Action Comics #987
Action Comics #987 By Dan Jurgens and Viktor Bogdanovic
Dan Jurgens crafts a stunningly layered portrait of the human condition. With a perfect emotional narrative, it stands out as one his finest pieces of writing.
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The secret identity of Mr. Oz has been revealed! And the answer is absolutely mind blowing. The reveal is just the icing on the cake for ACTION COMICS #987, a stunning depiction of the horrors of human cruelty in epic scale. The horrors are many, both large and small — and there’s nothing Superman can do about them. Dan Jurgens presents something fascinatingly horrific: a tale that utilizes comic book tropes while simultaneously dispensing of them.

The machinations of Mr. Oz are pure comic book villainy, yet his technique of rendering Superman useless has the effect of pulling back the curtain. Behind it, we’re left with the humans of Earth, exactly as they are. With Superman too late to save everyone,  the actual global chaos we see today is what remains. It’s difficult material to handle in a comic, and consequently, it’s painful and even shocking for the reader — and for Superman.

ACTION COMICS #987: Spoilers Ahead!

Image courtesy of DC Comics

Mr. Oz’s scheme is simple: unleash the human being in all his dark, selfish glory. ACTION COMICS #987 opens with Mr. Oz preparing to make his move, watching his architect-like monitors where all of the Earth is his to observe. As Superman delivers some vaccines to poor children in Logamba, things are looking up for the Man of Steel. But just as he’s starting to appreciate the simplicity of his victory, Mr. Oz tips the scales. Several different scenarios unfold: angry workers who just lost their jobs to immigrants; a drunken ship captain who just wants to have some fun with his large oil tanker; a group of guerrillas who notice those new vaccines could make them really rich; sweat shop owners who decide they can do whatever they want to their child-slaves.

Each of these people has an Oz mark somewhere on their body, and Mr. Oz pushes that proverbial button. Within a single moment, all of the humanity’s darkest impulses are unleashed. The world falls into chaos, and Superman desperately tries to intervene in all of the above scenarios. Unfortunately, even the Man of Steel can’t overcome a problem more systemic than bullets, explosions, and violence. Superman can’t defeat human nature.

ACTION COMICS #987: Global Chaos

Jurgens presents each of these scenarios with brutal accuracy and unrelenting forcefulness. There are no kid-gloves here, no way of looking at any of the violence depicted as anything other than horrifying. Comic books are a terrific form to tackle commentary on real life events, but Jurgens exceeds commentary here. He more or less presents actual current events but pushes them a step further. The concept of crazed blue collar workers pulling their guns on Hispanic immigrants is not so difficult to believe. Nor is the idea of a poacher telling his kid it’s okay to kill rhinos as long as they keep the horn. Even rebels slaughtering a village for an expensive vaccine isn’t beyond believability.

Read: Superman was recently possessed by Parallax, arch-nemesis of Green Lantern — read all about it in our review of SUPERMAN #30!

The only thing difficult to swallow is the raw reality that this Superman comic book is no longer safe. That’s why ACTION COMICS #987 is so impactful. We expect accuracy when we read a cover piece on Somalian freedom fighters in Time magazine. We don’t expect it from a Superman comic. What we do expect is for Superman to step in and stop the worst from happening — but he can’t. That realization is the most crushing part of all. Indeed, it casts Superman’s entire future in doubt.

ACTION COMICS #987: Superman’s Greatest Failure

Jurgens structures this comic beautifully. He doesn’t show Superman immediately failing to save everyone. Rather, Superman succeeds at first. He does manage to stop the immigrants from being killed by the workers. But just when we thought we could breathe a sigh of relief, Superman doesn’t quite reach the oil tanker on time. He helps with the clean-up, but most of the damage is done. By the time he reaches the kids in Logamba, he’s far too late. Most of them have already been murdered.

Image courtesy of DC Comics

Just as despair is about to overtake Superman, the final blow is struck – the rebel’s warheads land right next to Superman as he’s cradling a wounded child. The ensuing explosion wipes out the rest of them, including the child in his arms. When the explosion clears, all that’s left is Superman, holding nothing.

The despair on Superman’s face matches the despair the reader feels. Superman was supposed to save these people. But not even Superman could be everywhere at once. By depicting Superman’s attempts as a mounting series of failures, Jurgens really gives the reader time to feel the despair sink in. Hope becomes uncertainty. Uncertainty becomes dread. Dread becomes panic. Panic becomes horror. Horror becomes despair. By the time we realize that Superman really can’t do anything, the cycle has completed. Jurgens executes this cycle with total command of the reader’s emotional instincts. He knew exactly what he wanted to make the reader feel, and he did so unapologetically. I am stunned by the complete physical and emotional devastation Jurgens was able to get away with.

ACTION COMICS #987: The Man Behind the Curtain

This is where Mr. Oz comes in. After Superman’s failure, Mr. Oz swoops in and tells Kal-El that it’s time for them to talk. By now, our emotions are so firmly caught in the palm of Jurgens’ hand that we’ve effectively become his puppets. We’re fueled by hatred of Mr. Oz and cannot wait to see him unmasked so that Superman can get on with beating the snot out of him. However, Jurgens the puppet master has one string left to tug. Mr. Oz, in the loving sanctity of the Fortress of Solitude, lowers his hood and reveals the face of Superman’s father.

READ: For a glimpse into Mr. Oz’s role in the splitting of Superman’s identity, check out our review of ACTION COMICS #976!

That’s right — Mr. Oz is Jor-El in the flesh! In his last act of cruelty, Jurgens turns our hatred on its head, as we suddenly understand that Superman’s arch-nemesis is someone who showed Superman the greatest love, not hatred. In one comic, Jurgens has run his readers through the full spectrum of emotions. Now all that’s left is confusion and wonder. How can Mr. Oz be Jor-El? How did he survive Krypton’s explosion? Is this a permanent canonical change? Or is this the vilest trick of all to be played by Dr. Manhattan? Our big blue puppet master of puppet masters has screwed with Superman’s existence before, so this Jor-El move could very well turn out to be Dr. Manhattan’s piece de resistance. Only time will tell.

ACTION COMICS #987: The Visual Metaphor

A good writer is nothing without his artist, and Dan Jurgens’ script would not work half as well without the masterful design work of Viktor Bogdanovic. The progression of the panels really helps to compliment Jurgens’ emotional narrative, each sequence of disaster building on the one that came before. There are some compelling visual metaphors too, such as when Mr. Oz’s many television screens become warped. This might be a literal visual distortion, but I believe it’s a more metaphorical point on how each of these scenes of disaster is being warped and blended into one big global catastrophe.

Action Comics #987
Image courtesy of DC Comics

There’s also some excellent visual juxtaposition, such as Mr. Oz and Superman’s final confrontation, which takes place with the statue of Jor-El looming significantly behind them. If there’s one thing I’d complain about, it’s that I’m not a huge fan of Bogdanovic’s rendition of Superman. His jaw line appears unnaturally stretched out and his face elongated. He looks more like the Crimson Chin than the Man of Steel. This is only really noticeable in the beginning though. As the emotional and visual narrative takes over, all minor gripes fade into the darkness of Jurgens’ and Bogdanovic’s stunning moral thesis.

ACTION COMICS #987: Final Verdict

ACTION COMICS #987 presents the first chapter of Jurgens’ mind-blowing summation of Mr. Oz. The revelation of Mr. Oz as Jor-El is completely stunning, finally putting obvious theories (like Ozymandias) to bed, and setting the stage for a landmark event — perhaps more significant than any since Jurgens’ own “The Death of Superman.”

Meanwhile, this issue’s events are horrifying, agonizing, and all too real. Superman has fought Doomsday, Brainiac, and Darkseid, and beaten them all — but he can’t defeat mankind’s basic nature. It’s the simplest of lessons, but in the context of a Superman comic, it’s utterly brilliant. Jurgens’ deconstruction of Superman’s role in the real world has begun. How Superman will begin to recover — if he will at all — remains to be seen. With a global catastrophe behind him and a personal catastrophe in front of him, Superman’s future has never been more uncertain. That’s why this is one of the greatest Superman comics ever written.


  1. Ray Currie

    September 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Seems like Superman is being drawn with the Roger Ramjet chin again.

    Wonder how Jor-El ended up disfigured like that?


    • Aaron Berke

      September 13, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Or the Crimson Chin. He was the first character who came to mind.

      I’m intrigued by Jor-El’s disfigurement as well. I assume it had something to do with him being trapped on an exploding planet…

      Hopefully we’ll find out next issue!


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