[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Ryan Sook
Superman has long transcended his place as a fictional character to become an icon for hope and good in the world. Action Comics #988, utilizes this truth to tell a potentially meaningful story. However, I still hope that there is some elaborate ruse to be uncovered that proves this is not the real Jor-El. Jor-El of Earth-3? Ok. Dark Metal Jor-El? Ok. It just seems wrong to go back and take Superman’s past and rework it in this way. Are we so cynical about the world we live in that even Superman must have a dark specter in his past to make him be a beacon of hope? Is it so hard to imagine that good people can come from other good people? Does there always have to be some fascist element to rebel against?
Superman just doesn’t believe that Oz is his father, Jor-El. Even Kelex confirms his identity, Jor-El built Kelex after all. Jor-El/Oz recounts his experience on Krypton through the data crystals. So why doesn’t he just tell his story? Why are the crystals necessary?
As Krypton is destroyed and he watches Lara die in his arms, he is taken by some force and deposited on Earth where he is taken in by a poor family in what appears to be a middle eastern or African country. This family lives under an oppressive military regime. And, Jor-El/Oz learns about the worst of the human race. As the youngest of the family is forced to kill the rest of them, Jor-El is taken by the force again and shown the worst of human history- Nazism, the crucifixion of Christ, the Crusades, the Klan, the atomic bombing of Japan.
And Jor-El/Oz laments his decision to send Kal-El to Earth, and tells him to pack his things – they are leaving!
Superman’s best stories present him with a conflict that is not solved physically. This issue is no exception. Jor-El/Oz’s story is compelling and moving. Certainly, everyone will identify with Jor-El/Oz as he is forced to deal with the worst of humanity. And, this provides an iconic challenge for Superman. How does one face the worst in people and STILL have hope that there is good in the world? In this sense this story works very well – “Must There Be A Superman?”
Ryan Sook does a nice job filling in this issue. His double page spreads are particularly nice as is his pacing in Jor-El’s story with his “adoptive” family. He really builds the tension as the youngest of the family is forced to commit this crime. Most importantly, though, Sook sells the eye contact between Superman and Jor-El/Oz. Whether it is really Jor-El or not, they are locked in the whole time.
The Jor-El/Oz character just doesn’t seem right. It’s obvious that he’s been manipulated into seeing the worst of the human race, and it’s even understandable that he would come to view the human race as morally bankrupt based on this experience. However, it just doesn’t ring true to what we’ve learned of Jor-El over the years as Superman’s father. His history isn’t as extensive as the Man of Steel’s, but there’s always been that aspect of hope and determination to save those that he could. This has always been clearly passed down from father to son. To see Jor-El be the poster boy for cynicism in our world is tantamount to Superman hanging up the cape because “it’s too hard.”
While this story presents Superman with a real challenge on an emotional and philosophical angle, the depiction of Jor-El just doesn’t ring true. Jor-El = Hydra-Cap? Despite the provocative nature of the story, Jor-El in this role seems out of place and undermines what could be great with a different character in this role. It will make you think, but you might hate it, too.