All October long I will be exploring the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book writer comments on/references the work of another comic book in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!
Today we look at Joe Kelly’s famous “defense” of Superman in Action Comics #775.
Action Comics #775 was an extra-sized issue written by regular writer Joe Kelly and guest-artists Lee Bermejo and Doug Mahnke (this issue most likely was in the minds of DC when they decided to give Kelly and Mahnke JLA).
The basic set-up is that Kelly is “defending” Superman against the popularity of The Authority, who were extremely popular at the time, selling more copies than any of the Superman titles. Kelly creates a group called the Elite, who are a stand-in for the Authority.
He then has them be pretty violent “heroes,” and has Superman spend the issue sickened not just by the Elite’s behavior, but by the fact that the world seems to like the Elite better than him.
He, of course, sees the Elite as no more than just villains calling themselves heroes (in their battles, they kill the “bad guys” and end up causing a lot of civilian deaths in the process).
So they end up having a “duel,” of sorts – Superman vs. The Elite on the Moon, with all of Earth watching.
At first, it seems as though the Elite has destroyed Superman totally. Then, in a nice bit, a disembodied voice tells them that they’ve just now pushed him too far. Superman then seemingly uses his powers in creative ways to kill off all of the Elite until he is left face-to-face with the Elite’s leader, Manchester Black…
Impressively, the issue does not live or die depending on whether you agree with Kelly’s position. His meta-criticism aside, it is still a powerfully told scene (and the artwork is dynamite).