Reviews | Written by PAUL MOUNT 06/06/2019

SUPERMAN ACTION COMICS VOL 1: INVISIBLE MAFIA

AUTHOR: BRIAN BENDIS | ART: RYAN SOOK, PATRICK GLEASON, YANICK PAQUETTE | PUBLISHER: DC | FORMAT: HARDBACK | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Brian Michael Bendis’ fresh take on the world’s most famous – but often most mishandled and misunderstood – superhero continues in this busy adventure, culled from the pages of Action Comics #1001 - #1006. Here, Superman is pitted against a sinister new enemy who seems determined to undermine the Man of Steel’s position as Metropolis’s ‘big blue boyscout’. A series of inexplicable fires are spreading across the city (new deputy fire chief Melody Moore is tipped off that Superman is responsible) and cheap mobsters are being killed off in gruesome circumstances with Superman under suspicion. Who – or what – is the mysterious and terrifying Red Cloud?

Invisible Mafia superficially takes its cues from TV’s Gotham and even the well-remembered (if lightweight) Lois and Clark series from the 1990s as it focusses on the flipside of the superhero and examines what makes him tick, how he deals with his personal demons and, especially, how the bad guys can even begin to frustrate a do-gooder whose power is virtually limitless. It’s a potentially contentious view of the exploits of America’s most recognisable and upstanding caped crusader as the Man of Steel himself takes something of a backseat – his appearances are very often little more than cameos – and yet the myth of Krypton’s Last Son is maintained in powerful, evocative scenes of our hero in space, hurtling into the sky…well, faster than a speeding bullet, and in montages demonstrating just how busy our boy is and how he can never really take his eye off the ball. But the focus here is very much on the humanity (and, occasionally, the sheer inhumanity) of those who prowl the mean streets of Superman’s adoptive home city. Things are not good for the people of Metropolis as their faith in their great saviour is tested and Clark Kent himself (refreshingly or frustratingly, depending on your point of view, the story focusses heavily on Clark’s ongoing marital turbulence) is still coming to terms with his separation from his wife Lois Lane and their son Jonathan and the suspicion that Lex Luther might be edging back into their lives. Some readers might find the scenes of Clark/Superman reuniting with Lois and spending a night of passion a little too close to the soap opera bone for comfort but  at this stage of the game Invisible Mafia (as the title might suggest) spends a lot of time with Metropolis’s seedy underworld and the intriguing throughline of the bad guys working to distract Superman so they can get on with their business unobstructed by the man whose name they won’t speak for fear of him picking it up with his super-hearing. Add to the mix the ongoing problem of the Daily Planet’s falling circulation, a feisty new reporter in the newsroom and Metropolis’s Mayor behaving oddly and Invisible Mafia is an absorbing story which bravely takes the spotlight away from Superman himself and shines a light on those around him and how his very existence affects them all.

Packed with nods to the past and guest appearances (yes, of course Batman turns up) there’s plenty going on here for both the new generation of comics fans and, eventually, those who have followed Superman’s exploits for decades. Superman is, at heart, a character so powerful that it’s sometimes hard for writers to get a handle on what to do with him but by sidelining him a little and spending time with the less-indestructible Clark Kent and on those who stand in his shadow, Bendis and co have forged a new path for a character who has not always been best served by those tasked with bringing him to life.

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