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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #836

Action Comics #836

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 15, 2006

Cover date: April 2006

Writer: Joe Kelly
Artists: Dan Jurgens, Kevin Conrad, Dick Giordiano and Jose Marzan, Ed Benes, Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund, Phil Jimenz and Andy Lanning, Tom Derenick and Drew Geraci, Renato Guedes, Lee Burmejo, Doug Mahnke

"Superman, This is Your Life!" - Part Two

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Across three timelines, we see Clark go from Krypton's destruction to landing in Smallvillle. The three timelines are the Golden Age Superman, the modern age Superman, and the Birthright Superman.

The narrator, presumably an amalgamation of Golden Age Superman and modern age Superman, has trouble rationalizing where or what he is, and says that the timeline is broken. He adopts the decisive tone of the Golden Age Superman.

History starts to change...

Superman saves the shuttle with Lois Lane, and at the end, after saying that he's there to help, he adds a caveat: "You can call me Superman." (In the modern age comics, Lois named him.)

Modern age Superman fights an unseen enemy blasting him with heat vision (presumably Golden Age Supes in the advertised battle for Infinite Crisis #5). He blasts back with heat vision. The world shatters again, and the voice-over remains Golden Age Supes.

We see the scene from the Man of Steel miniseries where Superman first encounters Batman. Batman tells Superman he's hidden a bomb on someone, but instead of going to explore who it is (what happened in current continuity), he calls Batman a liar, and seals the bluff, taking the bomb (planted on Batman himself) out quickly. He then makes a partnership with Batman, saying there's nothing they can't do together.

Superman of Earth-2 stays at Lois' bedside as she's dying, now more affirmed that what he's doing is right.

At his office, Lex tells Superman that he kidnapped Lana and tortured her (per the Man of Steel miniseries), gloating. He tells Superman that he'll never prove he did it. Now, in the changed history, Batman steps in, saying that he WILL. They then show Lex that he is dying, per the Kryptonite ring, telling him far earlier in the comic than he would have learned per continuity.

In the hospital, Lex begins to die, as he doesn't have the fantastic wealth after Batman took him down to fake his own death and grow a new body (per continuity). In this new history, Superman offers him a chance to survive, telling him that with Kryptonian technology they can prolong his life 25 years, but only if he gives up his nefarious ways and fights for good. Lex cries, and says that he wants to live.

Superman then reveals his identity to Lois Lane per continuity, and there is no change. Superman of Earth-2 remarks on how love conquers all. And then...

Golden Age Superman's history changes. His proposal to Lois Lane also adopts some of the modern age Superman's history. Lois slaps him when she finds out he's Superman, like the modern age Lois did to the modern age Superman.

Superman fights Doomsday. Golden Age, narrating, says that he realizes that this is where everything went wrong. Superman rises after the final blow, having never died.

Golden Age Superman notes that rehabilitation is not an option for monsters. Stopping the reign of terror without compromise is the only way.

Cut to the Identity Crisis, where the heroes are trying to decide what to do with Dr. Light after he rapes Sue Dibny. Superman arrives with a third alternative, and banishes Dr. Light to the Phantom Zone.

Soon after, Wonder Woman arrives at the tower, telling Superman that he's gone too far, and that she doesn't even know him any more. That he needs to adapt to this changing world. Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Atom, and Green Lantern all tell him his reign has to end.

Superman says that he's disbanding the Justice League. They attack.

Zatanna can't make Superman sleep, as her brain's gone wonky. Superman steps back, having teamed up with The Elite, plus Green Arrow, Guy Gardener, Batman, and Hawkman. Manchester Black is stopping Zatanna.

Manchester Black says, "That's right, witch. Suck it."

In a nearby bar, Jimmy trips and falls through varying incarnations of himself, landing on his butt in mid-space. To be continued...

5Story - 5: This is either one of the best issues of [editor Eddie] Berganza's run, or the single worst. The best if you look at it as a story (which is incredible. Well written, good pacing, a lot of fun.) The worst if any of these changes are real.

It's also my last review of a Berganza Superman editorial comic, so I'll start it off by saying, looking back, honestly, this has been an amazing run. I've been reading Superman since 1992. Throughout Eddie's work I've yelled about it for a number of things, very valid things. The end of the triangle system. A flailing in terms of continuity (that is still exacerbated with Birthright and maybe even this issue), and several years where the stories were just so formulaic and bad it was embarrassing to read the comic.

But, for all of that, we had Imperiex. We had a bold new direction. We had GREAT, serious, big name artists take strong plugs at Superman and often came off roses. There was Lost Hearts. Our Worlds At War. Return to Krypton. The now legendary Loeb run. Emperor Joker. Action Comics #775, many fans' favorite Superman story ever. Ending Battle. The RUCKA run (hoo boy!). And who can forget the epic showdown with Kosnor?

I kid.

But anyway, point being, like him or love him, or both at once, that's what a good editor does, get you riled, go new directions, and keep that butt in the seat. For this, Eddie, I salute your work and your time on all of these books. You never let me pitch a story, and for this I'll never forgive you (I keed...or do I?), but at very least I can say you're a man who will dwell in my memory of Superman as one of the most important and epic creators of my life.

Thank you.

Back to this issue:

Superman is not like this. Period. Not our Superman. In fact, the more we see Superman of Earth-2, the more I am convinced that ultimately, he is as corrupt and evil as Alex Luthor. He teams with the Elite. He kills Doomsday without remorse. He condemns Dr. Light to the Phantom Zone instead of rehabilitating him somehow. This is a man without remorse, but then, a man without remorse who doesn't see the best in people is not a good man, and certainly not SUPERMAN.

So as a piece of characterization, this issue is masterful. It makes a sympathetic case for Superman of Earth-2, but also very critically shows why he is wrong for the mantle of the S.

If these changes are permanent, I'll seriously go bonkers. I doubt they are, for the reasons mentioned above.

I found it funny that a story so laced with and benefiting from continuity used the artist from Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, a story that just ignored continuity and flailed its limbs for its long, oft delayed existence. That's important, because it impacted my read of the story. Which sucks, because Burmejo's work rocks so incredibly hard.

I actually felt horrible for Lex when Superman and Batman blackmailed him. How weird is that? He just tortured someone, he's a murderer... this isn't like Smallville Lex where it's questionable if he's evil. This is a dude who's beyond the pale. But that simple desire to live, with two bullies over him, made me pity him. And that tells me something. Superman and Batman were acting like Lex Luthor, making them akin to his evil.

I'm still beyond frustrated with the Birthright issue. The fact that yeah, there are now three continuities, and apparently Birthright is now the current real one despite multiple continuity contradictions.and here, in this story, we have even more muddled and changing continuity. It's almost to the point of requiring a new Man of Steel style miniseries, but the messed up part is that was supposed to be what Birthright kind of was... but it can't be.

But on a basic level, it messed up this perfectly good story, because now they have to show the Birthright history in the background popping up even though NOTHING involved in it is referenced or changed as continuity, because to do so would contradict the other continuities involved that we all know. Complex, huh?

Well, keep it simple, stupid. I say discard Birthright as canon and just call it a good story.

It took the simple dichotomy of Superman we know vs. Golden age Supes, and added an unnecessary, corrupt third element that made no sense.

I keep hearing unconfirmed rumors that something will change about Superman's death, that he won't die, that he did die but someone else took his place, etcetera. That intrigues me. I like that direction.

I don't like Superman suddenly becoming decisive and evil. THAT, though, is, I think, the point of this great story. This issue is actually much stronger than the last one, mostly because it's so focused. The last one was good, but very summary and not plot-based, just a pat yourself on the back and show the history issue. I think Verheiden is a good storyteller, he just slips and slides a bit on the way. This story is very focused and good through and through...

At least until the end. The end isn't very dramatic, it's kind of out of field, and unless Jimmy plays a very prominent role in the next issue, it'll be out of place. But after a story that good, I'll forgive it again.

This story made me feel like a kid again, and I loved it.

It says that they care about continuity, very much so, and kind of snubs Birthright, which I like. Now, this week, Infinite Crisis Secret Files will supposedly reconcile Birthright. We'll see...

One post-caveat: having Manchester Black tell Zatanna to "suck it" didn't seem like something a kid would be cool with seeing. I mean, it doesn't bother me, I don't have an "appropriate" or "inappropriate" button for language and nudity personally, but I'm just amazed the CCA approved it, number one, and amazed that a better dialogue choice wasn't made. It seemed out of place and pulled me out a bit.

And I also know that people who do have those buttons might get real miffed. Noting...

5Art - 5: Particularly because of Dan Jurgens. If I had my way, if I was king, Superman would be six books a month drawn by Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Ed McGuinness, Matthew Clark, Karl Kerschl, and Jon Bogdanove. And if I had the powers, I'd ressurect Swan.

But if I had to take it down to two, it'd be Grummet and Jurgens, probably tied. If I had to pick one, I'd split each issue between the two or make them alternate.

Why? Because Jurgens' Superman is just so powerful. From the recessed eyes when he's mad (much more righteous to me than glowing red eyes), to the way the man draws a cape, to the way he's always just captured my essential Ur-kid Supes to me...fine work.

The other artists contribute very well too. Burmejo rocks, the Elite back in old art form, every event in the history is very synonymous with the people they chose to draw it, which is incredible. A nice summation of a large, great body of work.

5Cover Art - 5: Classic image, nice, older-style coloring, representative of the issue in question. Just generally a very good cover. And there are words, which usually suck, but this time, they're startling, so they draw you in. "This WAS your life." What? They messin' with continuity? Instant opener.

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