Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: Action Comics #988

Action Comics #988 came out this week, the second part of 'The Oz Effect'. Last issue ended with the revelation that Oz was actually Jor-El. This issue gives us Oz's backstory, filling in where Jor-El has been all these years.

Dan Jurgens throws in a wrinkle which I should have anticipated, linking this to the upcoming Doomsday Clock. I suppose with all the blue energy floating around the DCU these days and just how 'deus ex machina' it has been that I should have been expected this. After all, I should have been watching the Watchmen. Is it enough to make me expect the return of this twisted Jor-El? I'm not sure.

And, despite a reasonable comic book explanation for Jor-El to be alive, I still have doubts about whether this is truly *the* Jor-El. I just keep wondering how someone who clearly has Green K inside his body is continues to walk around unscathed. Although I suppose 'blue energy' could have removed that weakness.

In an added treat, the art for the issue is done by Ryan Sook. I am a huge fan of Sook. I love his covers. And I will always seek out books where he does the interiors. So this was a big treat. Sook brings a nice real feeling to this story, much of which plays out on our flawed world. DC should give Sook more work, maybe mini-series that he has time to complete?

On to the book.

The book opens with Superman appropriately doubting Oz is Jor-El. After all, in a world with shape-shifters, magical imps, and other dimensions Jor-El could be anybody. But a scan by Kelex, who has been programmed to obey Jor-El above all, confirms he is Kal's father.

A genetic scan and Kelex obeying him adds to the veracity. But it still could be another dimension's Jor-El.

I will be commenting on art choices throughout the review. I love this page. There is the idealized Jor-El, the giant statue holding up Krypton. And below him, similar angle, is the real Jor-El, smaller and flawed. It is hard to separate the myth from the man.

I don't know why Sook makes Oz's scythe more like a battle axe.

Using Kelex, Jor-El shows his son glimpses of his past.

Jor-El again tells us how the Science Council rejected his claims. Even worse, his father-in-law Lor-Van pulls Jor's funding for a fleet of space arks. Space flight is illegal on Krypton. So many mistakes led to the cataclysm.

Again, that last panel is a beautiful art choice. There is no denying the family resemblance between Jor and Kal. That panel of the two of them side by side subtly drives home the point that these two are related.

Interesting that Lor-Van subsidized Jor-El's experiments. Is this a new addition to the myth? Signs this is another dimension's history?

As always, Krypton explodes.

Jor-El embraces Lara one more time, watching her die. That can't be easy.

But this time, Jor-El is saved. He was 'taken'. There is no denying the blue energy surging around him, plucking him from the destruction.

I suppose in all my 'how could it be Jor-El' musings I never even considered the 'saved by Dr. Manhattan' explanation. And I should have. This is the main story bubbling under the surface of the DCU since Rebirth. I didn't see the obvious answer.

Jor-El is placed on Earth. He is found in what seems to be a war-torn country run by Warlords and drug runners. Much like Clark, he is taken in by a loving family. Harboring Jor-El is a crime punishable by beatings and death but this man and his family not only nurse Jor-El back to health, removing most of the green K. They treat him as an honored guest.  But constantly living in fear of being discovered finally leads this family man to ask Jor-El to leave.

It is a good story, a sort of sideways look at the Superman origin. And this time, the boy in the background in the second panel, the son of this family, is wooed by power. Why should they defy the warlord and live in poverty when they can work for him and live in comfort, albeit while doing wrong.

Still, the overall feel here is one of goodness. This man didn't throw Jor-El to the authorities. He cared for him. I think this is going to be key.

Ultimately, the son gives into temptation, telling the Warlord about Jor-El. The reigning warlord promises the boy riches and power if he shows his allegiance to the law by killing his parents. And, with a nudge, the boy does.

Again, nice art here. The panel with the boy crying as he kills his family and loses his innocence is powerful. The cackling General is horrifying.

But the final panel shows Sook's strength. Superman is clearly shocked. But Jor-El has to look away. And I don't think that we are seeing his scarred side. This is the ugliness of man.

Jor discovers his powers and lashes out.

But it is the revelation that humanity is hopeless that changes things. Understanding that mankind is inherently evil is the key to his being plucked away again.

I have a theory ... read on.

Taken away from this actual event, Jor-El is strapped into a chair, his one good eye forced open. He is forced to see all the evil that mankind has done over the years.

Okay, this is all too "A Clockwork Orange" for me. From the eyelid speculum to the force fed imagery, I practically heard Beethoven in my head.

This also feels a little Ozymandias, the wall of screens feeding information and pictures to the viewer.

But why do all this?

My guess is that this all is some test by Manhattan. He is trying to decide if humanity is worth saving. Superman will be the ultimate arbiter. If Superman loses faith than humanity dies. But it won't be easy. Manhattan is stacking the deck. And how better to make Kal question things than his father.

All that said, there are easier ways to do this. Why not kill Lois and Jon? Why not bring back Pa Kent? If Pa says he hates mankind that would carry way more weight than Jor-El.

Hmmm ...

And maybe my theory picked up some steam. Here Jor-El says humanity is hopeless and Superman says 'there is always hope'.

Jor isn't going to hear about it. He is going to take his son away from this world.

Okay, this was an exposition heavy issue. Flashback issues tend to be. But at least we have an origin for Mr. Oz. I don't know if we quite know it all. How long has he been on Earth? Why capture all these other people? Why wait so long? How long was he in that chair? The foundation of his story is here ... now I need the details.

The 'mirror darkly' origin of Jor-El taken in by a kindly family was a nice touch.

And the art is gorgeous and supports the story turns perfectly.

I'm intrigued.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

I have hard time enjoying this arc as it feels like it is written in a vaccuum. If humanity is so sucky as he claims, why did he not join his brother in operation "restore Argo City"?

Everything feels like an after-construction to make a bang and sell more issues. But it isn't a bang is it? Superman is just doing Kara's father arc... literally just after Kara's father arc ended.

DCs writers need to talk to each other. If Jor-El had joined Zor-El that would have been an event for the ages.

Now I just feel like I just read this arc, and the DC universe feels smaller because it seems like there is no one responsible for the big picture and making it coherent.

DC needs someone who sits and looks at the scripts and say: "You know what... You are going to the Phantom Zone, we just introduced Psi there, so consider these things..." or "Ok, so you want a father arc with Superman. You know what, we are just doing that with his brother. There's room for character development and some synergies here. It's a lot better than rehashing the same subject and killing his brother for no reason in one page."

Anonymous said...

"Everything feels like an after-construction to make a bang and sell more issues. But it isn't a bang is it? Superman is just doing Kara's father arc... literally just after Kara's father arc ended."

I also thought of that. Let's think of it, Jor-El is missing an eye.

Do you remember when Superman said Supergirl was incredibly strong because she was able to forgive her broken father? Poor Kal will have to be able to forgive his, too.

It's hilarious in hindsight to remind Kara's comment regarding blue lights way back during the I'noxia". Yes, Kara, blue lights are definitely trouble.

Is this the first time we have seen Lor-Van since "Superman Family #192?

"If humanity is so sucky as he claims, why did he not join his brother in operation "restore Argo City"?"

Good question. Let's think of it, why he never mentions Zor-El while reminiscing? The current Superman is interacting with Supergirl less than his Post-Flashpoint incarnation in spite of their supposedly improved relationship.

Honestly I don't think I like this arc, even if Jurgens is making his best to portray Jor-El as a pitiable figure.

I can't believe Oz was intended to be Jor-El since the beginning. Details don't add up...

Anyway we've got a taste of what Manhattan is doing: breaking heroes and inspirations to take hope away. To what end? I guess we'll find the next year.

Thay said...

I don´t know what to think of this arc so far, Jor-El was broken when he came to earth and ended up being influenced to only see the worst of people but how he can be better than the people he is so disgusted when he kills the own brother and ignores your niece basically including her as "trash" like everyone else on earth? ... I will not even blame him for the latter because obviously there is some weird rule inside DC about Supergirl and Superman.

Ago said...

Just makes me wonder which version of Jor El is this? Golden Age,Silver Age, Man of Steel Age, Phantom Zone Age or Flashpoint Jor El???, i mean they really havnt gave us any clue on which version he is, I mean i am very confused, Also I think he uses Mr.Oz as a nickname, because what if he killed the real Ozymandias?