The Action Reaction | August Superman Analysis

Several talented writers join forces to pick apart the good and bad of August’s Superman offerings!

Rook: Last month, Son of Kal-El, Action Comics, and Superman and the Authority all continued along separate storylines, but they shared the common thematic ground of both Supermen taking bold new steps. Clark stopped a war before it started, Jon brought a ship full of illegal refugees to the shore of Metropolis, and the Authority began to take shape.

What are some of the more interesting opportunities or ideas raised by the events of this month’s books?

Dan: I know this is an article where we get a chance to explore things with nuisance and deep insight but I need you to read this as if I am screaming at the top of my lungs: WARWORLD.

Rook: Warworld! The more I learn about it, the more fascinated I am. And the overall connection to Krypton is an intriguing way to bring in mythology that feels connected to Superman without trivializing his relationship with the doomed planet.

I’ve personally got a bit of a roundabout answer. The moment on the moon in Son of Kal-El #2 is one where I found myself missing more perspectives from more diverse writers on Superman. Clark feeling like the world would see him as an invader he overstepped his bounds, and hoping Jon would be able to go where he couldn’t and change things for the better, is one place where the perspective of an actual immigrant would really matter. No matter how good Tom Taylor is, he’s always going to have to hold those scenes at a distance because he can’t draw on lived experience. 

But this isn’t a criticism of how Taylor wrote the scene. He had a good idea that was true to the character and concept of Superman, and scripted it with enough craft that it was clear the ideas he presented were a goldmine. Frankly, I think that’s enough. He isn’t going to be the one to get 100% out of every idea he comes up with, but nobody laying the groundwork for a new version of Superman would. The ideas are too big for any one person to explore all the possible corners — that’s why we’ve had eight decades of Superman, after all. 

Gabrille: Honestly, the moment you mentioned felt really off to me, even out of character. Superman is from Earth, as much as he’s from Krypton. He was on earth since before he developed a real conscience, and only found out about his home planet in his late teens (Usually). He can be a superpowered alien superhero and a dorky guy from Kansas, which is really lovely about him. And Superman has done the stuff he’s being called out for not doing; he fought against capitalists that exploited their employees in his early comics, confronted domestic abusers, and went against cops. He was the fighter of the people. Instead of erasing that even more, I think it would be a lot better to bring it back, or at least presenting the problem in another way, which I think could work with a better execution.

Despite that, I liked the questioning coming from Jon. It feels real and a remark on the journey this young boy is going through deciding what kind of hero he is going to be. Same as before, I would like if Superman wasn’t present (Which is what they’re doing) to leave room to the Man of Today.  

David: I think it’s an interesting sentiment not explored here as well as it could have been, which is surprising because Taylor did it better before – in a dream sequence in Injustice of all places! There’s a weird balance to it: Clark grew up on Earth and in most modern takes thinks of it as home in a way he wouldn’t Krypton, but there’s that constant little fear of being exposed as something other, something unapproachable and beyond a gap neither side can fully cross. He’s human, but ask him about humanity as a whole and he’ll still think ‘they’ instead of ‘we’. There are lines he’s drawn in his head because of that he’ll always hesitate to cross.

It’s best illustrated by implication in Dan Watters and Leila Del Duca’s take on Jon Kent in Future State above; we can take ‘one of us’ in the cape talking about the darkness of human nature and our tendency to backslide and questioning whether we can survive without someone looking out for us. A Strange Visitor From Another Planet frankly laying out our flaws and need for stewardship like that? Merited and well-meaning or not, human at heart or not, that’s a notion that’d hit very differently. Jon can just plain get away with things Clark can’t, at least not while remaining Earth’s #1 Guy in the public eye (hence him abdicating that position so he can pursue his own ideas of how to make things better). If that divide in what humanity’s willing to accept from whom wasn’t the case, we probably wouldn’t need a Superman anymore anyway.

(Regarding what Rook said: yeah, the great Jon Kent story in that regard by, say, Gene Yang is absolutely waiting to be told.)

Rook: Issue #2 of Superman: Son of Kal-El also saw Tom Taylor’s first real stumble in his plans of tackling “real issues” with the book. A school shooter was shown loading bullets etched with “thoughts and prayers” into his gun, earning some scorn for handling a frequent tragedy in a hamfisted and cartoonish way.
Did the scene strike you as a bad idea from the outset, a mishandling of a worthwhile premise, or something else entirely? And how does this reflect Taylor’s aims with the book?

David: While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I thought it was a good idea, I assumed as I was reading it in the preview there was a twist coming. It’s the kind of surreal political cartoon literalism you’d expect in a Mark Russell comic rather than Tom Taylor, so surely there had to be SOME kind of catch. But somehow no; as much the worst-case scenario of Taylor doing a ‘young Superman tackles the real issues’ book as #1 represented a relatively ideal outcome.

Rook: I went into how and why I thought the shooter didn’t work in my review. Still, while I feel like Taylor put his foot in his mouth with how he handled the shooter, I appreciate that he tried. 

It isn’t an easy ask to write a comic that’s apolitical enough for a massive corporation to publish, but speaks to the day-to-day issues of America with honesty. Bluntly, most problems have a political slant, especially this one. 

When you’re trying to balance those two competing priorities, there are going to be some mistakes that slip through in your blind spot. That still beats the hell out of not trying in the first place.

But yeah, he screwed up. I’m just glad it was mercifully short.

Dan: I actually viscerally pulled back from the book from the “Thoughts and Prayers” being carved into the bullets. I love Tom Taylor, I truly do so this isn’t me jumping on the hate bandwagon but I do need to be critical of this. A lot of things in his books are said to be eye catching so people can take a screenshot and put it online. Which in most cases, I just see as him wanting to write these characters. He loves having scenes together where big things like Batman calling Dick his son can happen so people have that. This school shooter thing on the other hand felt as if he was really trying to say something just to say something. It felt more hollow than anything he has ever done.

Nothing about the scene felt natural in the slightest. It felt like the entire scene was only in the book to become a clickbait headline. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” is thrown around a lot in the US when the tragedy cycle begins. More than anything, I want the US to actually believe gun control is needed and while I don’t love the plateau of Ts and Ps but its all some people can say. 

My partner is a teacher in a high school. Every single day she leaves for work, I worry it will be the last time I see her because schools keep having shootings nearly every week. Teachers don’t go into the profession for anything other than the want to teach and make the world a better place through enlightenment. They aren’t paid well, they aren’t respected, and they are now in constant danger. What else is there to say after tragedies like these? All people know how to do is give their “thoughts and prayers” which is more than doing nothing. Sure, everyone should be advocating for gun control! 100% they should be but sometimes in the moment all you know how to do is to send your heart in that way.

I am glad Tom wants to say something, I really am. But this was just bad writing and just felt like a poor attempt at saying something politically that made me question if I even want to keep reading the series. If you are going to say something, at least find the right way to do it instead of a cheap flaccid attempt like this. 

Gabrielle: The first part of the book with the school shooter was astoundingly bad, in my opinion. Superman’s characterization in the next scenes also felt off to me, as I mentioned. But the other half of the book was actually great to me. Clark giving him the suit, and Jon’s actions regarding the refugees of Gamorra (And the set up for a Lex Luthor type villain with Gamorra’s president) were splendidly great. It makes the former part of the book even worse and unnecessary, but I hope something like that doesn’t happen again and I really think this can and will be great. Same as Jon, the book feels like it’s still looking for its own identity, and I hope it goes in the right track to find it. 

Rook: In Action Comics, Aquaman said that Superman taking the Genesis fragment from Atlantis changes his dynamic with Clark. Does it change his dynamic with the rest of the world, as well? What are the implications of that?

David: First of all, a moment of silence for Sampere beginning his step away from Action. Christian Duce does good but god, if ever someone should have been there for 50 issues minimum.

Seems clear this is the big moment hinted at in Authority where Superman’s discredited and the world turns its back on him, and I’m glad that it’s him doing the obviously only right thing – preventing an alien eldritch super-nuke that was already going off at random intervals from falling into hands eager to screw around with it – that obviously would result in the worlds’ powers declaring him public enemy #1, rather than pushing him into a faux-provocative moral quandary. Serves the notion that this is a necessary change of M.O. for the family. And I like that it’s Atlantis along with America out for his blood, not simply because of the ‘DCU’ness of its inclusion, but because they in making up 75% of the planet really hammer home that it’s The World against Clark now.

Dan: I find it a fascinating way to put Clark on the outs and to really bring in a new Superman. I love the idea of Clark, as he grows older, doing things that he knows will have long term effects rather than smaller wins like saving cats from trees. It feels like choices going on in all of these books will have long term effects across the board for the DCU. I do love that it was against Atlantis and the US because of the factor that David said, Aquaman controls so much of the Earth that it’s almost to the point that the world he called home is going to hate him.

Rook: David really put it well when he defined the Genesis fragment as “an alien eldritch super-nuke.” It is absolutely the worst thing that either Atlantis or America should be put in charge of, but PKJ really pulled off a scenario where the two biggest powers on earth have every reason to hate Superman and start smearing him in the press. It’s a goddamn feat to have that be believable without writing anyone out of character, and I respect the hell out of that. 

Regarding what Dan said about Clark’s priorities shifting as he grows older, I completely agree. It’s really starting to come together how the events of Action lead to Superman and the Authority and define who the character’s going to be going forward. Given how most shakeups of the status quo in comics can come across as corporately mandated, or at the very least awkward fits, I’m impressed by how organic it all feels.

Rook: Now that Superman has begun putting together The Authority, we’ve gotten to see a taste of their new team dynamic. What stood out to you?

David: Hilarious that as opposed to The Professionals Who’ll Get It Done And Kick Your Head In If You’re Naughty of the originals, these dopes will argue about naming and field-leadership rights until the villains get bored and electrocute them. You gather a bunch of misfit outcasts, that’s the risk you take.

Dan: I love Superman’s trust in this team of absolute weirdos and outcasts. I love Apollo’s affinity towards Superman and how Midnighter pokes fun at him. Grant’s writing of the Apollo and Midnighter relationship is what stood out to me the most. I love their sort of back-and-forth nature but the way Grant writes Midnighter, it’s so clear how much Midnighter loves his partner.

Rook: This isn’t “the Justice League that will fuck you up,” though they will; it’s the justice League of fuck-ups. (And Steel, who’s doing great.) It’s an interesting distinction, one that constantly reminds you that only Superman could have pulled this team together and made them believe in one shared mission. 

Rook: Midnighter and Apollo are the only holdovers from the original Authority, but the team’s new members each parallel a different character from the 1999 team (and, because of that, a member of the Justice League). What are the biggest changes to your eyes, and how do they contribute to the overall shift in the Authority’s direction under Superman?

David: Before, The Authority was the A-Team doing what the oldsters couldn’t – as Morrison’s noted a few times in interviews it left even their JLA work feeling obsolete, the Wildstorm crew now in their eyes a wistful memory of the beginning of the millennium when it felt like everything was turning out fine and the power was in all the right hands. Now they’re failures like the Justice League before them: Clark and Manchester are Baby Boomer and Gen-X relics, the original Authority represented by Midnighter and Apollo for all their bold initial moves were just another failed experiment, OMAC according to Morrison’s quotes for DC Nation lost her memory (and traditionally represents a reasonably nightmarish tomorrow), Lightray is by her own estimation a fraud, and Enchantress was in 2016’s Suicide Squad; Steel’s the only one who seems to really have it together from word go. Superman outright says they’re not here to guide a next generation that’s doing the good work on its own, but to muster the conviction to step up the way they should have a long time ago. What exactly that means remains to be seen, with speculation in #3 both of Superman potentially taking things too far and by nature not having it in him to go far enough, but he’s got a plan that apparently goes beyond the upcoming move against Warworld.

Dan: I haven’t actually ready any Authority proper… I think I read an issue or 2 during the New 52 era of the book. What I know of them comes mostly from Steve Orlando and Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan takes on Midnighter. I really love the character and this may inspire me to go back to read more though! I think both Apollo and Midnighter’s dynamics with Superman are very interesting as one looks up to him and the other will probably try to get under his skin.

Gabrielle: Same as Dan, I’ve never read Authority. But from the glimpses I got in this comic, I actually really enjoyed them. I loved Apollo and Midnighter chemistry and relationship, and it’s not a team that would instantly pop-up in my mind if I thought about team-ups with Superman, so I’m very interested to see how they all work together and bounce off each other.

Rook: Apollo felt the most different from his past incarnations to me, someone who’s been doing this for a while but is still more fresh-faced and emotionally vulnerable than the 1999 edition. I like it. It’s a great way to keep him distinct from Clark, while clearly being someone who has seen and done things that Jon never has (and hopefully never will).

Steel’s a great anchor to the team, and the perfect heir to the Engineer’s part of the roster. The Enchantress is also an interesting parallel to the Doctor: incredibly powerful, but with tumultuous mental health. She’s got enough history in the DCU to feel like her own person while still drawing from the same well.

If anything, I’m starting to feel like Manchester Black is the odd one out. Sure, Enchantress is more of a wildcard than he is, but Black is such an obstinate son of a bitch that had one of my roommates asking “is Superman just putting him on the team to win a bet?” 

Which…he might be, but I’m interested to see more depth before this is done. 

Rook: What were the highest points of this month’s Superman books, for you?

David: The big reveal page of Jon’s new suit. The double-page splash of the iceberg and everything surrounding it in Action really selling the gravity of the moment. Wilfredo Torres drawing Christopher Reeve in Superman ‘78. Hissy Fit and The Special in Red and Blue’s conclusion along with Shaner’s all-timer cover. And plenty of funny, sincere, or clever moments in S&TA, but mainly Morrison and Janin’s gleeful savagery in having Superman and Manchester Black discuss the former’s “journey toward irrelevant old-manhood” in the 2000s with the Fortress trophies from All-Star Superman hanging in the background; it wouldn’t be The Authority if it wasn’t pissing in the church.

Dan: I really do love what PKJ is weaving with the Warworld stuff. As a writer, one of his biggest strengths in my opinion is world building. With the creative team, he built a huge fully fleshed out world in The Last God that had language, music, and a lot of thought that went into the culture. What he is building in Superman is fascinating. More than anything, I am excited to see what’s next once Clark heads into space. I want to see what he has been building out in space which we have seen glimpses of in Future State and the Action Comics annual.

Gabrielle: I really liked this month’s Action Comics issue. Seeing Supes deal with the political issues between Atlantis and humanity, the discussion with the other members of the Super family, Mongul’s servants and Lois Lane kicking ass was all really awesome. Although my favorite thing was probably the first issue of Superman 78’. It captured the tone so perfectly, and I love how it feels a lot more sci-fi than the movies ever got to be, and it’s exactly that kind of old sci-fi movie vibes from the 50s through the 70s. 

Rook: On the other end of the spectrum, what were the month’s lows? 

David: Obviously the shooting, and while Lois had a decent showing this month in Action the issue opening with her being referred to as ‘puny little breeding sow’ was way, way more than anything needed to get across that these guys are basically Conan baddies but from space.

Dan: The shooting is one of the worst things I have read in a comic in a long time.

Rook: You guys hit the nail on the head. Those were the only two moments that really stopped the flow of the issue for me with how jarring they were, but man, they get worse each time I read them. The medieval sexist bad guy archetype is a quick way to make you hate a character, sure, but the rest of his actions did that just fine. It’s a writing tactic that returns less than you put into it, at this point.

Meanwhile, I’m kind of hoping that DC will scrub the “thoughts and prayers” etching off the bullets before the trade comes out, though I’m not holding my breath.

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