It seems hard to believe that DC Comics first introduced the mysterious Mr. Oz more than three years ago, likely because the character only began to grow more prominently within the past year after the release of the “DC Universe: Rebirth” one-shot, kicking off the company’s current era of publishing. Speculation regarding the character’s identity has been rampant, and Action Comics #987, part one of “The Oz Effect,” finally answers the question fans have been asking since Mr. Oz’s introduction in the New 52’s Superman #32. Dan Jurgens and Viktor Bogdanovic waste no further time pulling back the hood of this mystery figure at the issue’s conclusion, but meanwhile deliver a refreshing issue reminding readers of Superman’s altruistic nature, with twists both large and small that put a new spin on the Man of Steel mythos.
Amidst all the cosmic and multiversal happenings within the DC Universe, every now and again Superman needs to be grounded to bring his personal nature back into prominence. Before Kal-El’s world is turned upside down by the revelation of Oz’ identity, Jurgens and Bogdanovic give readers the Superman that they’ve known for decades — the extraordinary hero dedicated to helping anyone he can on his adopted home world. Whether it’s delivering the proverbial medicine to sick children, saving the animals or stopping racial prejudice, Jurgens delivers the iconic Superman who has served as the superhero template for generations. Bogdanovic, in turn, renders a Superman who’s both comforting and awe-inspiring to the good guys, while decidedly threatening and intimidating to the bad.
Of course, Superman’s character is largely defined by his alter ego Clark Kent, so Jurgens give not only Clark some face time, but Lois and Jon as well. For nearly as long as Superman has been rescuing kittens from towering trees, Clark has been harassed by Daily Planet resident braggart Steve Lombard — and while Lombard’s bothersome ways have often gotten the best of Clark, his bluster has little effect on the unimpressed Jon. Clark’s new family dynamic in the “Rebirth” era lends a refresh to the classic, and tiresome, trope of Lombard vs. Kent, and there’s a wholly different satisfaction here to seeing Lombard getting owned by a kid.
One test of a hero’s character, and one that Superman’s been put through many times, is to face a no-win situation at the behest of some villain’s machinations. Superman is similarly set up to fail here, faced with simultaneous challenges that makes 100 percent success impossible, and does indeed fall short through no fault of his own. Not surprisingly, it’s Mr. Oz who puts the Man of Steel in that unwinnable situation, just as Lex Luthor and other foes have — but the much larger twist here is just who Mr. Oz is ultimately revealed to be. On the heels of multiple failures, a dejected Superman is further stunned to learn just who has been behind many of recent mysteries since the inception of “Rebirth.”
Action Comics #987 will get all the attention because of that last-page shocker, but it excels based on its ability to retell a tried-and-true story that nonetheless feels fresh, by way of its small tweaks and big turns afforded it by “Rebirth.” There’s no better time to bring Superman’s essence to the forefront, as the reminder clears the way for the promised origin of Mr. Oz next issue.
Part two of “The Oz Effect” will unfold in Action Comics #988, on sale Sept. 27.