Spotlight Sunday 11.12.17
Maybe one of these days you’ll actually vote for me to write about one of the best new mainstream comics out there, but in the meantime, alert yourself to the spoilers ahead for…
Action Comics #991
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Viktor Bogdanovic
Cover: Rick Bradshaw, Brad Anderson
Variant Cover: Yanick Paquette, Nathan Fairbairn
Before we dive into this issue, there’s an issue of another sort that I want to briefly address.
In recent weeks, across multiple industries, there has been something of a surge in reports of inappropriate sexual behavior by men. As every new story breaks, it seems, another soon follows in its wake, as the victims find the courage to come forward.
In many cases, the incidents and behaviors described have been something of an “open secret” for years, and sometimes decades, but we seem to have reached a point at which we are no longer willing to let the problem be swept partially under the rug, and we’ve started the process of having some very difficult and long-overdue conversations.
It should come as no surprise that the comics industry has its own share of “open secrets,” and following the publication of an article at Buzzfeed, DC has suspended Group Editor Eddie Berganza, finally addressing a secret so open that even I knew the article was about him before I clicked on it.
One of the worst aspects of the Berganza case is the way DC sought to “resolve” the problem: they promoted him. Rather than addressing the actual problem – Berganza himself – their solution was to enact a policy that ensured that he would have no women writers, editors, or artists reporting to him. Given that he was the Group Editor for some of the biggest, most popular comics at DC – including the Superman family, which is why I mention this here – that meant that women were effectively barred from working on the most popular and well-known characters in DC’s stable.
The frustrating thing is that it “worked,” in that since one of his more publicly-known acts several years ago there have been no new reports of Berganza engaging in inappropriate behavior with women…because he was prevented from having the opportunity to do so, but the cost of that “success” has been closing the door on talented creators “for their own good.” He was rewarded for being a creep, and women creators – and comics readers who were prevented from seeing what those creators might have done – were punished for his sins.
I’m glad to see that DC has finally taken some action, sorry that it’s taken so long, and hopeful that it’s a sign that we can start making some progress towards addressing not only the behavior, but the systems that allow it to continue without consequences for the men who commit these terrible acts.
Okay, so on to the actual issue at hand…
For more than a year now we’ve seen the machinations of the mysterious Mr. Oz happening in the background – and sometimes right up-front – here in Action as well as some of the other books in the Superman family. While we’d been forced to wonder about who this hooded man wielding a staff that looks kind of like a scythe with an upturned blade is, and what he’s up to – Is he friend or foe? – the one thing that’s been abundantly clear is that he’s very powerful and potentially very dangerous.
The power and the danger were amply-demonstrated by the fact that he was able to pull Doomsday out of the Phantom Zone and personally imprison him, and we learned that he had similarly captured and imprisoned Mr. Mxyzptlk for years.
Whatever his motivations may be, this does not seem like a person you want to mess with, or that you would want to have messing with you.
At long last, however, the identity of Mr. Oz has been revealed and he is…Jor-El, Superman’s father, the man who sent Superman to Earth as a baby from the doomed planet Krypton.
How is this possible, given that Jor-El died with everyone else when Krypton was destroyed? Well, it turns out that he didn’t; as Jor-El prepared to face the end, after sending his son off into space, Jor-El was pulled away by some mysterious force, but not before seeing his beloved Lara consumed in the flames of Krypton’s destruction.
He was transported to Earth, the same world he had sent his son to, but was too consumed by despair to seek him out. Appearing in a war-torn country on the other side of the world, the despondent Jor-El was tended to by some kindly people who shared what scant resources they had with him. In time, as they informed him that they could no longer run the risk of keeping him or spare the extra food, their kindness broke through Jor-El’s depression, and he ventured out to acquire some food for the family, stealing it from the headquarters of the local warlord.
However, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and, hoping to secure a better future for his family, one of the kids in the family ratted Jor-El out to the warlord, who, in turn, rewarded the kid by letting him watch the warlord’s soldiers kill his family.
Whether it was just the rage he felt, or the exposure to sunlight from finally going outside, Jor-El’s powers – specifically his heat vision – manifested in that moment and he killed the soldiers and the warlord. After that experience, the mysterious force that had saved him from Krypton’s doom transported him away once more, to a place where he was forced, A Clockwork Orange-style (or, I suppose, Robot Chicken-style), to learn all of the terrible truths of human history.
Having seen the worst of humanity, once he was set free, Jor-El decided that he’d sent his son to the wrong planet, and set about creating the Mr. Oz persona and putting some plans in place.
Specifically, those plans were to take his family – Superman, Lois, and their son Jon – to another, better world, a place called Bliss, where everyone has super-powers, and neither Superman nor Superboy would ever have to hide who they really are. (When Jon asks how his mom will fit in there, given her lack of powers, Jor-El – if that is who he really is – states that Lois’s amazing mind is her super-power.)
And that bring us to where this issue picks up. The world is, currently, a powder keg ready to go off, thanks in no small part to the actions of Mr. Oz and his followers. Mr. Oz/Jor-El asserts that he hasn’t really done anything; he’s merely orchestrated events in such a way that humanity has to choose its fate, and, as he predicted, it’s choosing…poorly.
Since first Mr. Oz first revealed his identity to Superman and told his story, Superman has been flying all around the world trying to put an end to the trouble his dad started. In the real world, one such incident kind of proved Jor-El’s point – a couple of issues back, Superman saved a group of refugees from being shot by someone who was caught in the throes of ahem “economic anxiety.” This was met by howls of protest from assholes who were complaining about Superman saving people from being shot.
Anyway, while Superman was away, Jor-El appealed to his grandson, Superboy. Jon is actually named for both of his (human) grandfathers, but, I think this encounter with Jor-El is his first contact with any of his grandparents. (I think Sam Lane is dead in current continuity. “Rebirth,” man. You never know for sure what the status of anything is.)
As something of an aside, in an earlier storyline, Jon was in the thrall of Superman villain Manchester Black, a telepath who was trying to shape Superboy into the kind of do-whatever-it-takes “hero” that Superman refuses to be. Lois broke Black’s hold over Superboy the way only a mother could: by using his full name. “JONATHAN SAMUEL KENT!”
Even a Superboy freezes when his mom busts out his middle name.
In any case, with the family reunited, Jon tells Superman that he needs to hear Jor-El out, so Superman accompanies Jor-El to his otherdimensional lair to hash things out.
Jor-El talks about there being a huge threat coming that will destroy the Earth, one that’s insurmountable even for Superman – and is, presumably the mysterious force/being that plucked Jor-El from Krypton – and that he’s been pushing humanity to show its true face so that Superman would be willing to turn his back on them and flee to safety with Jor-El.
(I’m not going to talk about what the mysterious force/being most likely is, because it’s stupid and it makes me mad, but you can google “DC Comics Doomsday Clock” if you want to learn about something stupid.)
Whether or not he really is Jor-El – Superman remains unconvinced – he clearly knows his alleged son about as well as Zack Snyder does if he thinks Superman turning his back on Earth is an option that’s on the table.
So, of course, they fight. In the course of the fight we learn that the injury that Jor-El suffered before he was transported from Krypton – some debris lodged in one of his eyes – has given him a power that Superman doesn’t have, and can’t withstand: Kryptonite vision.
Whether it was a result of his body adapting to the Kryptonite permanently embedded in it on its own, or the tinkering of that mysterious force, Jor-El himself is largely immune to the effects of Kryptonite, as was demonstrated a few issues back when he ripped out Metallo’s Kryptonite heart and held it in his hand. (Much of his time prior to this storyline had been spent capturing and eliminating threats to Superman.)
Shaken by seeing what he’s done to his son as he lashed out in anger, Jor-El pauses long enough for Superman to yoink away his staff and break it in two, saying that’s he’s detected a strange toxic energy emitting from it that he believes has been affecting Jor-El’s mind.
Turns out he was right – sort of. The staff was affecting Jor-El’s mind, twisting his perspective on the world, and allowing him to control the minds of his human followers who were branded with the mark of Oz, but it was also easing the pain from having chunks of Kryptonite permanently embedded in his skull.
Despite the pain, however, Jor-El sees things more clearly, and understands how wrong he’s been, and Superman begins to accept that this may indeed be his father. However, their reunion is short-lived, as the mysterious force appears to pull Jor-El away. Before disappearing, Jor-El tells Superman to keep Lois and Jon safe, and to prepare for the fight that lies ahead. Though Superman tries to hold on to his father, the force is too strong, and as Superman demands that the being behind it reveal itself and tell him what it wants, Superman suddenly finds himself returned to Metropolis with Lois and Jon.
It’s a climax that feels a bit rushed and, well, anticlimactic, but the issue has a strong ending, as Superman stands atop the Daily Planet and Lois asks if Jor-El was right about Earth being doomed.
Is Earth doomed? Maybe, but as long as Superman is around, it won’t go without a fight.
This was a decent issue, though as I said, it felt like the climax was a bit rushed. There was never any real chance of Superman giving in to Jor-El’s bleak and hopeless view, but it might have been interesting to have an issue or two in which he seems to go along with it, working to win his father over to his cause, possibly agreeing in exchange for Jor-El easing up on his efforts to speed up humanity’s efforts to jump into the abyss. The climactic scene of Jor-El being pulled away could have remained, and, indeed, would have landed with a lot more force. It seems like a missed opportunity, and was, perhaps, the result of an editorial mandate as they rush towards the upcoming ugh event.
As powerful as it is, that strong ending, as a result of the rushed denouement, feels somewhat out of place, and kind of…unearned.
The “toxic” energy of the staff affecting his brain – particularly when there was the existing option of the Kryptonite – felt like an out-of-nowhere cheat.
There wasn’t really any need for either explanation; Jor-El had undergone sufficient trauma to explain his bleak worldview, both before and after Krypton’s destruction. As he told his story to Superman, he revealed that Krypton’s doom was not the straightforward matter of the Science Council not believing that Krypton was about to explode that Superman had been led to believe.
Some members – most notably Jor-El’s father-in-law – did believe him, but they weren’t willing to accept his solution of evacuating the planet. His father-in-law destroyed his designs for a fleet of space arks and demanded that he get to work on a futile attempt at saving the planet itself. Working from memory, Jor-El then set to the task of building a ship that would at least save his son.
My other complaint is that Lois didn’t really get a chance to take a crack at changing his mind, as her interaction with Jor-El was incredibly limited. If anyone could have pulled it off, it would have been Lois.
Still, overall, it was an interesting shake-up to the status quo, and while when it comes to the whole Doomsday Clock thing I’m just…NO.
Ahem Anyway, it made for a mostly well-crafted story that cuts to the heart of who and what Superman is, which is to be expected from Superman-writing veteran Dan Jurgens, that is unfortunately hindered by the (yes, this again) confusing continuity of “Rebirth” and the upcoming ugh event, and it did finally provide an answer to at least part of a mystery that’s been going on for quite some time.
There had been a lot of speculation about who Mr. Oz really was, though I didn’t see anyone guessing that it was Jor-El. For my part, given his name, the manner in which he dressed, his connection to the long-talked about ugh event looming in the near-future, and the bank of screens with which he monitored the world, I suspected that he was…well, I don’t want to say, because I don’t want to talk about the ugh event. I’ll just say that, while I’m not mighty, I’ve looked upon DC’s works and despaired…
The art is decent, if a bit too loose for my tastes, with a good storytelling flow, though it is worth noting that Dan Jurgens, who is a talented artist in his own right, provided the breakdowns. Which is to say that he sketched out the overall layout, though just how detailed that work was or wasn’t, I can’t say. I don’t see much of a hint of Jurgens’s distinctive style, though, and the heavy lifting was on the actual penciller. Once again I see the hints of the “house style,” even though Bogdanovic does stray a bit further afield than some other artists do. (Mostly in terms of the “looseness” that I alluded to.)
INVESTIGATING LOIS LANE: THE TURBULENT HISTORY OF THE DAILY PLANET’S ACE REPORTER – I’m pretty sure I’ve recommended this before and you didn’t pay any attention that time and probably won’t this time either but it’s a good book, dammit.
DC UNIVERSE BY ALAN MOORE – I recommend this one in particular because it includes the classic “For the Man Who Has Everything,” a story that gives us a glimpse of what Superman’s life might have been like if he had been raised by his birth parents. Also, a bunch of other great stories by Alan Moore.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN: SAGA OF THE SUPER SONS – A bit of Silver Age insanity from the mind of Bob Haney. Is it a hoax? A dream? An imaginary story? No! But it is a gas, daddy-o!
Not many votes for it this issue, but I’m going to wrap up this storyline, I guess, so in Wonder Woman #34 we see another family reunion in the form of Diana being reunited with her long-lost twin, Jason.
The twins have a nice chat, during which Jason reveals that he’s been waiting to meet her, and that he’s glad that she doesn’t have the same nose (he’s got quite a schnoz) that he does, but, like her, he’s got some powers like hers, and some that are different. After they finish catching up, Grail makes an appearance, and Diana learns that their happy reunion was a sham and that her brother actually hates her and is working with Grail. It ends with Jason telling a battered Diana that they’re not going to kill her just yet, as they have a need for her, but that when the time comes, he’ll do the job himself.
That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.