Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Back Issue Review: Action Comics Annual #2

In Superman #32, Geoff Johns shows us a mysterious cloaked man observing Superman in battle, talking about teaching Clark. Johns then has his quasi-Superman Ulysses talk of Klerik, someone who spoke of Earth being destroyed. It seems to me that Johns is updating the character of Cleric, a key character in the Superman mythos during the Byrne reboot, a key part of the Eradicator's story.

Even though I might be wrong, I thought I would take a look back at the introduction of Cleric to the DCU in Action Comics Annual #2 from way back in 1989. This was an absolutely fascinating part of Superman's narrative at the time. He had exiled himself to space after executing the Phantom Zone villains from the pocket universe (a story that introduced the Matrix Supergirl to comics). He was trying to overcome his guilt from killing the villains and, in doing so, trying to resolidify his belief that Superman should not kill. Indeed, it is that Pocket Universe execution story that was used by defenders of Goyer and Snyder's Man of Steel as proof that Superman has killed.

Here in this Annual, a weakened Superman is found in deep space and brought to Warworld. Forced to fight in gladiator games for the world's leader Mongul, Superman continues to refuse to kill the opponents he defeats. While Superman fights, reaffirms his beliefs about killing, and discusses Kryptonian history, we are introduced to the Cleric and his part in Krypton's history.

Superman's part of the annual is drawn by Jerry Ordway and Curt Swan. But the Cleric's story is drawn by Mike Mignola!  The book itself is group written by Ordway, Roger Stern, and George Perez!

After identifying Superman as a Kryptonian, a worker in Warworld's arenas flies out to one of the prison asteroids nearby ... The Pariah Penitentiary. There the worker approaches 'The Cleric', telling him of the wondrous sight ... a living Kryptonian.

Note the glowing light in the background, a key element and artifact in this story.

But the Cleric is perplexed and the agitated when he hears that there is a Kryptonian alive. It is clear that this is more than a history lesson for him. He is too emotional. To scream that they are all dead, to say it is a plot to drive him insane, things are personal here.

I love seeing Mignola's work. Even here, the slow opening of eyes, the brightening of art shows the awakening energy within the Cleric.

In a series of flashbacks, clearly exposition, the Cleric tells the prison worker his history on Krypton.

He was sent by his order to preach on Krypton, to proselytize the holy words of the 'divine deity', imbued with mystic powers by his Sacred Tribunal. And he came to Krypton when their civilization was on the brink. Krypton had always cloned themselves, using the clones for medical purposes. But a segment of the populace thought this was horrific and wanted the clones to have rights.

And so the Cleric preached of equality and love and communing with nature. And there were ears eager to hear these words.

He preached against cloning, against the love of science. He called it the 'foulest of all blasphemies' and an 'affront to all creation'.

And, as is often the way, those in charge felt that the Cleric was a threat to the established way of life and therefore wanted him eliminated.

But the Cleric's power and influence continued to grow. In fact, he began to threaten not only the science of cloning but the recognized religion of Rao on the planet. The Church of Rao united with the scientists to proclaim the Cleric a threat. The next step was going to be violence.

I love this panel by Mignola, the empty space of the walls utilized for the text, the Cleric, bathed in light at the center, his flock listening intently.

Despite his message of peace, the Cleric's followers were willing to lay down their lives for him.

This was no mere threat to the Cleric. A weapon had been built specifically to kill him. That weapon? The Eradicator! A weapon of unbelievable and indescribable power.

And so we are introduced to the Eradicator, a device that played a major part in the Superman stories for all of the 90s.

The whole thing is a powder keg. And it eventually explodes. The army arrives and blasts the Cleric with the Eradicator. A firefight erupts between the Cleric's acolytes and the pro-clone contingent. Hoping to end the conflict, the soldier wielding the Eradicator accidentally disrupts its matrix resulting in a massive explosion killing most in the vicinity. This incident was marked as The Day of Intolerance in Kryptonian history.

Somehow the Cleric survives the blast. While many of his followers have died, many have survived. It is time for the faithful to leave Krypton and join the throngs of the Divine Deity's followers.

And the Cleric will take the Eradicator with him as Krypton cannot be trusted with such a weapon.

Building a huge space ark, the Cleric gathers his flock and flies to join his holy commune. But once in space, his whole congregation dies. Kryptonians are tied to their planet. To leave the planet results in death. And so the Cleric is responsible for the death of all his Kryptonian followers.

The Cleric's light is the Eradicator, kept safe all these years.

As I said, throughout the book, Kal is telling Jor-El's story, centuries after the Cleric's time on the planet. The politically charged clone topic leads to acts of terrorism, the destruction of Kandor, and the poisoning of Krypton's core by Black Zero. It is this act which leads to Krypton's destruction.

It is interesting that Jor-El, knowing the link Kryptonians have to their planet, removes that 'weakness' from Kal while the baby is still 'in utero' in the matrix pod. This allows Kal to be rocketed away. It is also interesting to see the resemblance between Superman's rocket and the Eradicator design.

And so this Cleric was deeply involved in Krypton's history. Later in this arc, he merges minds with Superman. Both see their moments of biggest failure (the death of the acolytes, the execution of the Zone villains) and heal.

Johns' Klerik may be a warped version of this character, based in the 4th dimension and involved in Ulysses' history as opposed to Kal's. That said, he 'taught' Clark. So what does that mean?

Now, of course, I may be wrong and Klerik may have nothing to do with the Cleric. But it seems too convenient. I bet there are some similarities. I guess I'll have to wait and see.

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