Sunday, August 15, 2010

Superman - Sacrifice

Warning: this is quite a long post and includes spoilers for the Superman: Sacrifice trade and Green Arrow #2.

Sacrifice collects Superman 218, 219, 220, Adventures of Superman 442 + 443, Action Comics 829 and Wonder Woman 219 + 220.

The cover to Wonder Woman 219, and the cover to the trade.  An interesting choice as it depicts Diana as the emotional aggressor and Superman as the calm one one defending himself.  This is at complete odds with the content of the book.

I've been thinking about this new dark age of superheroes that people keep saying DC is in.  I've felt that I've not really understood this complaint as I am not that well read in DCU history.  I've read a few titles extensively, but not really that many and most of them have been post Crisis.  Recently However i purchased JLA Showcase 4 from a local charity shop.  I was very pleasantly surprised to discover how much fun it was.  there was tongue in cheek teasing and banter between the main heroes.   There was also some silly exposition and convoluted plots but there was also character development and a sense of awareness of itself.  Hal Jordan got hit on the head a lot.  But mostly, the creators seemed like they were having fun with it.

Well, pretty soon after reading JLA Showcase 4, I read Superman: Sacrifice.  While I do really really like Sacrifice, for the first time it struck me how dark it is, and how full of misery the DCU has become.

Sacrifice collects a number of issues, but starts with Superman #218.  We open with a tabloid television programme exploring what would happen if Superman were to turn his powers against the people of Earth.  What follows is a fight between Superman and the new keeper of the Blackrock, and results in the citizens of Metropolis fleeing in fear from Superman.  I'm not sure I buy this extreme reaction after just one fight, but lets put our disbelief aside for a moment.  The issue ends with Jimmy Olsen contemplating Superman's thoughts and actions.

Superman #219 is next and is a fight between Superman and Brainiac, where Lana, Perry, Jimmy and Olsen die.  It ends with a confused Superman wondering who the blood on his hands belongs to, and a very pissed off JLA glowering at him.

We next move onto Action Comics 289 with prominent members of the JLA and JSA watching over Clark's loved ones - it is evident that the deaths in the previous issue didn't really happen.  Clark is forced to account for his actions on the satellite and this time his recollection is of fighting Darkseid who was holding Lois captive, then killed her.  Superman loses his rag completely at this and attempts to kill Darkseid.  This sequence of events is more violent, more monstrous, than the Brainiac one.

I think it is at this point that we realise how much the DCU has changed.  Superman doesn't kill.  Not for anyone or anything.  If he is moving to murder someone, out of rage, despair and hatred then something fundamental has changed.  In the older comics his close friends and allies weren't killed either - not like this, and not in such a manner.

When the riddle of Superman's memory is solved (adventure Comics #642) we discover that he has been fighting Batman and Wonder Woman, and he nearly killed Batman.  It is revealed that Max Lord has been controlling Superman, and is also responsible for the OMACs going wild, and Ted Kord's death.

My biggest exposure to Max Lord was in the JLA/JLE issues of the 80s.  He struck me as a bit of a con man,a smooth talker and not someone you'd trust, but not in any way evil.  Yet by the end of this book he is a monster, holding Superman captive and truthfully promising to never relinquish his grip.  It is for this reason that Wonder Woman breaks Lord's neck.

By this point we have already seen Superman and Wonder Woman fight, and have read a particularly dramatic scene where he uses his laser vision to burn her face:

The reason Lord did what he did is jealousy.  He argued that the heroes are Gods and if they were to ever turn against humanity we'd be fucked.  His logic that if he could control Superman, anyone could, therefore he has a moral duty to try to control Superman, I find more than a little warped, but then again, he is by now a villain.  I don't have to understand his motives as he has become something truly horrendous.

In the old JLA comics, of the Showcase era, this situation is completely unheard of.  I wonder if maybe the creators are conflating fun/light hearted/entertaining with lack of quality.

But, I am still glad that this story was told.  It demonstrates an important difference in the Trinity.
Wonder Woman is a warrior.  She was a member of a trained army and is combat ready.  She is not against all killing, just unnecessary killing.  She regrets the need for her actions, but she does not regret the actions (Wonder Woman 220).  Superman and Batman, on the other hand, are against killing in all it's forms - in any circumstances.

As such, they cannot understand or forgive Diana for what she has done.  In my eyes, it was a combat situation and there was no other option.  Diana has always been a warrior.  This is not some retconning of her origin, but I suspect that Superman and Batman may not have fully appreciated what this means.

Clark comments that he sees no remorse in her eyes.  Well, she is not remorseful.  She shed no tears for her actions.  It was not a decision taken lightly, and she didn't start the fight intending to kill Max.  However there was no other way to end it, and no one else would have been able to stop Superman.  She didn't enjoy it, she doesn't like killing, but that doesn't mean she regrets the decision.  We expect soldiers in war to make tough decisions and Wonder Woman shouldn't be any different.

There may be an argument for Diana knocking Max out and keeping him in stasis (or similar) until they could find a way to break his control, but tampering with people's minds and keeping them drugged up and immobile is not a more ethical course of action than killing them.  Max knew what he was doing and he knew what could happen if he got caught.  He started a war and under the influence of the lasso he gave Wonder Woman her only option.  He couldn't be made to stand trial as he promised that every moment he was awake he would make Superman suffer.

The other aspect to this book that I liked was the comparison that can be drawn between Superman's killing spree and Wonder Woman's one murder.  Superman's visions get increasingly more violent and by the last vision he was killing out of rage, despair and hate.  He was killing the guilty as well as the innocent and he was out for violent bloody vengeance,  The visions may not have been real but his reactions and moods were.  To my mind this makes Kal-El/Clark far more dangerous and far more worthy of shame than Diana.  Her actions were rational and considered.  His were visceral and immediate.  Of course, this is also one of the points made in the book, and is something both Bruce and Clark ponder on.

So, given that we have got to this point, and given that this is *so* different from Silver Age comics, I can understand people's protestations.

I am myself getting a little tired of the endless misery and death.  We are allegedly in this new brightest Day, and on the one hand we have the white rings exhorting the revived to live life to the full, and on the other hand we have Green arrow getting shot in the head at the end of his second issue.  Where's the joy?  Where's the hook?  I know that Ollie isn't dead but I don't particularly care why.  It would be easier to bear if the art was good - at least Sacrifice brought us some truly iconic panels - but the art in Green Arrow is rubbish.

I want books filled with fun that are also well written.  I want books with darkness within that adds to a character's story and builds on their history.  I want my books to be important (because of the quality of the tale, not because an editor says they are important) and a worthy addition to DCU history.  I don;t want death to be used as an easy shock device.  It's not shocking.


Themysciran Knight said...

Excellent review of the Superman: Sacrifice trade, and the issues you bring up.

Personally, I've only read the Greg Rucka Wonder Woman issues contained here. Still, he gives a good overview of Maxwell Lord and his actions regarding Superman for context.

You make an excellent point about Kal and Bruce seeming not to fully appreciate Diana the Warrior and the act of her killing Lord. It is too bad Rucka could not have continued Diana's journey in the aftermath of this! Rucka seemed to understand the use of fun and dark in his issues to develop Diana's viewpoint, and not just her reacting to events.

I immensely disliked how Wonder Woman after Rucka's run reverted back to issue 1 rather than continuing forward with the numbers.

SallyP said...

Yeah, the whole "Oh My God, Someone DIES!" thing has pretty much lost whatever punch it had. Heck,they kill off another hero every other Tuesday, it seems.

Diana IS a warrior, and I have always found Superman and Batman to be a tad on the sanctimonious side.

Saranga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saranga said...

@T Knight:
At least she's on issue numbers 600+ now! Are you getting the current WW books? What's your take on them?

@Sally: I like Superman a lot, but i think a lot of writer misuse him and they seem to be coming from a different point of view and understanding than me. Like JMS' latest Superman issue, which is pretty awful.

Themysciran Knight said...

I'm sorry about the delay in reply... I have bought Wonder Woman issues 600 and 601. Overall, I'm not impressed with J. Michael Straczynski's take on Wonder Woman. Seeing Themyscira destroyed again and many Amazons killed again is exasperating and tiresome. Straczynski's writing feels unnatural such as when the Oracle inquires if Diana has any gum in issue 600. And art wise I totally disagree with the costume change. I loved how George Perez made the original costume about the Amazons honoring Steve's mom Diana for her bravery. Plus, Perez and Phil Jimenez created other outfits for Diana when she was not in action. I'm going to buy issue 602, but I believe I'm going to take Wonder Woman off my pull list at the comic book shop.

What is your take on the current Wonder Woman?

Saranga said...

I'm enjoying it. I think this alternate time line is interesting, but I also think it won't last, which is good. The costume bothers me less and less as Diana is still totally badass. It's an enjoyable elseworlds type story, but I wouldn't want it to become regular continuity.

I gather they are gonna keep some elements from this when the timeline is fixed. I would want Diana aged up again, with the extra maturity she had, with a variety of costumes (this and the old one) and the Amazons and Gods restored as they were.

I don't quite see why they needed to reboot WW, but I'm ok with it so far.

LissBirds said...

I don't like seeing characters like Max Lord become villains soley for the shock value, or whatever reason editors decide to do things like that.

I heartily agree that comics should be fun. And so do so many other fans. I guess it's just up to DC to start listening to us--but I'm not sure if they are. Brightest Day doesn't seem any different than Blackest Night, and what's going on with Green Arrow is proof of that.

I always thought that getting rid of the letters column at the end of comics heralded the end of editors listening to fans.

j.d. said...

Hated the Max Lord swerve. Hated it. But as for what I did like about the storyline; Batman getting beat up. Now, I love Batman, but i'm firmly on the side of 'straight up 1 on 1, Superman beats Batman kin a fight' team. And it was nice having an in-continuity battle where Batman is decisively handled with ease. And if anyone cares Wonder Woman is 3-0 against Batman in in-continuity fights, that guys REALLY shouldn't mess with her!

One more thing about continuity; recently (like the past 5 years or so) Superman's killing of the three Krytponians was wiped out (story is after the first Crisis reboot). But when this started, he had killed before for the greater good, and had just decided never to do it again. Was that at all reflected, or was it just "Never kill!" I can't recall...

LissBirds said...

Amen to everything you said. This is like a DC Fan's Manifesto. :)

It seems like every week in the DC source column they always talk about how every next new book (even Rise of Arsenal and all that) is the "best that's come out!" and I'm like, "how can you say that with a straight face?" I wonder if DC will ever admit they produced a bad story. Probably not any more likely than Hollywood admitting they made a bad movie, I guess.

I think we all need a little fun in our comics. I mean, I read them to escape the real world, not to be reminded of how grim it can be. Plus I like to laugh.

I like the point you made about Wonder Woman and how she is a warrior and how she differs from Superman. I never thought of it that way.

And Max should go back to being a smarmy financier and not evil personified. He was an entertaining charater in the JLI years. He kind of reminded me of a used car salesman.

LissBirds said...

I just realized I read this post twice, and commented twice. lol. My short term memory is awesome!

Saranga said...

"Probably not any more likely than Hollywood admitting they made a bad movie, I guess."

We have some hope. halel Berry was very gracious about receiving a raspberry for catwoman. 2 birds, one stone (kinda?)