Brian Michael Bendis’ Man of Steel, a prelude to his imminent storylines in Action Comics and Superman, has been a story framed by mysteries. Who is the barbaric alien warrior, Rogol Zaar, who has suddenly appeared? Where are Superman’s wife and son, Lois Lane and Jon Kent, who seem to have disappeared?
Next to those mysteries, the question of why Superman suddenly started wearing his costume with the red trunks, instead of the trunk-less one he’s worn since 2011, could have been just another thing to hand-wave away, like the idea that nobody recognizes Clark Kent when they see Superman.
But Man of Steel’s final issue shows us that Lois and Jon’s disappearance and the reappearance of Superman’s underpants are inextricably linked.
And it’s not because Clark doesn’t know how to do laundry.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Man of Steel #6.]
My Summer Vacation in Space
Superman’s battle against Rogol Zaar, who wants to eradicate the universe’s final living Kryptonians — i.e., Superman, Supergirl and Superboy — takes the action-packed fore in Man of Steel. And even while he contests with Rogol Zaar, Superman is also busy with a rash of arsons in Metropolis and editorial changes at the Daily Planet.
But between all that, Bendis and artist Jason Fabok have given us flashbacks to a single evening in the Kent/Lane apartment, where a mysterious intruder has appeared. Last week, we discovered his identity: Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father, who was revealed to be alive (and now kinda villainous) in Action Comics last year.
Jor-El has shown up with a sort-of demand, sort-of offer: He wants to take his grandson on a trip. A long trip.
Jon very much feels like he needs to go. But Jor-El’s tendency towards villainy, or at least the view that his son is wasting his time helping a species as self-interested and petty as humans, gives Clark and Lois some understandable pause.
After a lot of thinking — about how much their son wants this, and how hard it would be to try and prevent super-powered Jon or Jor-El from just stealing away in the night, AND how damaging it could be to their relationship with their super-powered, pre-teen son to even try — Lois makes a decision.
Jon can go with Jor-El on one condition: that she goes with them. Lois just signed on a two-book deal with a publisher, and decides that she’ll make one of them about her galactic adventure. Perry White at the Daily Planet will be mad — in fact, he fires her — but she expects he’ll come around.
Clark knows he’s been outmaneuvered, and he’s mad about it, but ... he’s still been outmaneuvered.
Anyway, the underwear
As Clark and Lois say their goodbyes, he hands her nothing less than his Superman costume (see the image at the top of this post). It’s for her to wear on her big summer vacation in space.
Don’t worry, it fits.
And there you have it: Superman’s gone back to the red trunks because he loaned his modern suit to his wife, to keep her safe as she travels across the galaxy with her son and father-in-law. Man of Steel has given us a story that temporarily isolates its hero from his support network.
At the end, Supergirl takes it upon herself to scour the galaxy for Rogol Zaar, while the rest of his family goes on a trip without him. Bendis and Fabok give us a quiet, sad page of Clark alone in his son’s room, strewn with action figures and decorated with a poster of the Teen Titans — taking the time to give that isolation the weight it deserves.
What happens next — and what happens when his family returns, will play out in the pages of Bendis’ Superman #1 on July 11, and Action Comics #1001 on July 25.