****Just FYI, MAJOR spoilers below for both “Superman: The Oz Effect” and Batman/Flash “The Button!!!!!”****
I’ve been saying for a long time now that the Superman books have been in a great place since DC Rebirth began in 2016. And they have.
In particular, I’ve been loving Dan Jurgens’ fantastic run on Action Comics, which he’s been on since the book relaunched with issue 957. Dan has been a favorite creator of mine for a long time, ever since my eleven year old mind was thoroughly blown when I first read the Death of Superman in 1992. Since then, Dan has done plenty more great Superman stories as well as other books for Marvel and DC. With each passing year, what impresses me more and more about Jurgens’ work is how his writing style changes with the times. He seems to be well aware of his audience’s age in 2018 being different from who he was writing for in the ‘90s, while still remaining true to the essence of Superman’s character, arguably more so than any other writer in the same period. When DC decided that the Superman books had gone off the tracks and needed to be righted, the right guys were brought in to do it, and the results have been fabulous.
A recurring plot thread through the books since the New 52 era, of course, has been the mysterious Mr. Oz, who had been watching Superman and his family from a monitor screen for over three years. The character was first introduced by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. in the wonderful “Superman and the Men of Tomorrow” storyline in 2014, and fans have long speculated about his true identity up to this point (the best theory I heard prior to this story’s publication was Ozymandias of Watchmen fame, which might have been too obvious but still would have worked, I thought). Rather than scrapping the story after New 52 ended, the thread continued in the Superman books into DC Rebirth. In “The Oz Effect,” we finally discover who Oz really is, or at least who he claims to be. After a slow, steady, almost methodical build, Action Comics 985-992 was released in a deluxe format last week, which I picked up and tore into immediately.
Was it worth the wait?
To be honest, not really.
To begin, the first two issues of this collection are not written by Jurgens, but by the very pedestrian Rob Williams, who scripts over Jurgens plot. The first two issues feature an unnecessary encounter between Oz and Lex Luthor and really add nothing to the overall story. One could remove these two chapters altogether and start from Action 987, and you wouldn’t notice the difference. This is probably the first time since Action Comics restarted under the DC Rebirth banner that I have read a throwaway issue, which is too bad given how consistent the book had been the last two years (and on a bi-weekly basis!). While there are a number of reasons a successful run can be interrupted, I think in this case it boils down to either a series regular dragging his feet, and/or because there is a specific launch date for an “event” which can affect the schedule. In this case, it’s probably a little bit of both.
After trudging through the first two chapters, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the main story itself, as well. After waiting nearly four years for the mystery of who Mr. Oz is, building and building, demonstrating his great power by taking Doomsday prisoner and managing to elude Superman’s senses and remain a mystery, the villain of the piece is no less than….!!!??
Yes. That Jor-El. Superman’s father.
Just let that sink in for a minute… or two.
If you’re interested, my reaction to this huge reveal was…
Well, to be fair, it is a Jor-El who was saved from Krypton’s wreckage after sending baby Kal-El away, and then manipulated by Dr. Manhattan. Yes, that Dr. Manhattan, of aforementioned Watchmen fame. More on that in a minute.
The rest of the story is a few battles, Superman doubting Oz’s identity, and also a temptation of sorts for Jonathan, who believes that Oz is the real Jor-El and thus his long lost grandfather. Pretty standard, decent superhero fare, if you can get past the disappointment of the reveal.
Which I couldn’t.
Since hinted at in DC Rebirth, there has been a concerted effort from DC editorial to
shoehorn integrate the Watchmen characters into the main DCU. Just before Oz Effect was released, a crossover was published between the Batman and Flash books called “The Button,” in which Batman and Flash travel to an alternate timeline (from the great “Flashpoint” story of 2011). There, they encounter Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, who in that timeline is the DCU’s Batman. Batman and Flash eventually return to their own timeline, but not before learning that someone or something is manipulating the universe as they know it.
I was wise enough to read “The Button” first, since it was published in a similar format to “Oz” (deluxe hardcover with lenticular cover) and thus are related. Halfway through “Oz,” it became painfully obvious that both stories were meant to lead up to the huge DCU event “Doomsday Clock,” by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, being published as we speak. The twelve issue maxiseries, which I have not read nor intend to until much later, is “THE” event of 2017-2018 and selling like hotcakes. Editorial likely wanted to build to the event by tying their two biggest heroes into the story.
In other words, Action Comics has now suffered from something that all Marvel and DC books have suffered from at one time or another, regardless of universe or character.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love me a good crossover- the original Crisis, “Infinite Crisis,” the first five or six “X-Overs,” etc- but not crossovers that come out of left field and have nothing to do with the storylines already going on in a book, as is clearly the case here. Batman met his father, Superman had to meet his. Batman’s universe was manipulated by a Watchmen character, Superman’s had to be as well. Special, gimmick cover included (didn’t we already learn our lesson in the ’90s?!). Both are seemingly good press for DC’s big event of the year, fans be damned, readers be damned.
To make matters even worse is the abysmal art in this story by Victor Bogdanovic, who is trying his hardest to channel Greg Capullo, in some cases panel by panel. The result is not only a poor imitation of another artist, but an artist who for me, doesn’t fit Superman. I don’t know who on earth picks the book’s artists, but for my money I haven’t seen anyone in comic books start a career imitating someone else since the early days of Image, when a slew of Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld imitators came out what seemed like everywhere. It didn’t work any better then, either.
From plot synopses I read, the next arc of Action Comics, the last before Bendis takes over and once again gives us a new status quo (joy to the world), deals with Superman returning to Krypton prior to its explosion to discover the truth about his father and Oz. This sounds like a great story, but I’ll probably wait until August for the release of the trade to find out. Put simply, I hope this whole Oz Effect story is one gigantic fabrication made up by an enemy of Superman’s. I don’t know how many times fans have to say it, but please, for goodness’ sakes, powers that be, DON’T MESS WITH ORIGIN STORIES. Especially the first and best one.
In this story, Jurgens’ did the best he could to weave together two storylines that he had nothing to do with (Oz’s identity and the Watchmen storyline), while trying to juggle his own plotlines and keep everything going as a cohesive whole. The strong points of this book are seeing new stories in the new status quo that Dan helped put together- Superman and his family, and their interactions. That has been working, and so it is still interesting to read here, even though this was a bad story in an otherwise great book. Despite all that though, it couldn’t be saved from being the first big let down of Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics run.
Nowhere to go from here but up.
Capeage Meter: 5 out of 10