I’ve written briefly about this story before in my list of MY 5 FAVORITE SUPERMAN COMICS. Action Comics #775, published in 2001, written by Joe Kelly, drawn by Lee Bermejo and Doug Mahnke (with a cover by Tim Bradstreet) is the perfect answer to those staunch defenders of Superman’s actions in the new movie, MAN OF STEEL. The modern-day fans who think it’s okay for Superman to deliberately kill someone (as long as there is “no other choice”). People think it’s somehow brave, and thought-provoking that Superman had to face this choice. I’ve seen the defense pop-up many times online since the movie opened. On my Facebook page I got: if they wanted to, superman could have rescued kittens out of trees and patted bunnies on the head. THIS was a far better story than that”.
There ya go. For far too many in today’s audience, “heroism” means doing boring things like rescuing kittens from trees. Killing is much more heroic. SIGH.
And on the John Byrne Forum: Anyway, that particular outcome is no different from a situation where a cop takes down a shooter who is clearly about to open up on an innocent bystander. The cop wouldn’t like it either but would have to season that the shooter made his own bed in the worst possible way, and choosing not to act would be unforgivable. And this is probably what Snyder meant when he claimed “this Superman is not a boy scout”. I wonder if there’s anything in the boy scout code of conduct that addresses desperate situations of this nature. And you know, that doesn’t diminish the character in my eyes. I like that he would take a huge step out of his natural comfort zone to prevent a tragedy like that, and then live with the circumstances. As opposed to indulging in a black-a-white reductive perception of human reality. I expect the sequel will leverage this to further the soul-searching angle.
This isn’t a movie about a cop, it’s a movie about SUPERMAN who, when faced with a life-threatening situation, will find a better way to deal with it than killing. That’s what makes him Superman. And then of course, the obligatory “boy scout” insult gets thrown in, and then a HOPE that a sequel will continue his “soul-searching”.
And in response to Mark Waid’s blog about the film: In the movie, it’s made painfully clear that no human being could possibly do anything against Zod. They can’t hold him. They can’t stop him. The only person that can do anything is Superman, and even then all he can do is keep him hitting Supes and not killing innocents. Zod says flat out he will annihilate the entire planet. What else could he have done?
Except that one is answered brilliantly by someone else in those comments: The excuse that ‘he had no choice’ means that the viewer does not understand Superman, does not understand drama and does not understand what a ****ing *delete* button is on a writer’s keyboard. Write a better ending, Goyer and Nolan. Its your job.
And, clearly, based on this issue, Joe Kelly understands the character, and he did his job.
For this special anniversary edition of the series that introduced Superman 75 years ago, Kelly crafted an amazing tale. A new team of Superheroes, calling themselves THE ELITE appear, and begin dispensing their own form of justice. They’re extremely powerful, appearing to be even more powerful than Superman, and have no compunctions against taking a life, nor do they seem overly concerned with protecting life. The story opens with Superman flying from Metropolis to stop a giant ape from attacking Tripoli. He gets there in 4 minutes, but it’s too late. The Elite have already shown up and killed the ape, along with over 2,000 Libyan soldiers. Next time he’s in Tokyo, facing a team of Japanese supervillains when the Elite shows up and just slaughter them all. As they continue their brutal campaign, public approval for them grows. A rival reporter tells Clark “The world is sick and broken, Kent. People want someone to fix it, not hand out slogans and bandages. The age of Superman is over, viva the Elite.”
And it’s dialog like that which makes this story so great. Inside is all of the criticism that we see in the real world about Superman. The exact type of thinking that is leading so many to cheer the new movie. We see Superman talking to other heroes, his parents, and to Lois (whom he was married to, in this story), questioning his role, wondering if he is too “old fashioned” for the modern world. We get glimpses across the city of various people discussing the actions of the Elite, compared to other superheroes. The superheroes who fight costumed supervillains, lock them up, just to have the supervillains eventually escape so the heroes have to fight them again. And again, and again, and again. The Elite deals with their threats permanently isn’t that more effective? We even see a group of Elementary school kids, dressed up as The Elite, with the one kid who is dressed up like Superman getting mad because Superman is “lame”, and that it’s “not fair” that he doesn’t get to kill people the way The Elite do. The story works because it reflects what was going on in the comic-book industry AT the time, with new heroes like The Authority, whom The Elite were clearly modeled after, gaining popularity with their stories that pushed the envelope in violence and sexuality.
The climax of the story is when The Elite challenges Superman to a fight to the death on one of Jupiter’s moons. Superman accepts, and the fight is being broadcast live to everyone on Earth. A brutal fight ensues, with The Elite apparently blowing Superman to bits. But as they celebrate, Superman pops up again, tells them he’s figured out that they’re right and then, one by one, he kills each member of The Elite, leaving only their leader, Manchester Black (whom Kelly once described as “Johnny Rotten with superpowers”), who then points to the audience watching from Earth and shouts that now this proves to everyone that Superman is no better than they are. To which Superman replies: Yes…they did see, didn’t they? They saw all the ugliness and anger. And I bet it frightened them. It frightened me. When I decided to cross the line…do what you do…I was terrified. Thought it would be tough, but you know what? Anger is easy. Hate is easy. Vengeance and spite are easy. Lucky for you…and for me…I don’t like my heroes ugly and mean. Just don’t believe in it.
He then reveals that the rest of the Elite are still alive. He didn’t really kill them, he just made it look like he did, to prove a point. But he really just disabled them. Because, as I keep reiterating, SUPERMAN ALWAYS FINDS ANOTHER WAY. He doesn’t NEED to kill. Ever. And as he prepares to take Black and The Elite into custody, Black taunts Superman for not killing them, because he says this isn’t over, he’ll get even, and that Superman is living in a dream world. To which Superman replies: I wouldn’t have it any other way. Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear, until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice because the reality we all share, I’ll never stop fighting. EVER.
Oh, if only they’d hired Joe Kelly to write the new Superman movie…
The only problem with this issue is that I am just not a fan of the artwork. Bermejo’s pencils are slightly better than Mahnke’s, but neither one is really my cup of tea. It’s not bad enough to ruin the story for me, but comics are a visual medium, and so it just drags down some of my enjoyment, but the fantastic writing still draws me in. So, based primarily on the writing I’d give it A+, but deducting points for the art, I give this issue a grade of:
You can buy the issue digital for only $1.99 on Comixology. This story was also adapted, with a script by Joe Kelly, into an animated film called SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE, which I’ve heard good things about, but I haven’t actually seen it yet, so I can’t comment on it.
[…] storyarc is essentially the sequel to Joe Kelly’s classic story, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and The American Way?” from Action Comics #775, and helps reiterate why Superman does not kill. Ever. Not Under Any […]
[…] I also like the idea of partially adapting the classic comic-book story WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT TRUTH JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY? […]