[This article contains spoilers for Action Comics #1004, Superman Giant #4, and Superman #1]
The most recent issue of Action Comics, issue #1004, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Ryan Sook and Wade Von Grawbadger, features the reunion between Superman and Lois Lane. The issue was solicited claiming it would re-define their relationship. This created quite a stir amongst fans of the super couple.
Unfortunately, the issue itself did not ease everyone’s mind it. There are a number of issues with the explanation that Lois gives for not coming back to the couple’s home upon her return to earth. Foremost is the fact that she never actually explains why she was hiding from Clark. She explains why she needed time to herself, but it’s never made clear why she was unable to come home and speak to Clark about it like a mature married adult. While this isn’t the only aspect of her character that seems off, the depiction of Superman is not unproblematic either.
The first thing that stands out is how quickly Superman is able to accept Lois’s explanation, despite Lois never giving a reason why she was hiding from him. More problematic is how easily he accepts Lois’s explanation for leaving Jon, their son, alone with Jor-El. This really stands out as he discusses the issues with the communicator that was destroyed in his battle with Rogol Zaar.
On page 13 of Action Comics #1004, Clark explains that initially he did attempt to fly out to find them, flying all the way out to Titan, but realized it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. On the surface this sounds mostly reasonable, but this is Superman we are talking about. However, when compared with Superman‘s actions in the Walmart exclusive, Superman Giant #4 released two days after Action Comics #1004 there seems to be a disconnect in the characterization of Superman between these two issues.
The story in Superman Giant #4 by Tom King, Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope depicts Superman in a similar situation. Superman has flown off into space to find a girl that’s been abducted by aliens. He figures out that they used a Zeta beam so he goes to Raan to get help from Sardath in tracking the beam. Raan has long been the leading expert on the Zeta Beam and its transporting properties, having summoned Earth man Adam Strange to Raan countless times in the past for assistance.
In the previous issue of Superman Giant, King goes a long way to create an emotional connection between Superman and the missing girl by way of conversation with Pa Kent, especially, who makes it clear that no matter how desperate the situation, kids maintain a sense of hope.
Sardath, the leading scientist on Raan, and Adam Strange’s father-in-law, explains the ubiquitous nature of the Zeta beams and that it would be impossible to identify a single beam. However, Superman knows he needs to save this little girl, and chooses to subject himself to the certain madness and possible death that Sardath has described.
Sardath describes the impossibility in terms of containing the universe in a single thought. He provides the examples of super-computers failing in tracking a single Zeta beam. But, this does not dissuade the Man of Steel. He tells Sardath to “push the button,” despite knowing the possible consequences. Superman allows himself to be plugged into the super computer and allow his mind to roam in space in search for the Zeta Beam that has transported the girl from Earth.
Now, let’s compare Superman‘s attitude to finding his own family when faced with the prospect of being unable to communicate with them. After Lois’s return, Clark explains to Lois how the communicator was destroyed during his battle with Rogol Zaar. Lois doesn’t question it and even says she figured it was something like that. Clark then proceeds to tell her that he flew past Titan (a moon of Saturn) in an attempt to possibly find them, but tells her it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Amazingly, Lois accepts this as reasonable for Superman. So, the question is raised, why is Superman willing to face madness and death to save a little girl he doesn’t even know, and yet turns away from finding his family, once he is unable to be sure of their safety because he says it was too hard. When has Superman not attempted something because it was “too hard?“ These two stories released only two days apart appear to depict two different depictions of Superman and his approach to facing the impossible.
The two situations are quite similar when examined. If Clark felt compelled enough to fly to Titan and abandon his quest because it was “like finding a needle in a haystack,” why is this difficulty not echoed in his search for the abducted girl in the Superman Giant story by Tom King. The situation is nearly the same, with the added threat of madness and death in the Superman Giant story. Both, issues attempt to depict nearly impossible situations.
Moreover, the general attitude of the story in Superman Giant is one of hope, whereas Clark seems defeated and desperate in Bendis’s books. Clark doesn’t focus on the negatives in Superman Giant #4, he focuses on the girl and her predicament, and actually makes an emotionally moving argument to continue his search for her. In Action Comics #1004, Clark seems too willing to give up. It’s a shame this sequence occurs off panel, only appearing in Clark’s narration. Or does it? Let’s look back to Bendis’s Superman #1 wherein this is actually dramatized.
Superman #1 opens with a recap page of who Superman is, the recent battle with Rogol Zaar and Jor-El’s return which led to Jon and Lois going off with him into space. The story begins with Superman flying off to find his family, knowing his communicator is broken. As he flies away, he doesn’t mention anything about it being too difficult, but rather has an experience that reminds him of where he’s needed. He sees the Dominator Armada on their way to Earth. He stops, realizing he has to stop the Dominators and protect Earth, claiming, “It politely reminded me where I’m really needed.” Subsequently, in his interior monologue he professes his faith in his wife, stating, “I know you have this Lois. I know you’re okay.” Superman not only shows his confidence in his wife, but says nothing of it being difficult, instead indicating that he knows he has a responsibility to Earth and that he can trust Lois to take care of their son. So, why does he tell Lois something completely different in Action Comics #1004? It’s not as if this is the same reasoning explained with different verbiage. These are two distinct explanations. Can Bendis have already forgotten his own reasoning for Clark returning to Earth and not seeking out his family in space?
While Clark’s explanation in Action Comics #1004 is concerning when compared to his actions in Superman Giant #4, it is even more troubling for there to be a lack of continuity when comparing Superman’s reasoning for his actions in Superman #1 and what he tells Lois in Action Comics #1004.
While Lois’s characterization in Action Comics #1004 has received much of the brunt, a closer look reveals that Superman, himself is not exactly staying in character. While excuses may be able to be made for the fact that Superman Giant #4 is written by Tom King and exists perhaps in a “classic” setting, it doesn’t make any sense that Bendis can’t seem to get his own take on the Man of Steel straight a mere 4 months between issues. Is this sloppy writing, sloppy editing or is Bendis tugging on Superman’s cape, unaware of how his stories affect the Man of Steel, not really knowing what’s coming next? Like the song says, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape….”
So again I ask… what’s going on with Superman?