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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #796

Action Comics #796

Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 30, 2002

Cover date: December 2002

Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciller: Duncan Roeleau
Inker: Marlo Alquiza

"The Last Supervillain" (Ending Battle - Part 8 of 8)

Reviewed by: Nick Newman (

Lois lies on the ground in a pool of her own blood. Despite that, Clark can still hear her heartbeat. Manchester Black lights up a cigarette and with a smug look, tells Superman that the heartbeat he is hearing is Black's. Lois is dead.

In shock, Superman collapses to the ground. Manchester kicks Lois' corpse across the room, and then tells Clark that he shouldn't have spent so much time beating up Metallo once again. Clark can't think of anything to say.

Manchester then reveals to Superman what has happened since their fight on Jupiter. How the government released him in exchange for his services. Martian Manhunter was never able to probe Luthor because Manchester was guarding him. And then when Lois' father died, Superman acted weak. From that crack Manchester forced his way into his secret and his life. Black even created the "Smallville File" that told Luthor who Superman was. From there Black began to take his life apart, piece by piece.

Superman can only ask why. Manchester responds simply: he wanted to show Superman how the real world works. It isn't his idealized utopia that he lives by. Now Superman has finally been made human. Black asks how it feels, and Superman responds with a blast of heat vision.

Superman batters Black across the Metropolis skyline. He tries to remove his powers, but Black's new reflective implants prevent that. Calling on the massive powers at his disposal, Black hammers Superman into the ground. Screaming with rage, Superman sends Black flying. His fists hammer into the villain's body. Despite being bludgeoned, Black simply retaliates by threatening others in Clark's life. Tackling Manchester to the ground, Superman threatens to kill him. Black just smiles up at him. Superman won't kill; he just can't exist in the real world. Black quotes Superman: "Until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice becomes the reality we all share, I'll never stop fighting."

With a tremendous blast, Superman reduces Manchester Black to a smoldering skeleton. Superman stands above his fallen foe, trembling with rage. Manchester is dead, and yet he hasn't accomplished anything. Lois is still dead, and all that Superman has done is kill himself too.

As his thoughts of vengeance evaporate back into the deep crevices of his mind, Superman tells Black that he will not dishonor his wife's memory over him. Black just stands there silently for a minute. As Superman gathers Lois into his arms, Black screams at Superman. Black killed his wife, and Superman isn't even going to hit him. With tears streaming down his face, Superman says quietly that vengeance is not justice. As Superman leaves the room, he tells Manchester that it doesn't matter if he runs; he will still find him within the hour. He will put Lois somewhere safe, and then he will devote his life to making sure that Black stays incarcerated for his entire life.

Shocked, Manchester just stands there. Even after his wife has been killed, Superman is still just going to throw the villain in jail. He won't ever kill. Never. As Black echoes this sentiment, he spins his fingers in the air.

In Superman's arms, Lois's body dissolves away into nothing. Panicked, Superman whips around to find his wife stumbling toward him. Black was bluffing. He wanted Superman to kill him, only to have him realize that he was wrong. That would break Superman. Unbelieving, Manchester turns away from the embracing couple and vanishes into the night.

In the White House, Luthor suddenly panics as all of his data tying Superman to Clark Kent is deleted. Clutching at the remains of the incinerated remains of the evidence, Luthor falls into a daze, and a moment later cannot remember who Superman is.

Inside a small room somewhere else, Manchester sits on a bed staring out the window. He reflects back on his own life. When he was a child he had been idealistic, and then the world had ruined him. But then he met Superman and Black felt like a child dreaming again. Superman was the real thing, and Black became a supervillain. Letting his cigarette fall to the ground, Manchester raises a finger to his temple, glowing with telepathic energy. Black says goodbye, and blows the entire top floor to kingdom come.

Lois and Clark lay in bed together for days. Clark knows that Black isn't coming back, but Lois isn't sure. She has nightmares of what happened to her. Finally, Lois tells him that he was right to walk away. That is the man she loves. With that, Lois tells him to go back to work.

Donning his true costume, complete with his yellow symbol, Superman soars out into the sun.

4Story - 4: Often times when I review issues, my initial opinion changes a great deal the second time I read through it. In this issue we see Superman faced with the absolute worst thing that could happen to him. If anything was going to send Clark over the edge, this is it. Manchester fakes Lois' death, actually hoping that Superman will kill him. The first read through I thought this was incredibly cliche. The second time though I stopped to think, Manchester hates Superman so much that he is willing to give his own life to destroy him. There is no question that Superman would die for his beliefs, so why wouldn't Manchester. The extended imaginary sequence was a little overdone, and this time around Kelly wasn't able to fool me into thinking that Superman has killed (when I read Action Comics #775 I was dreading that he actually was killing the Elite).

This imaginary scene just really didn't do it for me. I would much rather have seen the imaginary scene end with Superman walking away instead of killing Black. This bothered me enough to drop it down to a four. In the aforementioned Action Comics #775, Superman pretends to kill them to fool Black. This worked well for both the storyline and the reader. However, this just seemed like something to drive the story.

Getting back to the positives, Manchester is then totally shocked by Superman's reaction. And to me, this really made sense. Black truly doesn't understand how Superman thinks. To him, Superman is just too idealistic.

So in the end, Superman triumphs with his wife alive, and Manchester leaves them alone.

I was disappointed that the Luthor-knowing storyline only had one issue (Action Comics #795) deal with it before Luthor's mind was wiped. Brainwashing is always such a cheap excuse for resolving a storyline, but I suppose what else could they do with it?

And then in the end, Manchester ends his own life. Maybe it was the fact that my roommate was playing sentimental music when I reviewed this, but I felt I understood Black at the end. He became a supervillain, and unable to live with that he ends his own life.

Everything in this issue (with the exception of the contrived imaginary scene) was perfect characterization. Manchester made sense, and Superman once again stood up for his beliefs. I really enjoyed this issue, and if you didn't the first time I suggest you read through it again.

3Art - 3: I really don't like Rouleau's art. I've said this before, and I am sure I will say it many more times before he leaves the book. It's not that he lacks skill; I just don't like his style. I don't think anyone can argue with me though, that the last page should have been done by someone else. Superman soaring into the sky with his real suit on for the first time in a year, and he looks like that. Maybe I just can't accept new things, but whenever I see something like that, I want Dan Jurgens. He drew SUPERMAN, and his Superman was always inspirational. I guess I'll just have to get used to the new stuff.

3Cover Art - 3: And yet, here is Jurgens! When I first saw that he was doing the cover I was ecstatic. I could not wait. I did note, however, that Breeding was noticeably absent as inker. In the end, we get a cover that could have been great. I look at this cover and I see Jurgens' work in the shape of Superman, and in the silhouette of his face. Over that though, is far too much inking. I realize that this is supposed to be a dark cover, but Jurgens' art was just covered up. Anyone who still thinks that inking is just "tracing" needs to sit down with this issue and a copy of any of Jurgens/Breeding issues from ten years back and compare the two of them. I've got a piece of original art from Hunter/Prey hanging on my wall. That shows what Jurgens can do when he works with the right inker. This cover gets a five for the great pencils that I can tell are under there, but the inking just ruins it.

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Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2002

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