Action Comics #969 continues the Men of Steel storyline which explores Luthor's role as Superman and what the concept of justice. Writer Dan Jurgens and artist Patch Zircher take us to an alien world where warriors punish criminals before they commit their evil acts. And it is a decent, entertaining read.
Whether it is the conversation 'would you kill Hitler as a baby?' or Minority Report, the idea of pre-emptive justice has been explored a bit. But I don't think I have necessarily seen it in a Superman comic. I am also reminded of the mostly plodding 'Trial of Superman' arc in the 90s where Superman was put on trial for a crime he didn't commit, taking the blame for his race's actions in the past.
Luthor here is being charged with becoming Darkseid and being a universal threat. This is a heavy charge, one Luthor denies he would ever do. But the question remains, would you kill Luthor to stop the murder or enslavement of billions? Even the God-killers, like L'Call, give pause.
It is interesting to see Luthor acting as Superman here, pointing to the S-shield as a defense, and wondering why he is being hunted down for something he hadn't done. Irony!
As usual, Zircher brings a lot to the table here. From pacing of panels to point of view angles, Zircher is one of those artists whose work I try to dissect, trying to intuit what he was trying to say with the art.
U know 'decent, entertaining read' is damning with faint praise. Trust me, this is a good book and this plot is fascinating.
L'Call and his partner Zade (who has some 'weakening' power) have brought Luthor back to their base, the shattered planet Nideesi. This is unusual as L'Call usually kills his target rather than bringing them home. We know that L'Call has been doing these missions for thousands of years. This is the first time he has returned with his target alive. You get the sense, just from this, that this mission is different than others L'Call has performed.
Between Zade's power befuddling Luthor and L'Call deactivating Luthor's armor, it seems Luthor is helpless.
In one small piece of the plot which stretched even my ability to suspend disbelief, Luthor ejects his Mother Box, the power source of his armor. And then, he tips a nearby bucket over it, hiding it from his enemies.
I get it. I can swallow Apokoliptian armor, teleportation, precogs, and universal lawmen but I can't buy L'Call not seeing this unfold and a bucket luckily being nearby? It just seemed a bit too convenient.
Luthor's complaints about being wrongly accused leads to a flashback where we get L'Call's back story.
We see him standing before his leader, a wizened woman named Ch'arr. In a nice, mystical beach landscape, L'Call admits he is tired of his work. He has slaughtered potential criminals for generations, killing them before they can commit their crimes.
Ch'arr reminds him that while L'Call is weary of killing, he should offset that by remembering the huge numbers of people he has saved. After all, doesn't he wish his own planet had someone to protect them.
I love how the scene closes. L'Call basically says he is done with this role. He slowly recedes into the blackness. This isn't darkness as a surrogate for evil. He isn't descending into darkness that way. This just shows how tired he is. There is no light around him. No energy. His shoulders are slumped. Wonderful.
We heard that his planet was destroyed. Now we get the easiest sympathetic hook for a character. L'Call goes to his quarters and brings up images of his dead wife and daughter. Zircher brings some reverance to the proceedings. L'Call is in a room with candles, in lotus position, conjuring these pictures.
As I said, this is an easy way to bring some sympathy for L'Call. The death of family is the origin of countless superheroes. So maybe this is Jurgens trying to make us look at L'Call as the Batman of this piece rather than the Deathstroke?
It also helps us understand L'Call's current crisis of faith when we hear how the last person he killed for future crimes was executed in front of the man's wife and children. How can L'Call mourn his family's death while taking part in the death of families?
But the vision of Luthor as Neo-Darkseid is enough to bring L'Call temporarily back in the fold. But it is clear his heart isn't completely into this mission. Why leave Luthor alive? Even Lex can see this as a potential weakness he can exploit. Does anyone smell a trial happening? Luthor defending himself?
Meanwhile, that Mother Box is burrowing underground. We'll see that again.
I especially loved this small panel.
Luthor denies that he will subjugate anyone, calling upon the significance of the S-Shield as a defense. So ironic given that Superman saying the same thing to Lex in the past has fallen on deaf ears.
And while I may be reaching, I also think Zircher kind of hides Luthor's face because it isn't his symbol. It's Superman. So why should we see Luthor to link him to it.
In another nice wrinkle, we actually hear Luthor hope the real Superman will come for him. Another interesting turnabout for Lex.
And Lex is right. Despite 'Evil Clark' continuing to push for Lex to get his just desserts, Superman can't abide. He heads back to the Geneticron building to investigate. He realizes that L'Call was there and it was L'Call who teleported it away. (That's right, L'Call was the ball cap wearing dude in those older issues.)
Inside, Superman finds the pods that L'Call and Zade traveled in. With a little tinkering, he is able to open up a portal to Nideesi. Superman has to do what's right ... rescue Lex.
I love that Nideesi is a shattered planet. It must have been the target of something major, perhaps leading the people to become the pre-emptive strike force they are. Will we learn that origin?
So overall, I thought this was a nice deep dive mostly into Luthor. How could he argue against L'Call's approach when that is his approach to Superman? That is a nice wrinkle.
But L'Call's simple origin and the Mother Box/bucket moment just were a bit too chin-scratching to make me give this a higher grade. This is still a great book and this was a very good chapter. But I want so much more ...