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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #814

Action Comics #814

Scheduled to arrive in stores: April 7, 2004

Cover date: June 2004

Writer: Chuck Austen
Penciller: Ivan Reis
Inker: Marc Campos

"Another Day at the Office"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Clark Kent talks to Lois over the phone, telling her that it's fine that she had an early meeting. He tries to tell her he just wanted to tell her he loved her, and she hangs up early.

Goons, meanwhile, start robbing the Rail Whale.

Clark stands and tells them that he doesn't want any trouble, so one of them shoves him out the window.

Falling, Clark Kent turns into Superman.

Superman arrives on the Rail Whale, and pokes fun at the goons, telling them to surrender. They wonder aloud if the rumors of his being bullet proof are just that.

One goon raises a gun, and Superman warns the goon and threatens him against shooting, because in the event of ricochet, Superman promises, he'll give the gun a guided tour of the goon's intestines.

The goon, incensed, points the gun at a passenger and threatens to shoot the passenger directly.

Superman charges, taking the goon out of the Rail Whale screaming. The other goons, thinking Superman has killed the man, surrender immediately. The goon is shown to be fine, sitting in some rubble below.

At the Planet, Clark talks to Julio and finds out that his desk is occupied by someone else.

Grace, Perry's secretary, tells Clark that he'll have to find something to do for an hour before Perry can see him. Clark sits outside of the office for a bit, then decides to take a spin as Superman.

A woman is driving with her children who misbehave, kicking the seats. She reaches back to stop them, then swings wide, plowing off the bridge. Superman saves them. One of the children asks if he's really Superman, and when he finds out that he is, he says, "That is so cool!" Superman says, "Yes, it is cool."

Perry's secretary tells Clark to wait another hour. Clark tells Grace that Perry usually lets him in to see him at any time. Grace apologizes and says only one more hour. Clark sits outside, hears someone mention Bibbo's, then heads back outside for another turn as Superman.

Kalibak, Steppenwolf, and the legions of Apokolips boom into downtown and begin attacking everyone in sight. Superman arrives on scene, telling Kalibak that he's told Darkseid to stay out of his city. He slams Kalibak.

Kalibak promises to kill him. "Promises, promises." Superman responds.

Steppenwolf slams Superman from behind, and Superman turns to Steppenwolf. "Steppenwolf? Hello? Indestructible?" He says.

Superman then turns to Kalibak, grabbing him and wrapping him in a car. "It's in the name." He says, "Super-Man. Get it? 'Super' as in 'I am better than you are.' And 'Man' as in stay- off- my-"

Superman is cut off by Darkseid appearing through the Boom Tube, informing Superman that he sent the Elite to find Doomsday.

Darkseid explains that he was training Doomsday to be his ultimate weapon when some lowly technicians lost control of Doomsday. Apparently, in Darkseid's care Doomsday developed intelligence (Darkseid informs Superman) and figured that the intelligence was all he needed to defeat Superman, so he left Apokolips to find Superman. Knowing that Superman would hear a Boom Tube, Doomsday decided to find another way to get to Earth.

Darkseid tells Superman that when and if he finds Doomsday, he'd like the beast returned. Superman tells Darkseid to gets off his planet. Darkseid tells Superman that he goes where he pleases.

Superman smashes Darkseid with a fist, then whirlwinds up the forces of Apokolips into a ball and tosses them into Darkseid, shutting the Tube. Darkseid promises death to Superman for his actions.

Superman, now tired, wonders why he had to lose Doomsday.

Lois talks to Perry about demoting Clark, and Perry apologizes, saying that he hasn't been able to tell Clark yet, simply because it was a busy day.

Lois later calls Clark, unwinding, and asks him how things are. He tells her it was a normal day. She puts off seeing him until the next day.

4Story - 4: Man, if I were Clark Kent, I'd be a little more hacked with all of the times Lois had lied to me. I mean, there's the whole secret thing with Luthor to save the Planet, now there's the avoiding telling Clark, like he isn't a big enough boy to figure out what's going on when he gets demoted. But we'll get to that. Right now I want to talk to the issue that's right on everyone's minds, reading this, at least, people who have read Superman for a while.

"I will give that gun a guided tour of your intestines."

"Dude...that's like...a great idea."

"Yes, I am Superman. And yes. It is cool."

"Steppenwolf? Hello? Indestructable?"

"'Super.' As in, 'I am better than you are.' And 'Man', as in stay- off- my-"

"Aw, man. Why'd he have to lose Doomsday?"

"Oh, you know, nothing special. Just another day at the office."

I am a HUGE fan of Austen. The man has won me over... with Superman: Metropolis. His story of Jimmy Olsen inspired me, made me believe that there could be a more human side to the people of Metropolis. I love his Jimmy, I loved his Perry and Lois, and though his Superman was off a few times, mostly he was spot on and fantastic.

This issue has a lot of good things. And I mean, a LOT. We have a writer here who isn't trying to push much of his own agenda, it's really obvious from the start. He's trying to give the fans what they like. What's that? Doomsday, Darkseid, Lois, Perry, there's even a Bibbo's mention in there, and that stuff had me on the tips of my toes and happy.

He's got an everyday confrontation with goons, Clark Kent getting treated like a shlub, and plot development moving forward with Clark 's job at the Daily Planet.

And yet, there are all of those lines of dialogue above. I thought, "Okay, this is a great start, but am I reading a story about SuperMAN, as in, "Super", diplomatic, wise, and battle tested, and MAN, as in, "Speaks outside of the realm of the common thirteen-year-old's colloquialisms, or am I reading a story about SuperBOY, because that's what a lot of those lines sound like.

The frustrating thing is that it's coming across like when they tried to insert Natasha and Girl 13 (SHUDDER. Sorry for the memories, folks.) and make Kelex a trash talking ghetto robot. Dude. Superman is totally cool. And if he says it, it makes more sense. Nah, not really. We KNOW that. We don't need it told to us, we need it shown. And frankly, though all of these plot elements were VERY welcome, they were executed in a questionable fashion for Superman.

First off, let's talk the handling of the goons. Superman, a diplomat, let's not forget, threatens the life of goons. What kind of example is that going to set for anyone who hears that, in the train? Superman would think about such things. You don't threaten people's lives, not if you're Superman. The "Dude" thing, that was humor. I can accept that line. It's a bit out of place, but it makes sense. And it's obvious that the action of threatening the life wasn't beneficial, even the writer acknowledges, because what does the goon immediately do? The goon turns the gun on someone. And then how does Superman diffuse the situation? Not by taking the guns, but by throwing the man out the window and making the men think that he's killed him. There's something decidedly un-Superman there.

Yes, I am Superman, and yes, it is cool. Okay. That is a "moment", if you want to take it that way. It's Superman doing what he DIDN'T do in the Rail Whale, connecting with the public and setting an example. But personally, I wondered why Superman, being the security minded man he is, didn't admonish the mother for not keeping her eyes on the road and almost killing a few dozen people on the bridge, or for all the money in damages she cost, or even the children for not wearing seatbelts, telling them that this is what fighting and misbehaving leads to. And if I'm not reading the art incorrectly, it looks like the mother moved to swat the child. Into beating kids or not, that's kind of...well, out there.

So Superman saves them, and all's well that ends well, but think of it this way. A man threatened other people's lives with a gun intentionally a few pages back, and Superman threatened to put the gun into the man's intestines. A woman, through her own failure to reign in her children and the (stupid) decision to look back while driving on a bridge nearly kills a whole bunch of people, and Superman smiles at her and makes friends with her son.

Okay, okay, argue that Superman made that threat to intimidate the guy into dropping his gun and it just didn't work as anticipated. I'll hear that. But then, why not just use super-speed and take the guns, avoiding any confrontation?

The problem here is that Superman is acting like it's his first year on the job. Which, if this were new continuity, would make sense, but it's not. He's been around for a loooooong time now, and seen many things, if we're to believe what we're told, that continuity stands.

Speaking of continuity. Let's talk about that.

Okay, I'm not sure WHAT the deal is here, but the last appearance of Doomsday, at least that I recall, is the Superman vs. Darkseid: Apokolips Now! special, which I read before doing this review. It took me ten minutes, and it brought me pretty much up to date on where Darkseid was in terms of the Superman mythos, unless I missed a JLA story (sad to say, because of finance, I missed a few JLAs over the last few years). I checked the unofficial chronological index (a great source, I recommend it) and it says Apokolips Now is the last story, and I probably would have picked up anything with Doomsday in it, being a fan. So let's just go over what Apokolips Now! establishes:

1) Doomsday is smart, sentient (In fact, he was in Superman #175)

2) Darkseid has released Doomsday to combat the insurgence force of Superman, Superboy, Eradicator, Kara Zor-El, and Krypto. Doomsday failed thanks to John Henry returning in the Aegis.

3) Doomsday was the target of the power of the Entropy Aegis, which Darkseid was attempting to embody in Doomsday, not John Henry.

4) At the end of the story, Natasha and Kara, along with Krypto, had seen Doomsday and fought the beast.

5) At the end of the story, Doomsday is free. His recapture is not detailed.

Now that we have that established, let's look at what Austen asserts in this story:

1) Doomsday gained intelligence while in Darkseid's care, according to Darkseid. (FALSE)

2) Doomsday escaped at the hands of "some inferiors" training him to be the Ultimate weapon. (Iffy. If they refer to the Entropy Aegis, then that would be true, but why would Darkseid say that if Superman already knows that? And training doesn't imply imbuing the power of the Aegis, it implies, well, training. And if so, that makes it false as well.)

3) Doomsday, upon becoming intelligent, realized that intelligence would be all he needed to defeat Superman. (FALSE. It failed miserably in Superman #175. Direct contradiction.)

4) Doomsday didn't take a Boom Tube because he knew that Superman would hear it. (Okay, this makes some sense. But then, how did he get off of Apokolips? He can't fly.)

So that's a big list of weird stuff, and that doesn't even begin to address why Darkseid would want to find Doomday by coming to Metropolis and raising hell.

There's also the fact that in the entrance to the scene, Parademons zap and likely kill a few people on the street. Superman, after battling Darkseid, kind of lays there. He's dead tired, likely, but I'm sure that he would realize (like Superman has in other issues of late, addressing concerns, we would hope, of the fans) that many people would be hurt by a Darkseid attack. Instead, he quips: "Aw, man! Why'd he have to lose Doomsday?"

Note: Superman is not Spider-Man. He talks like an, well, an over-wrought conservative with a righteousness complex. I'm not saying Superman is a Republican, I'm simply saying that the man talks like a mature adult idealist who sticks by his core beliefs and fights with them to preserve life, not for fun, and not while quipping like a teenager. That's Spider-Man. And Spider-Man rocks, but he's not Superman.

These issues I've brought up so far, barring the "intestines" line, can all be ignored if you look past them, but there's the line that really took me out of the story, really made me step back and say, "Oh no. They didn't."

And that's when Superman goes on his tirade about what his name means. In one page, he manages to joke that his name means that he's better than anyone else, and, pardon my vulgarity unless I'm interpreting this incorrectly, but he then tells them to stay off his balls. That's they way I'm taking it. Super, as in "I'm better than you are." and Man, meaning "Stay- off- my-" Well, what does a man have that you can be on that a woman doesn't have? Well, the short and frank answer is testicles. My apologies for vulgarity, but this is like the time a few months back when serious cursing was implied. My comment then is the same as my comment now. I like adult comics. I do. Superman is not an adult comic. It's a comic that requires adult sophistication while being safe for kids to read. If you want a *$#*&%ing Superman, make a mature Superman line and mark it as such. It works well for Marvel, and I'm all for it.

There's the Rocky and Bullwinkle argument, that a kid won't get the more sophisticated joke like that, and won't be able to tell a ball from a Boom Tube, but nonetheless, the precedent is disturbing to me.

To say nothing of Superman, even in JEST, asserting that he is better than other people by virtue of his name or by any virtue. The story of Superman is the story of a man who wants to be like everyone else, a Clark Kent. To assume Superman would want, even in jest, to assume a position of blatant power over someone else, even evil people, like the goons or Kalibak or Darkseid, is frankly very off in character.

Just think about the way it sounds. "I'm better than you are."

If you don't go to the extreme and read the implied semi-racism, power elitism, if you just stick to the basic meaning and take it like it was probably intended, that Superman feels morally superior to Kalibak, it's still an odd choice of words. And while I'm for risks in dialogue, risks in most all things, there are still choices to be made when taking these risks, and I don't think the choice of this piece of dialogue was weighed properly.

In other words, it took me out of the story. Now onward.

Clark is being demoted. Now, knowing what's coming ahead with Rucka and the utility provided by Clark no longer being a big shot reporter, I'm more than willing to let this story idea wash over me. It's not fully addressed in the comic yet, so I won't fully address it here. All I'll say is that considering Clark's position as a secret correspondent, but before that a Pulitzer winning writer, I want a REALLY good reason for him to be demoted. If it's because they think Clark would be great as a street voice, cool by me, if it's just kind of arbitrary... well, I'll get to that later.

Is this a bad story? Heck no. In fact, the casual reader will likely have fun. It shows a marked turn in the character type of Superman for at least this issue, and that turn is not pleasant to me, but all of the other implications, continuity and dialogue aside, make this issue a great starting point. Let's look at it outside of my critique. Doomsday is coming, the main characters are all interacting again, including the support characters, and we just saw a duke-out between Superman, Darkseid, Kalibak, parademons, and a personal Kirby fave of mine, Steppenwolf.

And there's character motion...forward! Clark's job is changing.

And we even stop to see Clark take care of regular, everyday Superman things.

And hey, look! An emphasis on the difference between Clark and Superman, Clark getting pushed around, Superman handing people their...well, the things you stay off of.

So for fun, I'd give this plot a 5. For the bad stuff, I'd give it a 1. But if you have to honestly look in retrospect and judge this on a whole, I'm going to go with my rating above. The inconsistencies of this issue, like Austen's little inconsistencies in Metropolis, will be ironed out later, I am assured, and it's the man's first issue, so let's not bust his chops.

Besides, THIS issue, on its own, beats the sum total whole of the Casey run, and if things continue in this vein as opposed to the vein of the last year (pre-teams disbanding) will I have a lick of complain?

Not even the number to get to the middle of a Tootsie pop, folks.

I criticize to a fault because I want all flaws eliminated. We all want Superman to be the best he can be. But on a whole, this story was just fine in its plot elements and its fun.

5Art - 5: Absolutely bloody fantastic.

I mean, how do you draw a man wrapping Kalibak in a car? How do you depict a guy getting thrown out of a moving train and changing to Superman and make it believable. How do you show the difference between Clark and Superman when it's really only clothes and glasses?

Well, here's my response. Ask Reis.

That splash with Kalibak needs to be getting onto a wall somehow. You hear me, DC. Let's see a poster. One for the cover, too. Speaking of which:

5Cover Art - 5: Holy monkey sugar beans! They...they...listened?

Not only do we have new teams that actually seem to be cranking out the stories we want to hear, but they...God, there's a tear in the eye.


And not only did they change from those abhorrent brummagem fluff crap stinksores for the eye, they actually retconned them to make them COOL! It looks like it used to, only modern again! Just like the upcoming Adventures one, which I just saw the other day. Smokin'!

And not only that, but here you go, Superman tearing it up. I loved this cover when we saw it for the first time months ago, and I love it now.

The DC logo goes to the other side of the page, hey, that's original and cool, and Superman breaking the chains, now we don't have to see some reinterpretation of that every three covers any more! It makes sense to be on the corner, because it's what Superman is. Marvelous.

Superman doesn't look like he's passing gas. He looks like he's kicking its instrument of production.

There's a background.

There are hordes of evil in it, and buildings, and even...

Lord help me for saying it but I'm going to say it anyway, even the words on the cover look like they're supposed to be there, they rock. Superman vs. The Hordes of Apokolips. A New Era Begins Here!

I believe it.

Now one...itty...bitty...request.

Please, even though it would be unrelated to the plot at all, and doesn't have to be, please put a triangle in there so that I can order my Superman titles by the order they came out. My entire collection is in that order, and when I read them all in order, I have to choose to break in between crossovers or try and figure it out on my own, and DC...

I'm not that smart. Help! Okay, that's just a cheap ploy to get the triangles back, but everything else is so on its way, I have nothing else.

One heck of a way to start the new books. May it run well for years, and good luck, Austen.

With fans like us, you're gonna need it.

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