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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #659

Superman #659

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 21, 2007

Cover date: February 2007

Writer: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Peter Vale
Inker: Jesus Merino


Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

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In the Fortress of Solitude, reflecting on Arion's recent revelation, Superman tries to come to terms with his impact on society.

He recalls the story of Barbara Johnson, a larger older black woman who Superman saved in the middle of being attacked.

Progressively, Barbara's encounter with the Man of Steel, coupled with her religious faith, led her to believe that if she called upon an angel, Superman would appear and save her from her malady, and bring justice to the weak.

Sure enough, Superman does, cautioning her every time that he's not an angel, just a man.

Eventually, a bullet gets through, while Superman is fighting an electric monstrocity. Barbara survives, and realizes her pride to Superman, but nonetheless continues to live a life dedicated to faith, as Superman realizes in the Fortress, now concerned that Arion may in fact be wrong about his influence on lives.

5Story - 5: I disagree fundamentally with the message of this story. I do. But it's a good story, nonetheless. Don't read any farther if you have a heart condition or are easily offended, because I have to explain why I fundamentally disagree with this story in context so that you can understand how I love it.

I'm an atheist. This means I don't believe in the existence of God. I only say that because some people think it means I hate Jesus, or Christians, or want them to die, or want to overthrow the government, or have no morality. Honestly, all I want is a Pepsi.

For all of my life, I've had people who do believe in God knocking on my door, sending me angry or happy or ambivalent emails, people threatening to kill me and my family, and chances are, for this lack of a belief, I will never hold any public office even if I have some really great, pragmatic, American ideas that resonate with common sense.

This is because of religion, and people of faith. I see stories such as this one all the time, of the lonely widower or the gallant young man or the strong and servile young girl, who, through her faith in a higher power, does well by his or her community and bolsters it. They believe in doing what is right, and they do it to much success despite adversity.

THAT IS WHAT SUPERMAN IS ALL ABOUT. So I love that story. I love the idea of someone seeing right and wrong (no matter what impels them, God, or, as in my case, the simple realization that bad people suck) and sticking to it. The issue I have is that this does not, emphatically, entail faith, and never has.

However, relating to this story is more difficult. In my life, I have rarely seen a religious person go out of their way to stand up for any right beyond the right to preach in my face or angrily tell me what a heathen with no morals I am.

In my life and my experience personally, I've met very good, stalwart, strongly moral religious men and women who could very much be Barbara. Steve comes to mind immediately as an example of a good, moral, Christian person who uses his faith to better himself and others, believes in doing good, and would stand up for the meek. Heck, he stands up for me, which says something. (And not that he's crazy, punk!) He's never tried to convert me, either, and notably.

The issue I have with the message of this story is that it focuses, as so many dramatizations of faith in this country, on the idea that people who are religious and stick to their religion are generally people who end up happy in the end and give other people better lives. This is just simply not true in my experience. Most of the people I know who are religious, barring the examples like Steve, generally trend towards conversion, angry oppression of speech, and the desire to usurp our secular American government in favor of a theocracy. They don't seek a better good any more than an atheist does. In general, people suck, but there is a persistent myth in common culture that is perpetuated that people who are religious always go for what's right and get there. Name for me an example of a Christian villain figure who is villainous because of their faith. Take your time. You'll need it.

I can show you an atheist villain in about two seconds flat. Multiple atheist villains, despite a lack of inherent relation between one's faith and the morality they espouse.

I don't see or desire the continuing need to place Superman in religious situations in order to show how he and religion complement each other, because in my experience, quite the opposite is true. NO ONE, religious or not, tends to be as moral as Superman, generally speaking, but to show an overwhelming preponderance of religious characters next to Superman as moral examples to pander to the majority is yet the rule.

I'm not a foolish idiot asking for equal times for atheists, nor would I want it. What I'm concerned with, the fundamental issue I dispute, is why in hell Superman can't simply do right for the simple sake that it's the right thing to do? Why is he constantly seen as a messiah, an angel, a reflective figure of the disillusioned consciousnesses of a people who see evil all about and want some kind of answer to it, in the form of a God or Gods? Doesn't that hurt Superman's inherent intent as a figure for all?

The wise contradiction to this line of logic is that Superman would no doubt stand up for a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Muslim, or a member of the congregation of his most holiness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But this too, is not the point. The point is that over the years we have seen few to NO issues where Superman sees the inherent nobility in a Buddhist who sticks to his faith, but there are multiple and continuing occasions where religious, presumably Christian faith, guides Superman to the path of righteousness.

The reason that I am so attached to Superman is that I am Barbara Johnson minus religion. I stand up to bullies, I can't stand forcing other ways of life on people, I believe in fighting for right and I think that if we try hard enough, even though we lose people along the way, good will prevail, God or no God. I find Superman to be the ultimate representational analogy of this American pragmatism, unique to the world at first, and spreading, not in the George Bush style, but in the living by example style that started in England, moved over here for our revolution, and spreads in the form of goodwill to this day. Muslim or Christian, atheist or the bloody Batman.

In other words, Kurt, Fabian, Brian, and all you others, it doesn't take the device of a priest or the devoutly (assumed Christian) religious to make the phrase Rucka made popular, "We live in hope" ring true. All it takes is Superman, which you're writing.

The immediate response will be no doubt letters accusing me of religious discrimination and pointing out that the woman in this story is representative of the unique people that Superman encounters on a regular basis. My point is not that this isn't a good story on its own as such. As I've already stated, it is.

My question to caveat my five rating, however, is why, in a world where such good is possible, do we have to continually link this to the extrinsic benefits of one specific religion among hundreds when doing the right thing has been doing the right thing since before Christ, and will be long after?

To end, though, specific topic aside, if this is the quality of the "fill-in" extra issues, I'll be the first to stand and applaud. Just look at the issues it raised, and the strength of the story. Bring this eye to a larger universe as opposed to a one-off, we'll be in gravy surfing potatoes.

5Art - 5: Give Vale a regular job, DC. This is some incredible work. Half of it is the colorist, but the other half is the fine pencils evident here.

I'm reminded of the detail of Jurgens, but the style, very loosely, of Byrne, where you have a level of articulate detail to the fact that this is a comic book, but real enough to make it cool. I see this as almost what might have happened had Byrne evolved into contemporary form instead of retaining what made him popular (something that admittedly still works for some, but tanked for Action Comics recently).

3Cover Art - 3: Compelling image, but again, is representational of the side of this story that I did not like and found irrelevant to the larger message, taking it down a bit for me.

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

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