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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