Superman might be listening for, and etc., and that wins out over the idea that neither Superman, nor Batman, nor anyone else discovered this gang in all this time — that we're to believe that this bunch of criminals, in essence, is smarter than the whole of the Justice League. Given the creeping mentions of Leviathan around the edges, I expected the gang's mysterious boss to be someone (or two) else, and I liked that Bendis introduced still yet some new characters. In auspicious ways I'm reminded of TV's Black Lightning.

Though Lois Lane's return is comparatively a small part of this book ("only" the whole of the fourth chapter), it's likely to raise the most eyebrows. Bendis posits here that Lois has left son Jon in space with grandfather (and possible madman) Jor-El because she feared taking care of her made them less safe, and has returned to Earth but chose to keep working undercover rather than reunite with her husband. That's all cogent and makes sense, and Bendis is quick to affirm that Lois is not breaking up with Clark and does still love him. Taking this as the status quo, however, requires a rather progressive view that would accept that husband and wife, having sent their child off to "space college," need not necessarily cohabit or see each other regularly while still being married and marital "teammates." Again, that's cogent; it's an arrangement that can work, especially with Bendis writing it as working, but it's a far cry from Clark, Lois, and Jon living together on the farm in Hamilton, and if one really liked that then I'm not sure this will land as well.

I think this is a tenable solution (or, at least, an attempt at a solution) to a particularly difficult problem. I don't ardently wish to abolish the Lois/Clark marriage — Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite is one of my favorite stories — but I do think it has stymied at least some of the stories that can be told with Superman. At its worst, authors struggling with writing their stories within the confines of the marriage have had to resort to appearances of Lois or Clark cheating, replete with irrational jealousy from the other, all of which is wholly beneath these characters. Clark, and especially Lois, ought be among the most cosmopolitan, forward-thinking characters in the DC Universe. If, it seems, Bendis wants to lighten Superman's familial load a bit (or at least switch out one Superboy for another), I would far prefer a Lois who says, "I love you, but we don't have to have a traditional marriage" to one who says, "I'm leaving because you spend too much time being Superman" or because she thinks he looked at Wonder Woman the wrong way.

I had thought, in a bit of continuity with the previous run, Patrick Gleason would be the new ongoing artist of Action Comics. As it turns out, he only draws the first two issues, but he's inking himself, and Gleason probably looks as good as he ever has here, still recognizably Gleason (especially in the eyes) but with a style that looks more mature and less animated. Alejandro Sanchez adds considerably with the colors and the effects on those chapters. Later chapters are by Yanick Paquette and Ryan Sook; Gleason appears close enough to them as to make the book visually cohesive, a rare but pleasant thing with three different artists.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia

To a great extent, Brian Michael Bendis' Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia is mostly about new characters — Daily Planet reporter Miss Goode, criminals Mr. Strong and Ms. Gummy, even the high politics of the Metropolis mayor. Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane are there, though somewhat edged out by Superman's foes. Little side comments suggest Bendis has plans for them all though (especially, it seems, Jimmy Olsen's dangerous new dating life), so I'm content to believe we're just in the midst of a slow build as Bendis establishes the new Metropolis landscape. This is the kind of Superman comics I like, not to mention that it seems like Superman and Action will finally be front and center of DC's next big crossover. That's as it should be; I think things are looking up for the Man of Steel.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Invisible Mafia
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)


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