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Mild Mannered Reviews - JLA Comics

JLA #101

JLA #101

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 14, 2004

Cover date: September 2004

Writer: Chuck Austen
Penciller: Ron Garney
Inker: Ron Garney

"The Pain of the Gods: Man of Steel"

John-Paul Zito Reviewed by: John-Paul Zito

Superman responds to a chemical fire at a Metropolis factory. There are personnel still trapped inside and the fire rescue teams can't get to them despite their best efforts. Superman leaps into action and tears through the burning building until he finds the workers near death. The helpless crew are trapped beneath a fuel tank that has crushed their legs. Even if Superman moves the tank the workers won't be able to pull themselves free fast enough to save themselves. As Superman ponders a solution another costumed hero leaps into action as well. The masked mysterman grabs hold of the tank and props it up over his head allowing Superman to rescue the crippled men. But before Superman can get the men out and go back to help his new unknown partner; the tank explodes. The explosion kills the valiant new hero who apparently was not as powerful or invulnerable as his hero Superman.

Superman retreats to the JLA watchtower. He's depressed and angry about the young hero's death and tears apart the JLA conference table in his rage. Just then Jon Stewart enters and offers a sympathetic ear. Superman explains that he was foolish, he was overly confident in his abilities and those of the new unknown hero.

Superman meets with the dead hero's wife. She explains that her husband wanted to be a hero and doing good was what mattered to him. He wanted to be a hero like Superman and join the JLA. Superman does just that and makes the man an honorary JLA member by placing a picture of him in their museum.

4Story - 4: Let me pretext this review by saying that I have never been one of those guys who craps on Chuck Austen, nor have I been some diehard, staunch supporter. I've never read any of his Marvel work, and my first exposure to him was on "Superman: Metropolis" and then the recent "Action Comics" work. However, I am familiar with the criticisms against him and I have read a few interviews with him.

The story crafted here is one we've seen a variation on a couple of times over the last few years. It's a story about Superman's limitations, the mistakes he blames himself for and the guilt he carries with him for not doing enough. It's a story line that is used to humanize the Man of Steel for those who think he's "too perfect." Often these stories can be a drag because they try too hard to expose Superman as a character who hurts inside as much as any three dimensional hero in 4 color print.

Something that always struck me about Superman is his over protective nature of everyone around him. Not that heroes aren't a protective bunch, but Superman has a stronger relationship with his supporting cast then any comic book character I can think of. It's because Superman has a deep rooted survivor's guilt complex, not just because of his salvation from Krypton but also the countless other battles he's survived only to watch team mates die off. Because people around him end up dead as often as they do Superman has developed a complex, I feel, that he fears being left alone. He knows that in all likelihood he'll live hundreds if not thousands of years naturally and in that time he will come to know and lose countless friends and loved ones. Because of this fear Superman has made it his mission to save everyone. However, at the end of the day no matter how many lives he saves it'll always be the ones he couldn't get to, or couldn't rescue in time, that stick in his mind.

In this story Superman is deeply trouble by the loss of a Super Hero he didn't even know. This Super Hero's first night on the job ends in tragedy and he himself ends up dead. Many men were saved because of this hero's sacrifice but that's no justification, especially not for Superman. Superman blames himself. There are no excuses, and no real reason that he should feel any guilt at all but he does because he's Superman and he knows there was something he could have done had he just tried a little harder or been a little smarter. This is a quality of Superman's that I always saw hiding just under the 2 dimensional "boy scout" motivation some writers prescribe to. I was happy and interested to see it brought to the forefront here in this issue.

The story is also executed with true one-shot grace. Superman's entrance on the scene of the fire is so classic super-hero that it'll make you smile like a little kid. The one sided conversation Superman shares with Jon Stewart is simple and too the point, never melodramatic or over expository.

The only moment I didn't really enjoy in the whole issue was Superman tearing up the Watchtower conference table. Violent outbursts of frustration aren't really Superman's thing. A guy like Clark is more likely to ball up his fist but bottle it up at the last minute and never throw that punch. I know there's points of reference to say Superman's done it, (cutting a planet in half after Luthor was elected President or pounding the money in anger when he thought Lois was leaving him.) I'm just saying it never sat right with me.

4Art - 4: I like Garney's style here. It's a nice blend of Tim Sale and classic John Byrne from the "Man of Steel" days. I really liked the classic Silver-Age-like costume for the mystery hero who ended up dead.

2Cover Art - 2: Eh. I've said it a million times I judge a cover on its ability to jump up off the rack and set itself apart from everything else on the shelf. This cover, while well drawn and somewhat symbolic of the events within, doesn't really do that for me. It's a shame really since the issue itself is definitely one worth reading.

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

January 2004

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