Saturday, September 29, 2007

Old Man, New World (DC comics)
Action Comics #824 When: April 2005
Why: JD Finn How: Ivan Reis

The story so far...
Suffering the stress of a clash with Gog and a synthetic yellow form of Kryptonite, and the lurking threat of Doomsday; an aged Superman struggles against the xenophobic charge of Kandor's General Preus.

Having captured both the inquisitive Jimmy Olsen and the Justice League's Martian Manhunter, Preus uses Olsen's signal watch to lure Superman to his desert base where he commands an army of zealous white-supremicists.

Facing overwhelming physical odds, Superman will courageously do combat with his disillusioned Kandorian counterpart, but at the end of the battle, Preus' greatest weapon may prove to be humanity's own capacity for self-destruction.

Previous Form:
Superman (#7): Holds victories over Mongul, Saviour and Juggernaut.
Preus: Making his debut in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Preus 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 6 (Sound Speed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Preus 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Superman 5 (Lasers)

- Earth's yellow sun powers Superman's Kryptonian make-up to expand his powers exponentially. Among them; flight, invulnerability, super strength, super speed, heat-vision, x-ray vision, and a keen intellect.

- Having been introduced to a new strain of yellow synthetic Kryptonite by Gog, Superman is suffering the effects of rapid aging and corresponding weaknesses.

- Preus is affected by Earth's atmosphere in many similar ways to Superman, with some subtle differences.
Comparable are their strength, speed and flight capabilities, likewise Preus' vision is enhanced in similar ways, visualised instead with a dark black, or purple quality, as opposed to Superman's familiar red.

- Preus has the additional ability to fire concussive blasts of energy focused through his fist, and tap into telepathic conversation. He also wears armor that is fused with his physical being, making it both a strength, but a potential weakness.

The Math: Draw The Pick: Superman

What went down...
It's about damned time Superman went head to head with energy efficient hybrid vehicles! That's right, it's a cheap gag to open as Superman speeds across the American desert, hoping desperately Jimmy Olsen has run afoul the likes of Kite-Man, given his ailing situation as a senior super-citizen.

A barrage of rocket fire makes for a disappointing response as Superman plummets to Earth from the blast only to find the unlikely sight of Preus, hovering before the gathered army of supremicist group, God's Peake.

A woman runs from the group, screaming for Superman's help. He promptly positions himself between the army and the woman, only to see the young lady reveal the scarred symbol of Preus tatooed on her chest above a waistcoat of explosives. She detonates them.

Superman manages to save the girl from herself, but it is a minor victory.
Preus commands his army of the willing to throw themselves at Superman, willingly giving their lives in the name of a like-minded genocidal philosophy.

Superman struggles to combat the mob without causing lethal harm. Prompting cries of cowardice, he leaps into the air, peeling himself from the army, only to come colliding back down to Earth with a speed that sends a shockwave through the surrounding zealots.

Desperate to stop the gun-toting xenaphobes killing each other, Superman sinks to depths uncomfortable, knee-capping a sizable percentage of the crowd with his heat vision. Preus joyously taunts Superman with informal references to the pleasure derived from harming the lesser humans. Enraged, Superman flies like a speeding bullet at the hovering Kryptonian, only to be knocked back to Earth.

Preus summons his dark energy, firing a blast from his fist before swooping down to catch Superman in mid-air and toss him across the battlefield.
Fearing he may be suffering a heart attack, the aged Superman helplessly bursts through the roof of Preus' base of operations, stumbling upon the missing Jimmy Olsen and J'onn J'onnz.

Preus soon follows, still shouting his purist claims.
Superman calls upon his experience with the effects of the yellow sun, using his intimate knowledge of flight to out maneuver the newly affected Kandorian.

Superman hops on the inexperienced Kryptonian's back, inflicting damage while controlling the course of their flight. Preus blasts wildly, damaging the restraints that hold Olsen as they head skyward once more, out of the fortress.

Intent on using their comparable weaknesses, Superman reaches for his belt to produce the mythic Kryptonite ring once used by Lex Luthor. It does well to momentarily stun Preus, but ultimately has little to no effect on the armoured native of Kandor.

With Superman's heart struggling under the stress of battle, Preus crushes his hand and sends him plummeting back into the fortress below with a mighty swing. Preus descends close behind, lording his plans to reshape the Earth in his purist image of New Krypton.

Having been freed from his flame torture by Olsen, Martian Manhunter is able to clarify a telepathic message to Superman, "The arm... or-- Armor near the heart..."

As Preus looms to deliver the final blow, Superman follows his Martian contemporary's advice. With Preus' hand around his neck, Superman reaches for the damaged shield and rips it away from Preus' chest.

Preus slumps back, the trauma stopping his heart, while Superman's returns to a normal rythmn. Ever the boyscout, he hoists Preus under his arm and defies Martian Mahunter's advice in the hopes that STAR Labs can save both he, and his enemy, even though they find themselves in the line of fire from Doomsday.

Struggling to stay afloat, Superman leaps his way to STAR Labs, where he will find the Justice League in tatters, and an old enemy waiting to kill him.

The hammer...
With another super-villain to his tally, we gladly declare Superman winner, with the vital assist from J'onn J'onnz.

Y'know, it's popular theory that the decades only make Superman more difficult to write, distancing him from a time when all-powerful aliens were cool, and the danger was real.

I, of course, do not subscribe to this particular opinion, but would agree there are some things that aren't helping. Like villains. Superman, arguably the most prevelant superhero in popular culture, has a pretty average cast of villains.
If they aren't hulking aliens with a desire to fight, they're Lex Luthor, Metallo, and a handful of other rare exceptions.

Among the greatest Superman villains, Bizarro and Zod, who are not only two of the most overworked antagonists in the franchise, but also extremely derivative of the central character, which can quickly turn poignancy to boredom.

Preus makes an effort to add to the pile, but likewise comes out smelling a bit too much like Zod, another Kryptonian General with a desire for conquest. Which probably raises the serendipitous subject of intention. For those that paint Superman with the broad stroke of 'unfeasible,' goals may represent grand poignancy rather than a satisfaction with successful on-going superheroics.

Fractured storytelling and conflicting characterization amongst stalwarts like Zod help further complicate the problem, while never quite setting the balance back in place. One can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea just to let these characters exist in a similar formula to the oft discussed chess board concept I've applied many times to the criminal underworld of Marvel and DC comics.

As if by serendipity we go from discussing Saviour [Action Comics #713], a man who believes Superman is a deceiver and is obsessed with championing his cause -- to a character like Preus, who has lost faith in Superman, and intends to succeed him on the basis of his own twisted interpretation of the symbol.

Building characterization on conflicts like that seems like such a delicious opportunity for a title like Action Comics, giving Superman the absorbant benefit of conflicts and personalities acting independent to his own infallible heroism.

What could be more fun than bridging a throwaway fight with someone like Solomon Grundy to a brand new threat. Superman's struggle culminates with a crash-landing in STAR Labs, where Preus is housed under the dampening power of a red sun.

Inadvertantly freed, Preus prepares to resume his quest of ethnic purity and conquest, only to be interrupted from an ominous whisper coming from off panel, "... deceiver..." -- Enter a likewise freed Saviour!

From there you can move the characters around in ways they haven't yet been seen, offering opportunities to develop and reshape characters. Self-reflection seems like the most likely developing course of action for a man like Saviour, who almost literally represents what he opposes. Does this nullify the all-powerful villain, or make him all the more dangerous? Does the desire for distraction lead Saviour down a path of destruction, or could salvation come from self-evaluation, allowing him to fullfil his own self-proclamation?

Likewise, a recurring theme of the Infinite Wars over the past month has been the so-called scale of justice. We've been talking a lot about the moral value of superheroes, particularly characters from the DC Universe. Developments in a character like Saviour offer a canvas upon which Superman's own personality, strengths and failings can be distorted, examined and reflected.

Morality proved to be a major part of today's entry, presenting both the moral conflict of overwhelming necessity (militia killing each other), and the outstanding good that Superman represents (attempting to save Preus).

I think if Wonder Woman represents the harsher end of the scale, willing to snap a man's neck in the name of justice; Superman is probably the other end.
It's displayed to quite well to an extreme in Frank Miller's work, [Dark Knight Returns, Dark Knight Strikes Again], where Superman's moral fibre holds so strong it guides him into the employ of his mortal nemesis, Lex Luthor.

Obviously Miller's take is almost at the point of being a parody, relevant to the sattirical containment of the DKR future. Even so, I think it at least alludes to Superman's role in the moral scale of justice. He is a character who can bring total justice to Metropolis, but is bound by a code of ethics in much the same way most local law enforcement agencies are. So, although he can see through concrete and bend steel, it would be a moral choice not to do so.

It was a situation similar to this that was highlighted a few years ago in The Question; a mini-series by Rick Veitch and Tommy Lee Edwards that justified the stay of a character like The Question in Metropolis through the crimes that could exist beneath Superman's all-seeing eyes.

I like the idea of Superman as a wholesome, idealistic figure. An icon.
I think accepting this role and presenting it in exciting Action Comics, with a backdrop of interesting on-going developments is almost certainly the way to go with a title like that. I think we've seen that at various intervals in the past, and may perhaps even see it again in the future, lest we breech the subject of late releases...

I don't think it's radical ideas that Superman needs.
Just a consistent approach, and a competent influence.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5.5
[Supposedly published under a pseudonym for fan-reviled writer, Chuck Austen, this issue makes for a surprise. While not the most spectacular comic on the shelves, it serves up a dynamic, well-presented issue that reads exceptionally well on it's own. The combination of Reis, Marc Campos (inks) and Guy Major (colours) is the perfect example of all parts working in successful harmony!]

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