“Kick ’em when they’re up / Kick ’em when they’re down / Kick ’em when they’re stiff / Kick ’em all around.”
-Don Henley and Danny Kortchmar, Dirty Laundry
Popular culture is a living thing. It grows like amoebas on Viagra, constantly mutating into new life forms. This gives us an endless supply of new things and new people who create new things. Some of those folks last, others wish they didn’t take out that seven figure mortgage.
Brian Bendis was one of those new forces. He’s defied the odds — to say the least — by being on the comic writer’s A-list for, well, damn, over two decades. That’s quite a feat; but the fact that a dozen newer writers subsequently have joined that same A-list without pushing him off is nothing short of remarkable. He started out with the “independents,” went to Marvel, earned his way into getting screen credit for about a million movies and television shows while creating all sorts of cool characters, and then left the House of Mouse for Kryptonian pastures.
I thought he had a slow start on the Man of Steel, but instead of annoying me (which is very easy to do), I was fascinated. He was taking risks and stepping on Superman’s cape — declining to adapt to overworked standards while working with the flow to scrape the barnacles off Superman. Watching that has been an interesting experience. Last week it all come together for this jaded reader.
Action Comics #1016 (whole number, 1016) is all about Superman’s losing his battle with a fairly new villain, the Red Cloud – not to be confused with either of the Red Tornadoes. The Daily Planet’s reporter / gossip columnist Trish Q is on the story, canvassing the neighborhood and interviewing those who saw the conflict. This is and of itself is pretty cool – as far as I can tell, the Daily Planet invented newsroom cutbacks 60 years ago by limiting Perry White’s on-panel staff to Clark Kent, Lois Lane, maybe Jimmy Olsen (who may or may not be the staff photographer who may or may not write stuff), and occasionally Steve Lombard and Cat Grant. Of course, lately Lois has been hiding in a very expensive Chicago hotel, doubtlessly searching for the world’s best Italian beef sammich like the rest of us. Trish is a very interesting character, and I hope she sticks around.
About two-thirds of the story is told through the comments made by Trish’s interview subjects. There’s nothing new about this storytelling technique, and it makes good use of Bendis’s gift for expository dialogue. But it is out-of-the-ordinary to tell the story of Superman’s defeat in battle in such a manner; writers usually focus on the flow of action with dramatic close-ups of the hero’s face being beaten to a pulp. In his “telling-through-interview” style, Brian is showing us the faith the citizenry has in the Man of Steel while avoiding the limp, overworked cliché of the masses turning on their champion for failing to defeat every evil that is foisted upon them.
In other words, this is a story about faith. It’s somewhat subtle, but faith is a subtle thing.
Bendis introduces his creation Naomi to the Justice League, creating another opportunity for him to play a bit with the world’s most psychotic costumed family jewel, the ubiquitous Batman. In the real world, such as it is, Bruce Wayne would be shackled to a wall in Arkham Asylum. In Bendis’s world, Batman is fleshed out a bit around the edges, giving purpose (legitimate or not) to his massive assholery. I’d read the story for this alone.
Much praise has been heaped on Brian Bendis over the past decades, and that, of course, makes him target for terminally obese trolls who dirty their own laundry. That’s how fame works. But if you think this guy didn’t earn his chops or that he’s past his prime, check out Action Comics #1016.
Special thanks to M.G. Krebs for the title to this week’s masterpiece. Brian Michael Bendis, like Jerry Siegel before him, is from Cleveland. To the best of my knowledge, neither are monsters… in the classical sense.