Action Comics #970 came out last week, the fourth part of the Men of Steel story arc. Written by Dan Jurgens with art by Patch Zircher, the book is also tagged as The Trial of Lex Luthor. I have to wonder if Dan Jurgens is thinking of this arc as a sort of companion piece for The Trial of Superman arc from the mid 90s that he helped write. In that arc, Superman is being held on trial for the sins of his ancestors, crimes he didn't commit! In this story, Luthor is being put on trial for crimes he also hasn't committed but for crimes he is fated to commit.
This story, I suppose, tries to help answer the old philosophy questions 'would you kill Hitler as a baby?' What will Superman do when he learns that Luthor might become a universal despot and kill billions? Does Luthor's prior actions make Superman debate things more? And does the incarnation of Lex this Superman is most familiar with being overtly evil make the decision even harder?
It becomes an interesting conundrum for Superman and one thing I like about this is that Superman vacillates a bit. Spare one person who is destined to kill billions across the cosmos? Or let him rot in prison? Or save him? This is a hard question to answer ... that's why it is an age-old philosophy debate.
As usual, Patch Zircher brings incredible art to the proceedings. Given one scene in this issue, I hope that Zircher gets the chance to draw a New Gods book at some point.
Last issue, we saw Superman discover the portal to the planet Nideesi where Luthor is being held prisoner. There doesn't seem to be a pause. Superman flies off to rescue Luthor.
But I love this splash page where Superman thinks about it more. He really only knows the Luthor from the pre-Flashpoint world. He knows that Lex's origin (presumably the one from Geoff Johns' Superman Secret Origin) and that Lex's actions. But can Superman hold that Luthor's actions against this Luthor?
It adds a wonderful layer of comic insanity to the philosophy parfait. But it is an important element for this Superman to consider.
Luthor knows that this can't be easy for Superman. He knows this Superman doesn't trust Luthor and has accused Lex of being evil. Lex wearing the S-shield has especially irked Superman.
But Superman is pretty straight faced here. He doesn't show any emotion here, despite how personal all of this is. He says Lex has to be protected by Earth laws and justice. This place cannot try Lex like this.
The disgust and emotion on Lex's face nicely contrasts the calm straight-forward look of Superman. Nice touch by Zircher.
L'Call was expecting Superman to come and try to save Luthor. He and Zade have a throwaway line about their battles with General Zod in the past. Now that is a story I want to read.
L'Call forces Superman and Lex to bear witness to what happened to Nideesi to understand why the leaders there feel compelled to stop Lex from becoming the next Darkseid.
Nideesi was in fact overrun by Parademons and Darkseid. The planet was a peaceful place by inhabited by artists, musicians, philosophers, and teachers. So they weren't ready for a swarm of Parademons.
(I must admit I had an inadvertent chuckle when I saw L'Call's wife was named M'Arnaa. Without delay I slipped into Affleck Batman "why are you saying that name M'Arnaa?? Why??" It kind of ruined the moment.)
Remember, this was a peaceful world. For all we know, L'Call was a pacifist. But to defend his family, he kills several Parademons.
Knowing that L'Call might have had a tranquil prior life before becoming this incredible warrior who has slaughtered countless people adds more to the sympathy I feel for him. He is exhausted. He hates his life. So I think that it isn't just the death of his family that wears on him, it is the death of himself as well. He had to compromise who he was.
Amazingly, Darkseid shows up himself. And it is Darkseid who kills L'Call's family. It makes this Luthor future a very personal facet for L'Call.
I am a sucker for the Omega Effect being all angular.
And I like that Darkseid has a hand not only in L'Call's tragedy but also in the destruction of the planet Nideesi. You can understand why these people would try to stop further planetary invasions and devastation.
It also is why I want Zircher to draw a New Gods book.
Back on Earth, Lois is in Metropolis at the Planet. With Clark gone, Jon is all alone for the evening.
If there is one thing the Superman books are bringing to me, it is a sense of joy. I love the characterization of the main characters. And I have loved the addition of Jon.
So I loved peeking in on the hijinks that Jon is getting into on his own. This is just what a 10yr old left alone would do ... have friends over and eat like a fool. I love it.
And in the mandatory 'creepy Clark' moment, Clark reminds Lois that he is a friend and is there to help.
Zircher does so much in this expression. There is nothing wrong with the words Clark is saying. But his expression is just one that is disturbing. He looks angry saying this. His eyes being semi-hidden adds to this, making this personal statement feel impersonal.
We'll learn about Clark soon enough. But he has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
And then we get that sliver of doubt which might shatter Superman's resolve to help Lex. L'Call tells Superman that Lex has obtained his powers via a Mother Box. Zade and L'Call have been aware of the Mother Box the entire time Lex has been on Nideesi. Luthor was given the device by Darkseid's followers on Apokolips.
Does this piece of evidence sway Superman? Does it make the fate of Lex becoming Darkseid a stronger possibility? Should Superman now allow Lex to be tried even though the crimes haven't been committed yet?
I am glad this subplot of the Mother Box being hidden was brought out into the open. You might recall I didn't like Lex hiding it under a bucket last issue.
And we finally get an explanation why L'Call didn't kill Lex on Earth and brought him to Nidessi for judgment. Given Lex might become Darkseid and L'Call has a person grudge against the dark lord, L'Call doesn't think he can be impartial.
So he asks the Remnants, the people who remain after planets have been overrun by villainy, to judge. And obviously, they find him guilty.
Will Superman let Lex get executed? Obviously not but I would love to see more of a conflicted Superman trying to work out this Gordian knot of justice.
So some of the speed bumps I had last issue are smoothed here. L'Call always knew about the Mother Box despite Lex hiding it under a bucket. L'Call has a personal stake in Darkseid's villainy above the death of his family. He was a truly peaceful man forced into this barbaric life. And Superman is struggling a bit.
All in all, this moved things forward and that makes me happy. And the art is spot on gorgeous.
Overall grade: B+