WARNING: This article includes major spoilers for Action Comics #991 by Dan Jurgens and Viktor Bogdanovic, on sale now.
Action Comics #991 marked the conclusion of “The Oz Effect,” and with it the mystery that has run through nearly every Superman story of the Rebirth era. Mister Oz, the shadowy character working behind the scenes since way back in the New 52 era’s Superman #32, was exposed as Superman’s father Jor-El in the arc’s first issue, Action #987, somehow rescued from Krypton’s destruction and despondent at the mess of the planet to which he’d rocketed his son as a refugee. I had some opinions about that, but the TL;DR version is that using Jor-El in this way felt gross and was unlikely to be satisfying in the long haul — yet ultimately concluding that the only way to salvage this development was to lean way into it, let DC’s best writers wring every possible story they can out of what amounts to a modern-day immigrant tragedy.
As the arc concludes, it becomes clearer what kind of story “The Oz Effect” is, and what sort of ramifications it will have. So far, it looks about as I’d expected, rather than as I’d hoped.
I previously wrote that any outcome in which Oz proved to not be the “real” Jor-El — whether via alternate timelines, or by later folding him back into the timeline so he dies with Krypton, or by other comic-booky means — would make the entire year-long mystery meaningless. The good news is, he’s sticking around! (For now!) The bad news? Mind control. Which not only falls pretty heartily into the “not meaningfully Jor-El” columns, but also obliterates the most potentially interesting story dynamic moving forward.
“Potentially?” you say. “Haven’t father and son been butting heads for the last five issues?”
Have they ever! And not only has neither made any headway convincing the other of his point of view — which is unsurprising, as anyone who’s debated politics can attest — but neither has advanced his own argument beyond the most basic, surface statements. Seriously, five issues in, and we’re still here:
This is, literally, exactly where the argument started. Jor-El telling Kal that Earth is rubbish, Kal asserting he’s gonna protect it. For five issues. It’s like if two lawyers went into court and just shouted at each other, “Look at this guilty, guilty man!” and “He wouldn’t hurt a fly!” for days or weeks. In considering the first chapter of the “The Oz Effect,” I was skeptical that the arc would be any sort of insightful commentary, but saw the possibility of better stories moving forward. My hope was, if Jor-El remained in this time and stuck in his ways, this could be fleshed out a bit — how can father and son, with potentially world-shattering differences, come to some sort of mutual respect and admiration? And if Jor-El’s perspective holds some truth — and it does — what does this mean, in real terms, for Superman and his immigrant story origins?
There is some hint of this at the end of the issue, as Superman listens to all of the world’s trauma and realizes “people are losing hope.”
He then resolves to “get back to work.”
Great, Superman is going to inspire hope! Actively, purposefully! He will show us once again the best that mankind has to offer, a light in the darkness. We will believe a man can fly.
Except it feels a bit rote. It feels like the thing that needs to be said in order to wrap up the arc. It looks like next issue we get an exploration of Superman’s feelings, and then… oh, an adventure through time with Booster Gold!
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