Review: Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


[Review contains spoilers]

Cynical as we are, there's no use debating whether Brian Michael Bendis should or not have had Superman reveal his secret identity in Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed. Given Bendis inevitably one day moving on or some higher-up worrying that Superman's moved too far from the corporate IP baseline or the back-to-basics approach of another reboot, it won't be long till Clark Kent's just a mild-mannered reporter again.

If anything, the fact that Clark's secret is out and that other thing happened in Batman Vol. 12: City of Bane Part 1 suggests we're pretty far from baseline IP already. It's these kinds of landscapes where one starts to expect a reboot as is, if (1) that wouldn't be completely ludicrous right now and (2) seemingly one was already in the offing with 5G before it was torpedoed. Basically, it's not 1992 anymore and none of us sooner believe Superman will have lost his secret identity forever than we did — checks watch — less than a half-dozen years and a continuity ago when Superman's identity was also revealed. The impermanence of that speaks volumes for this.

What's worth focus is how Bendis handles the revelation and what it symbolizes, this which seems to be the real opening salvo of the Superman story Bendis wants to tell. Notably, in Gene Luen Yang's DC You Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth, Perry White is so angry to learn that Clark's been Superman all this time — both lying and endangering the Daily Planet staff — that he slaps him; here, Bendis and artist Ivan Reis offer a beautiful silent single page in which Clark makes his revelation to Perry and Perry embraces him.

For what was purportedly a time of madcap exploration in DC You, Yang's "Truth" was particularly dark; here, at every turn that Clark expects betrayal or rejection, he's met with warmth and acceptance. The most long-held tropes as to why Superman couldn't reveal his identity — his (newly resurrected) parents would be endangered, for instance — Bendis dismisses with a wink and a nod and a casual joke, and no one seems the least bit concerned about it. That's smart and optimistic, an exercise in sidestepping all the past excuses and getting on with telling a good story. What Bendis does tackle — the procedural, political issues like the Daily Planet hiring Superman as a reporter and the amount of mail that Lois and Clark now get and so on — is far more interesting to me.

I'm a proponent of secret identities, as they go. In the grand comics metaphor, while I don't mind seeing my heroes happy, secret identities are the sacrifice, the trade-off; Superman might've saved the day, but Clark Kent still gets in trouble (once upon a time) for breaking a date with Lois. I much prefer the early days of CW's Arrow or Flash where Oliver or Barry protecting their identity comes at a price, to the later days when Team Arrow or Team Flash gab around their home base, identities out in the open and few big emotional costs to anyone. But I realize the trajectory of these stories is against me, not to mention that since the latter days of the post-Crisis era and on, most DC titles see their heroes surrounded by supporting characters all of whom know their identities. In the Marvel movies too, there's not much concern about secret identities while Thanos is busy snapping his fingers.

So the writing is on the wall, I know, and also Bendis' reasoning is strong — that Superman stands for truth but has been living a lie, that Clark wants people to know him for his real self and not an act he puts on. Whereas, in the Yang story, Clark was unwittingly "outed" and then shunned, arguably a cautionary tale, in the Bendis story, Clark lives his own truth and is embraced for it, surely a good thing in this day and age. Have the old metaphors for superheroes outlived their usefulness? Has Brian Michael Bendis uncovered a new metaphor for superheroes, what they mean and what they stand for and how they live their lives?

Pertinently, in the Superman: Heroes special collected here, Batman affirms that he could never reveal his identity like Superman and still be Batman. But I got to wondering, what would it mean in the context of the DC Universe for superheroes not to have secret identities? For someone like Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes to go to school and everyone in Chemistry class to know he has superpowers? That'd be a radical transformation of the DC Universe, going from a place kind of like reality, just with superheroes in the skies, to a society where humans and superhumans live side by side, which is a wholly different kind of sci-fi landscape from traditional superheroics. But, in essence that already is what the DC Universe is now, only that the "superhuman" half has to hide in plain sight unless they're saving the populace, and that ... seems kind of wrong. Other creators ought consider if Superman's revelation might have some ripple effect elsewhere in the DCU.

There is, I should mention, a whole heck of a lot else going on in Superman Vol. 3 for a book that's only four regular issues and two specials, not even just related to Superman's secret identity. The Bendis-verse looms large, in for instance an issue that both name-checks Leviathan and leads in to Bendis' Legion of Super-Heroes. The "Year of the Villain" event plays a major part, and this is one of the few times I've seen someone actually use what Lex delivered in his box (another time being Bendis' Action Comics Vol. 3: Leviathan Hunt).

Indeed, Superman Vol. 3 follows directly from Action Comics Vol. 3 in terms of ongoing storylines with the newly introduced STAR Labs' Dr. Glory and Daily Planet owner (and Invisible Mafia boss) Marisol Leone. The Superman: Heroes and Superman: Villains specials are no mere tie-in stories, but rather continue these threads; that Bendis sets major revelations about Leone in the specials — putting Action Comics plotlines in overly Superman-related locations — is a surprising, delightful amount of overlap between the two titles. The Villains book, as well, also contains a specific non-villains-related treat, the return debut of Ma and Pa Kent following Doomsday Clock.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed

Brian Michael Bendis' Superman books go to the top of my read pile as soon as they come out; I started reading Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed the very night I received it. Between this and Action Comics Vol. 3: Leviathan Hunt, here's another pair of Bendis Superman books that are up there with the best these two titles have ever been — imaginative, suspenseful, and again, optimistic. It's maddening to me that the next volumes of each aren't even on the schedule yet — please, don't make us wait until next year — and I hope Bendis is on these titles for a long, long time.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover pencils]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 7 )

  1. I'm afraid it's looking like a very long wait for the fourth volumes of both Superman and Action Comics. Amazon has them both listed for May 2021. ��

    1. Considering the recent news that Bendis is heading towards to end of his Superman run, I assume they must have postponed these volumes so they could be expanded to include his final issues.

    2. "... and I hope Bendis is on these titles for a long, long time."

      Me and my big mouth!

    3. Bendis seems to have doubled back saying the end is "Sooooo Far Away"

  2. Do you have a preferred reading order for Action v3, Superman v3, and Event Leviathan? I'm still waiting for Superman v3 from a retailer who is moving quite slow but will not be named.

    1. I think your best bet is Event then Action then Superman. Action runs parallel to Event with Supes mostly occupied by the latter.
      Superman spoils a moment from Event, and the plot largely follows from Action.

  3. Thank you for the review, really enjoyed it! I have enjoyed Bendis run on Superman and Action comics considering a bit of a shaky start with Man of Steel. What I really enjoy is that his story actually feels like it is moving forward and that things are happening, like the forming of the United Planets....event Leviathan, and the reveal. About the only thing that I had reservations was for the aging of Jon Kent....who I think had more potential with Robin as part of the Super Sons.


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