Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Action Comics #900 Part 1

Action Comics #900 came out this week, a truly historic issue. And like many I was excited to read the main story by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, and Jesus Merino as they wrapped up the Black Ring storyline.

But like many, it was the included short story by David Goyer that got my attention the most. In fact, it struck such a chord that I felt I needed to review it before the main story. I'll also review the other short bonus stories here as well.

'The Incident' was written by David Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda.

The story opens with Superman meeting the President's National Security Advisor in the middle of a snowy wood to talk about an incident Superman was involved in, one that has the US government worried.

Deep in the woods, military snipers have high powered rifles with Kryptonite bullets trained on Superman, fearing that he may have gone rogue.

So I have said it before and I will say it again. Recently there has been far too many stories with Superman fighting the US military. One of the main villains of the whole New Krypton storyline was the US military. One of the main villains in Superman:Secret Origin was the US military.

I don't need Superman to be a sycophant for the military as in Dark Knight Returns. I understand the above examples were the fault of the xenophobic General Lane. But the truth is the average soldier, the average person in the armed forces is serving this country and ready to defend my freedom. They are heroes too. I don't need Superman beating them up, or being fired on by them.

I  am just sick of images like this one, the cover of Superman Secret Origin #5.

Why does the government think Superman as gone rogue? He decided to be a participant in an 'incident' in Iran where a public protest was occurring. The demonstrators were rallying against the government. The military was there to quell the demonstration ... with force if necessary.

Superman decided that he was going to show up and stand with the protesters, a sign of solidarity. He states he would not engage no matter what happened, he was there as an act of civil disobedience.

Okay, so the truth is this idea of Superman trying to change the world in matters like this (or other examples he gives like world hunger or human rights) has been explored in many many different places. It never ends well. It is rarely done right.

Superman says he stood in that square for 24 hours, that he was vilified and glorified during that time.  During that time the protest crowd grew astronomically. And nothing happened. And Superman left.

I have to be honest, I think Goyer was pretty lazy here.  He takes the easy way out. It is easy to write this story when nothing happens. But what if Superman's presence scared the military so much they began to fire into the crowd? Would Superman really stand by and do nothing? And if his presence emboldened the protesters such that they began to lob rocks or fire on the military themselves would Superman intervene on behalf of the army? And if his presence led to a riot between both sides would he act? Or what if presence didn't matter at all and things got ugly? Would he hold to his vow and not 'directly engage' allowing the loss of human life?

And what happens after he leaves? What if the government continues to round up the protesters? Or fire into the demonstraters as soon has he leaves? Would he return? And what about the throngs of people who came to the protest when Superman was there ... do they continue to protest in the open ... or slink back to their homes, scared again? What happens later?

It is too easy to have nothing happen during and after this event. It also seems unrealistic. No one in the army got a twitchy finger. No one of the one million protesters instigated anything?

And then the fallout happens. Iran felt Superman's presence was an act of war. That's why Superman was called to this meeting.

Superman, tired of being construed an 'instrument of US policy', states he will revoke his US citizenship.



Given his global presence and his very recent (and unfortunate) dust-ups with the military, do people think he is really part of the government? A weapon? If he was a weapon, wouldn't he be used more?

And even if he does revoke his citizenship, do he think that will mean anything to the Iranian or any other government? Or will they think that the hero based in Metropolis is still acting in America's interests? Won't they think is simply lip service?

And isn't what he did the essence of the 'American Way' part of 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way'? Isn't the basis of the American Way the strive for freedom, to bring freedom to the oppressed? Isn't that the ideal of the American Way that we all should be inspired to reach for? Even if he disagrees with the politics of the current US regime, shouldn't he still want to be an American and to demonstrate what those ideals mean?

And doesn't America have a rich history of civil disobedience?

Isn't what Superman did in Iran very American? Being part of something like that to change things? Isn't what those protesters did very American, striving for democracy?

Shouldn't Superman be proud of his American citizenship since here we have the right to organize without tanks rolling out? That we have the right to voice our opinions and protest? That we live in a democracy? Shouldn't he be touting his American citizenship?

Isn't renouncing his citizenship almost ironic given what he did?

Superman says he has been thinking too small. He needs to think globally, not locally.

And he saw this happen as he left which made it worth it all.

Again, it is easy to write this story when the ending is trite like this. Almost saccharin. The truth is this could have turned very ugly, might still turn ugly.  What if the soldier hit the protester as he extended the rose? What if the protester spat in the soldier's face? What would Superman do then? Would he truly 'not directly engage'? Or would he put an end to it, acting just the way Luthor fears he would be ... a paternalistic safety net.

I hope ... no I pray ... someone buys Goyer Paul Dini's Peace on Earth, just about the best example of how Superman can't just insert himself into issues like this. How it is a job for everyone.

We have only recently and painfully learned in the early issues of Grounded that you better be a good writer if you are going to insert Superman into daily problems that are in our society. Can you really write a story where Superman tries to defeat hunger? Child abuse? Racism? Strife in the Middle East?Heck, even if you are a good writer, he can't really defeat those things, can he? Superman becomes ineffective ... or condescending ... or both. Who would want to read that Superman?

Superman belongs to the world, I know. But he is American. It was Ma and Pa Kent that made him the person he is. He should embrace that, be proud of that, not be irritated by it.

I pray that this story is simply swept under the rug, not regarded as canon, forgotten, and hopefully not the basis for any upcoming arcs. Because I can tell you, it simply won't work.

This whole story ... the snipers aiming at Superman, the condescending and overlord-like tone by Superman, the lazy and unrealistic protest scene, the vow by Superman to revoke his citizenship, the overly sentimental flower ending panel ... not one part worked for me. Every single part failed.

And really that is the main thing about this story. Regardless of the details, regardless of my politics, regardless of the rancor, I didn't like it. It is just another Superman story I don't want to read. And because of the publicity it is getting, now I can't escape it.

I have had to deal with years of Superman not being the star in his own books. I have had to deal with the missteps of the early Grounded issues. I have had to accustom myself to Luthor being the star of Action.  And now I have to deal with this. It is enough to make even a diehard Superman fan like me grow weary.

The rest of the supplemental stories are a mixed bag.

'Life Support' is written by Damon Lindelof and has eye-popping art by Ryan Sook. I think I would buy just about anything with Sook art.

This is a Jor-El story as he tries to get help from another Kryptonian scientist just prior to Krypton's destruction. He needs this man's help to provide for Kal-El on his journey. Now how a baby will know how to get food and water out of this device, let alone eat it, is beyond me. It is a touching story of how that unnamed scientist will help ... but only after spending time with his own family.

'Autobiography' is written by Paul Dini with art by Jimmy Olsen artist RB Silva.

This is an interesting story about a super-powered hippo like creature named Sarva who defended his planet until a supernova destroyed the planet. Rather than transport the population to a new harsh world, Sarva decided to make the world sleep peacefully and let the catastrophe happen. But he questions if that was the right decision.

My favorite short story in the book was 'Friday Night in the 21st Century' by uber-team Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It is a simple story. Lois wants Clark to have a 'typical Friday night', a night at home with friends. And so she invites the Legion over.

I love this 2 page spread showing the heroes and Lois relaxing. I especially love the peeved Ayla looking for the pizza while a worried Timber Wolf hides. And Lois must be telling some story!

Even the beginning pages, an exploration of Lois' disorganized desk and her clear love for Clark are wonderful. It's 4 pages, 2 of which are this spread, and yet it is a complete and sweet story.

The last story is 'Only Human', told in storyboard style by Superman director Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman with art by old friend Matt Camp.

This is another fun story where Lois learns about a new super-suit designed to give the average man powers. When a demonstration with Superman turns near disastrous, Superman has to shut down the suit and its pitch man. But amusingly, Superman is also a bit jealous because the pitch man seems to have won over Lois.

Camp's art is storyboard style which works here. But I would love to have seen this story with his typical finished meticulous stuff. I bet his Lois is wonderful.

Anyways, these extra stories in Action Comics #900 were a nice addition to the Cornell conclusion. The near perfect and wonderful 'Friday Night' is offeset by the 'Incident'.

Overall grade 'The Incident': F
Overall grade 'Friday Night in the 21st Century': A+
Overall grade everything else: B+/B


Anonymous said...

Superman's dealings with the US military is complex. I have not read the issue, but I don't think Superman's issues should be with the common, rank-and-file soldier. However, I find it aggravating that around this country we keep cutting spending from education and services that benefit the working class in order to cut taxes for the wealthy. I also find the amount of money we spend on the military aggravating (far more than any other country) when we rank near 40th in health care, education, life expectancy, infant mortality rate, and we work more for less money, retire later, etc. than a lot of countries. It is equally infuriating when our military gets sent into avoidable wars that harm the American middle class, cause large amounts of civilian and US deaths, while enriching wealthy, campaign contributing, war profiteering types.

I miss the way Superman was originally written-- as a champion of the powerless against social injustice. I'd gladly spend my money on a Superhero stopping the union busting, teacher and public employee attacking, types who keep taking away from the majority to give to the billionaires.

Gear said...

Thanks for the great review ANJ!

The Goyer 9-pager was a pretty mediocre effort, and if it wasn't for the citizenship comment would probably disappear without a trace. ANJ, you're pretty well covered everything that's wrong with it for me too. I don't want Superman always fighting with the US Military, constantly at odds with the government, and so mis-trusted that they're prepared to take him out. His behavior was provocative, pointless, and in the end was very likely to make everything much worse - entirely as an exercise in self-justification. It's hard to believe, but in a way Goyer was able to capture in 9 pages nearly everything that's wrong with the way Superman has been portrayed over the last few years.

That story is getting huge amounts of attention for that one line, undeserved attention because in the end it's nice art wrapped around a series of cliches and poorly thought out character interactions. I hope the media gets quickly distracted by some other flash-in-the-pan event so we can go back to ignoring poorly conceived filler stories like we always did in the past.

I'm glad you liked the Superman/Legion story as much as I did! In just 4 pages they captured the fun that the Superman/Lois relationship should be in a way that's been missing since before Superman found Kandor on Brainiac's ship - wow, that's literally years now. There was more fun and character delineation in that dialog-free two-page spread than we normally get to see in an entire issue of most books. I can look at those two pages and laugh - and understand again why Clark is so attached to Lois. I wish I could hear the story she's telling.

All in all a good issue in spite of that one mistake. Too bad it was such a big mistake.

mad photog said...

In light of Obama releasing his long-form birth certificate: can Superman prove he's a US citizen?
Has this ever been covered anywhere?
Alternately, there have been a few attempts to see what he would have been like if he'd landed somewhere else. The Soviet Union, for example.

I don't like seeing him opposing the rank-and-file. either.


Anonymous said...

I don't think Superman is actually going to hand over documents, since he doesn't have them. His surrender of American citizenship will be symbolic, in other words he'll give a speech saying that he is no longer an American but a hero for all people.

I liked the sentiment a lot. I never saw Superman as the Steve Rodgers-type and like him as a global guardian. He stands for Truth, Justice, and Everyone.

Anonymous said...

Up until now it was an article of faith that Supergirl was "taking" New Krypton's destruction much much much harder than her elder cousin.
Now it seems clear that the whole mishaugas has really left it's mark on Kal El.
So now this makes SuperGIRL the sensible one who is coping with her trauma better than Superman...Maybe it's time she took over Action Comics until Kal El gets his mojo back (if ever).
In a larger context, I just don't what storytelling value DC extracts from a move like this.
So Supes is now a world citizen, and yet Clark Kent is still an American?
WE get the "mild mannered reporter" and the rest of the globe gets Superman??
The math here seems screwy he'd a never been that honest incorruptible crusader but for that quintessentially American upbringing he got from Martha and Jonathan...nice way to flip them off IMHO.
So I guess it's up to Supergirl to keep the franchise going while Superman acts out...

John Feer

Anonymous said...

A very well stated critique Anj. Superman giving up his American citizenship is completely bogus. What's next? Wolverine giving up his Canadian citizenship?

This story has left me concerned for next year's live action Superman movie since David Goyer is the screen writer for that.

@John Feer:
I love how you think. :)


Anonymous said...

I do think Supergirl has strong grounds to "relieve Superman of his iconic status" under the appropriate articles of the SuperHero Code and take over the franchise.
It kind of leaves the out in the cold but it's a good idea nonetheless...

John Feer

Mike said...

The Lindelof story seems problematic to me. It's not just Jor-El asking for help... isn't he basically asking the other scientist to design the ship that takes Kal-El to Earth? How does this story do anything but diminish Jor-El as a character -- we are supposed to believe he outsourced the job of building the rocket?

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments. I think it is a complex situation, especially putting a fantastical character like Superman into a realistic problem.

I still think Superman would be proud to be an American. You can be American and care about the world.

I also agree that the Lindelof story does lessen Jor-El a bit. I always like that he did it all himself.

I still hope this story simply goes away.

mathematicscore said...

I rather liked Brian Azzarello's take on Superman attempting to stop human conflict from For Tomorrow. He has the power to make an impact, but the underlying problems remain.

Martin Gray said...

Just thinking about For Tomorrow depresses me - whiniest Superman ever (worse than early Grounded)! Still, different strokes, Mathematicscore.

Great review Anj, yup, I want the Goyer stsory ignored, and DC have pretty much said that'll happen.

As for the Jor-El story, yup, Superman's dad doesn't need help building a pesky spaceship. Heck, he'd already kept Krypto alive in space (mind, he might not have known that!). Lovely art, effective script, but I was Elseworlding it even as I read it.

Anonymous said...

"I miss the way Superman was originally written-- as a champion of the powerless against social injustice. I'd gladly spend my money on a Superhero stopping the union busting, teacher and public employee attacking, types who keep taking away from the majority to give to the billionaires."

Superman NEVER stopped being a champion of the little guy. And your whole post is nothing but demagogic drivel.

I'm with Anj. That story was dumb, written by someone who wanted to put his political beliefs in Superman mouth -essentially turning a comic-book into a personal propaganda piece-, and thankfully it was ignored right away and retconned out of continuity.