An Exasperated Superman Doesn’t Make Smart Choices in Action Comics 990

by Mark Mitchell

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

It’s rare to see Superman exasperated. Usually he’s flying around, helping people; sometimes he feels weighed down by the enormity of humanity’s ability to do evil, but at the end of the day he’s the ultimate optimist. It’s not often we see Superman at the end of his rope, but that’s exactly where he is in Dan Jurgens and Viktor Bogdanovic’s Action Comics 990

The initial source of Superman’s frustration is the fictional country of Logamba — “fictional,” but Jurgens takes inspiration from the real world events in Syria. In Action Comics 990 the government of Logamba was using chemical weapons on rebels within its country before Superman stopped them. The rebels, in turn, respond by firing their own chemical weapons into the capital city. Superman is able to clear out the gas, but he’s at his wit’s end. He rounds up the leaders of both the rebels and the Logamban government and orders them to find a compromise to end their conflict. The rebel leader complains that the government officials are corrupt and hoard wealth for themselves; the government leader complains that the rebels are “crude and inferior” and “too stupid to work in [their] factories.”

Superman’s proposed solution is mind-boggling. He orders the government official to use the wealth of the upper class to educate the rebels and their families, while the rebel leader is to tell his people that “they can’t just take what they want. They must be willing to make the best of their lives and learn.” It’s at this point that I’m no longer sure if Jurgens intends for us to see Superman’s solution as wise, because to me his response feels off the mark. The government official (neither of these characters are given names) literally just called the rebels “inferior” and Superman’s answer is, “But you could use your money to make them smart enough to work in factories”? And that’s supposed to be a noble solution to the problem at hand? How about, “Becoming wealthy off the backs of others doesn’t make you superior”? How about some of that Truth and Justice? I’m sure it’s just an idea inelegantly expressed, but, yikes, that’s a rough one to get muddled.

It’s disappointing because there is a potentially interesting idea here — Superman as hopelessly naive in the face of complicated evil — but that’s an idea for another time because in Action Comics 990 the naivety is unintentional. Jurgens writes a classic Superman, but it gets away from him a bit here. The whole episode is merely a prelude to the issue’s real action back in Metropolis (Superman literally flies away before anything is resolved), so I’m not really sure why it was necessary to strain to try and make it a “see both sides” situation; especially when Superman himself is unable to stick the landing.

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3 comments on “An Exasperated Superman Doesn’t Make Smart Choices in Action Comics 990

  1. Wait, this comic takes inspiration from Syria, and has the rebels firing their own chemical weapons? Fucking really? There is a way to approach this sort of topic without being so disgustingly dishonest

    But that is fucking horrific

    • The backbone of the arc is Jor-El trying to prove that human beings are all monsters not worth saving (or worth his son’s time), and he and his agents have been influencing and manipulating various parties into doing awful, horrific things in order to prove his point. I haven’t read this issue yet, but in previous issues he’s had agents on both sides of this conflict goading both sides into firing chemical weapons and committing atrocities.

      I doubt that makes the execution any better at all, but it does change Jurgens’ intention from “both sides of the Syria conflict are terrible” to “people can do terrible things if given the right push” (and even then, I’m sure Jor-El will ultimately be proven wrong by the end of the arc). This almost definitely isn’t the way to be delivering that message, though.

      • I knew that. Still doesn’t fucking redeem it.

        Superheroic metaphor is supposed to clarify, not deceive. There is no justification for bringing up the spectre of Syria and then being so horrifically dishonest about it. There are a million of better ways to handle it. There is more than enough happening in Syria you should be able to find a dynamic that is not so revoltingly dishonest. Or you could do something else entirely. Find another foreign crisis. Or just make entirely one up, without using a single word designed to make you think about Syria. Hell, I remember Young Justice using the fictional nations of Qurac and Bialya. You could easily do something around the conflict between those nations without being so horrifically dishonest.

        As the Extra Credits team so eloquently said about Call of Juarez: The Cartel, ‘As a game designer, your audience trusts you. And you have the responsibility not to betray that trust. And I’m willing to bet that there is at least one person out there more firmly that Mexicans are stealing our women because of this game, and that is fucking disgraceful. It is a shame to what it means to be a designer, and it betrays the responsibility we as a group hold when producing mass media. We can do a lot better than this. We can inform, and educate and entertain but failing all of that, we can at least be honest.’

        The same words applies to this comic. They should be fucking ashamed. Syria is complex, but there are two facts that are beyond the shadow of the doubt. Only Assad used chemical weapons. And the weapons targeted civilians. To take one of the most horrific modern example of war crimes and whitewash it is vile.

        This arc, this entire run, is now beneath contempt. It is irredeemable. It is filth. Jurgens, Bogdanovic and all involved should take a long hard look in the mirror. Then they should just fuck off

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