Current Reviews


Action Comics #839

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2006
By: Michael Bailey

Writer: Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek
Artist: Renato Guedes

"Up, Up, and Away Chapter Six: This Looks Like a Job."

Publisher: DC Comics

Plot: After Superman defeats the villains vying for the bounty on his head, Lex Luthor successfully activates the Kryptonian Artifact buried deep beneath the ground. Superman plays damage control as the Artifact emerges before flying towards it to confront Lex Luthor.

Commentary: Once again I read a Superman comic that has the whole someone or something speaking Kryptonian thing going on and once again I sit at my desk giving myself a migraine translating it.

Part of me enjoys this. Part of me thinks the fact that I take such pleasure in it is kind of sad. Either way, here, for your edification is what the Sunstone on page twenty was saying.

SUNSTONE: Dreadnought Class craft. Designation Doomsday. Under command of Admiralty Officer Dru-Zod. Awaiting authorization voiceprint.

LUTHOR: You'll have to excuse me. My ride is here. Broadcasting override code. Disable voice recognition. You will recognize Lex Luthor as your authorized commander.

SUNSTONE: Override accepted. Welcome Commander.

For those of you interested, an admiralty is a court exercising jurisdiction over all maritime cases. At one point the British government had a department called the Admiralty that had control over naval affairs.

So the translating wasn't for naught. The Sunstone name dropped Dru-Zod, which could be a red herring or could be important. Either way it got my attention and raised some questions about what role Zod played on Krypton prior to its destruction. My money is on the fact that Zod was responsible for sending the artifact to Earth back in 1938.

But enough speculation. Let's get down to the story at hand.

It is amazing to me that Johns and Busiek could take such an eclectic group of Post-Crisis/Pre-Infinite Crisis (Is that how we're referring to it now?) of Superman villains and not only make them work but show how a clever writer (or in this case writers) can use Superman's abilities in interesting ways. Superman gets the bad rap of hitting first and asking questions later, but under the right creative hands he can be quite the tactical genius. After the strong opening of going from the flashback/exposition to the shot of Superman hovering in the sky, Johns and Busiek delivered a truly great action scene.

Superman's rogues should also count themselves lucky. A bunch of Batman's villains from the same era have all ended up dead. At least these guys are getting screen time without the addition of a body bag.

What was more remarkable was how the writers dealt with Superman's powers returning and what that meant for him physically and emotionally. It's a weird bit of coincidence that this issue came out about two days after a buddy of mine and I had a conversation about what it would do to a person psychologically to have the strength, speed and sheer power that a character like Superman has. Johns and Busiek showed the amount of control Superman has to exert to keep everything in check and the added psychological burden that comes with those abilities. In one page they laid out that being an alien isn't the only aspect of Superman that separates him from the rest of humanity. At the same time he accepts this, believing that others have it far worse and taking some satisfaction that he can use those abilities to help others.

Now that's Superman.

This issue also caused a mild paradigm shift in my outlook on the character. I used to disagree with the alien/loner/outsider mentality that many writers like to go with when writing the character, but now I see that if done right and not to any kind of extreme, it works. It doesn't make him less human, but it also doesn't make him more so. He becomes more of a figure to admire because he doesn't get lost in it. He embraces his abilities and the consequences they bring and channels that into his mission of doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Superman takes one moment to contemplate the issue, and then it is back to business.

Boo yah.

There is one more thing I'd like to discuss because I feel it bears exploration.

As "Up, Up, and Away" has progressed, I've noticed superficial similarities between the plot of this story and the plot of Superman Returns. Now that more footage has come to light in the form of three kick ass trailers, those similarities have grown. In one of the Superman Returns trailers black crystals grow out of the ground. In this issue white crystals jut from the bedrock. In several of the trailers Lex Luthor uses Kryptonian technology to his own ends. The same thing has happened in this story arc. Superman has been gone for some time in Superman Returns, and he's been gone for a year in the DC Universe.

Now I'm not saying that the writers and editor of this story did this on purpose. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that the story was designed to be similar to the movie's plot so if a person seeing the film has the urge to pick up a Superman comic there would be enough to connect the two. Marvel did the same thing with the X-Men and to a smaller degree with Spider-Man. It only makes sense that DC would follow suit with their flagship character. It is also possible that Kurt and Geoff struck on the idea separately, and this is all just a happy coincidence.

The thing is that even if the plot of "Up, Up, and Away" was designed to follow the movie, it doesn't matter. This story is good. Really good. The best Superman story in years good. Not only does it re-establish Superman for the new age DC has entered, it explores what makes the character work, and how an icon created during the Great Depression can still resonate today. Who cares if the costume in this story looks like the one from the new movie? Who cares if the plots have points in common? The important thing is that at a time when there is so much media attention on Superman, his comic book adventures are up to the scrutiny.

Readers will grumble. Readers will complain. Readers will do what readers always do.

But for me, as someone who has been a Superman fan his entire life and a reader for nearly twenty years now, this story makes me nothing but happy.

In The End: Y'all ready for some football? And by football I mean an epic confrontation between Superman and his arch-enemy Lex Luthor. The set-up has been beautiful, now I'm ready for the payoff. The addition of Zod's name brings up some intriguing questions about the Sunstone and its origins. It would have been nice for the writers to have provided a translation for the Kryptonese, but making us do some of the work is part of the fun. Kurt, Geoff, Pete and Renato have written and drawn a fantastic story, and I look forward to seeing how the events will play out.

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