[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Patrick Zircher
Colorist: Arif Prianto
When you hear “this looks like a job for Superman,” what comes to mind? So very often, the physical challenge of stopping a crashing plane or the attack of some giant ape is thrilling, but emotionally meaningless. With this run on Action Comics, Jurgens started with the physical threat of Doomsday and teased us with the Clark Kent doppelganger, but in this “Men of Steel” arc we see Superman faced with perhaps the greatest of all types of challenges- moral.
L’Call has left Earth with Luthor, and Superman can’t find him. He’s been taken to Nideesi, a nearly dead planet in a distant galaxy. Interspersed between Luthor arguing for a stay of execution on moral grounds we get a look at L’Call and his past. His own family was killed by a tyrant and he was chosen to follow the visions of Ch’arr – an oracle of sorts who can channel what will happen. We learn that just prior to Luthor’s abduction, L’Call had grown tired of this life and had had enough of killing. Watching the pain of his victim’s loved ones had become too much. Ch’arr, with Zade’s help lures him back for another mission when she claims that Luthor will fill Darkseid’s seat on Apokolips.
Back on Earth, Superman puts some pieces together and is able to figure out where L’Call has taken Luthor. It’s difficult for Superman, but he knows executing Lex before he’s committed these alleged crimes is wrong, especially since the Lex he knows from his own Earth is different than this Earth’s Lex Luthor. He takes off in search of Luthor to save him.
The whole moral dilemma is developed wonderfully. While Superman may face a physical challenge from L’Call and Zade, it’s the moral aspect that really drives this story. It truly works Superman’s character. It is a wonderful moment when Luthor, as he despairs, quotes Gene Hackman’s Luthor from Superman: The Movie:
“There’s a strong streak of good in you Superman…”
There’s also a suggestion that Zade has mind powers that he could be using to manipulate L’Call. The sympathy we feel for L’Call is a powerful motivator in making him something other than a simple mass murderer. His misgivings lead us to believe that he will be turned around in this arc. It’s difficult to make Luthor seem like the victim, but so far it’s working.
Zircher’s art really shines in this issue. It’s not rushed or hurried and he makes the most of his opportunities from close-ups to iconic shots of the Man of Steel. This is one of the best looking issues of Action Comics since Rebirth began.
This is how to tell a Superman story. This title doesn’t need to turn into a buddy book starring Luthor and Superman, but presenting these two as competitors instead of outright enemies has created new story telling potential. Jurgens is making the most of it as he gives Superman a real challenge, a true job for Superman.