With Superman’s family scattered across the galaxy, our hero must confront some of his greatest concerns about himself and his place in the galaxy. Legendary artist Ivan Reis joins writer Brian Michael Bendis as they introduce the biggest change in the Man of Steel’s life ever!
And there we have it. The truth.
Superman does as many of us do as we grow and change and evolve and re-evaluates where he is in life in order to ascertain a path forward. Bendis handles the decision for Superman’s reveal of his Clark Kent alter-ego (or should that be reversed?) well with typical Bendisian dialogue and narrative structures. Ivan Reis does excellent work recording the reactions of various members of the DCU on this momentous occasion. From the press conference to the United Planets encounter with Adam Strange, the execution of this issue was near perfection. But as the issue prompts the reader upon its conclusion—now what?
The grand reveal of an alter-ego is well-trodden ground in the American superhero genre of comics. It isn’t even particularly new ground for Superman, which begs the question of why it never really sticks, does it not? As the identities of these colorful dual-identity avengers collapse upon themselves there never seems to be a sense of permanence. Even though the age-old excuses of “keeping my family safe from those who would want to hurt me” never seem to hold up under scrutiny, we continue to construct these subordinate identities. The answer, of course, lies outside of the four-color worlds these heroes inhabit.
The stakes in this reveal to the people of the DC universe are low but in terms of actual preservation of the character, they have never been higher. Handled properly, this moment could be a major defining one for the future characterization of Superman. But handled poorly, it could be nothing more than a footnote in a long history. The Superman/Clark Kent dialogic is important and must be maintained. That is not to say that the two identities must stay at a remove from one another but that they must remain distinct to maintain the integrity of the character. Superman is a god. Clark Kent, on the other hand, is “a man with a job, a boss, and girl trouble. Clark the nerd, the nebbish, the bespectacled, mild-mannered shadow self of the confident Man of Steel” (Grant Morrison, Supergods 2011). Without maintaining this lower degree of separation between reader and character, the collapse of these multiple facets of the character into a single visage runs the risk of slipping too far into an unreachable space—a space, ironically, that was previously occupied by Morrison’s own take on the character. Morrison’s Superman minimalized Clark Kent, by and large, and severed the tether between hopeful reader and their ability to fantasize their own inner superheroes.
In the context of the upcoming storytelling, then, Bendis is faced with managing a delicate balance in which he must navigate a world that will at all times see Superman and Clark Kent simultaneously but also in which Clark is now the subordinate identity in the hierarchy. The rub is that what has made Superman the ultimate superhero for the past eighty years is his humanity—simply put, his Clarkness. There is a larger discussion to be had at some point regarding diaspore, acculturation/acclimation, and the erasure or suppression of his born culture versus his adopted culture but I’ll table that for now as I wait to see what role the third part of this equation, Kal-El, plays in the upcoming stories. For now, let me simply say that Bendis has done an excellent job in execution but has left himself in a precarious position moving forward. So long as he remains cognizant of that fact, we could be in line for a historic era for Superman.
Superman #18 (Bendis, Reis, Prado, Sinclair, Sharpe) reveals the Man of Steel's identity to the DC Universe at large but what will the underlying impact to the character of Superman be as we move forward?
Superman #18: Identity Politics
Writing - 9.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 10/10
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