ACTION COMICS #991 By Dan Jurgens and Viktor Bogdanovic
Dan Jurgens closes "The Oz Effect" with a poignant story about a father of Krypton and son of Earth, whose symbolic battle is fueled with pain and resonance.
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Emotional Reconciliation
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Since “The Oz Effect” began five issues ago, Dan Jurgens’ storytelling has been laced with an unusual level of drama. It ripples past the ordinary boundaries of comics and reflects the chaos of the world today. Superman has been caught in the center, racing to save the people of Earth from destroying themselves. All the while he’s grappling with the reality that the chaos has been caused by his Kryptonian father, Jor-El. The conflict comes to a head in ACTION COMICS #991, as Jor-El demands once and for all that Clark flee the planet with his wife and son. The resulting story is emotionally gripping and dramatically stirring. Kal-El comes to terms with the truth about his father, and recognizes that the battle ahead will be unlike any he’s ever faced.

ACTION COMICS #991 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

ACTION COMICS #991 begins with Jor-El confronting Superman on top of the Daily Planet. He urges Kal to leave with his family before a sinister force destroys the entire world. The young Jon Kent believes his grandfather and urges Clark to listen. Yet Superman is furious with Jor-El’s interference and refuses to believe that his heinous actions were worthwhile. To prove his point, Jor-El transports Clark to the hidden dimension where he’s watched Superman in secret and where he keeps Doomsday prisoner. Jor-El explains that he tried to keep Kal-El safe from his greatest enemies — but he’s getting sick of Kal’s lack of gratitude. The conflict accelerates as Jor-El unleashes a deadly beam from his Kryptonite-encrusted eye. This prompts an emotional battle between father and son that, by the end of the comic, forever changes both men.

ACTION COMICS #991 is a harrowing emotional experience that boils down the over-arching global conflict to a simple disagreement between father and son. That’s exactly what makes the comic so resonant. Dan Jurgens has done a remarkable job distinguishing most of the individual entries in “The Oz Effect.” The first issue was all about the shocking horror of emerging global violence. The second issue was about Jor-El’s journey to Earth, and how mankind’s violence shaped his thinking. The third and fourth parts were admittedly less focused, splitting their plot lines between Superman cleaning up the global violence, and Jor-El tempting Lois and Jon to his side.

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Luckily, the final issue brings the focus back to one thread, which is Jor-El and Kal-El’s relationship. When Jor-El attacks Superman, Jurgens really captures the emotional pain of a father striking a son he’s tried to protect since birth. Similarly, when Superman attacks Jor-el, Jurgens encapsulates Kal’s rage at his father for betraying the ideals he spent his entire life fighting for. The emotional stakes are high, and only resolve when Superman discovers the cause of his father’s sickness.

Since the revelation of Mr. Oz’s identity as Jor-El, I had suspected that the Kryptonite lodged in his skull has some relation to his madness, and ACTION COMICS #991 confirms it. As Jor-El attacks Superman, Kal claims that his own father would never turn the fatal Kryptonite on his flesh and blood unless something was severely wrong with him. It’s this truth that shocks Jor-El back to reality and allows Superman to destroy his father’s staff, which was stopping the Kryptonite from killing him but simultaneously corrupting his mind.

The moment of the turn, where Jor-El realizes what he’s done, is well executed if a bit rushed. The dramatic feel of the comic does a complete 180 as Jor-El goes from complete confidence in his own story to utter horror at himself for believing it. This is the kind of switch that makes one realize the inherent faults of trying to cram a hugely epic and emotionally wide-ranging finale into twenty-two pages. Yet this isn’t really Jurgens’ fault, and the emotional catharsis that follows makes the abrupt turn worth it.

ACTION COMICS #991 page 6. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

When Jor-El and Kal-El finally embrace, it’s a moment that feels about 75 years in the making. Part of what makes it so touching is Superman’s monologue, in which he acknowledges that his father used to be the only one who could see things for what they were. He saw Krypton was doomed, and no one believed him. He saw the Earth was doomed too, but this time his sight was tainted, guided by sinister forces. With that control removed, Jor-El can see clearly again. In his eyes, reflected, is the only thing he can see that matters — Superman’s shield.

The implication, wonderfully portrayed in Jurgens’ words and Viktor Bogdanovic’s art, is that Superman is the best hope for Earth — much like Jor-El was once the best hope for Krypton. Jor-El was wrong to try and remove Earth’s greatest hope, and he sees that now. With Jor-El’s sight restored, he understands that Superman can succeed where he failed.

Unfortunately, there’s a sinister force out there that doesn’t want Jor-El seeing the truth. Their emotional amends are cut short as Jor-El is ripped away from his son by a whirling blue portal. It’s not hard to imagine who this force might be. With DOOMSDAY CLOCK only two weeks away from publication, ACTION COMICS #991 perfectly sets up Superman’s confrontation with Dr. Manhattan, who Superman is now aware of for the first time. He still doesn’t know who the evil threat truly is. Yet he knows that this menace poisoned his father against him, and then took Jor-El away the moment they reconciled. As ever, Dr. Manhattan appears out to destroy the bonds of love and hope. Which means, for Superman, this just became personal.

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The whole comic ripples with the personal touch, thanks in no small part to Viktor Bogdanovic’s art. He creates wonderful symbolic moments, like the aforementioned reflection of Superman’s shield, in Jor-El’s eyes. He also makes inspired use of Jor-El’s viewing monitors, which previously depicted various events erupting into chaos around the globe. As Jor-El and Superman embrace, the monitors unite to form one poignant image of the father and son holding each other. It’s as though nothing on Earth matters except for this.

The monitors also create a symbolic reflection when Dr. Manhattan takes Jor-El away. After he’s gone, the monitors reflect Manhattan’s vile act by depicting nothing but a void of light, glowing blue. Where a moment ago the monitors depicted the love between a father and son, now they show only the absence of love — exactly what Dr. Manhattan intended. In this way, Bogdanovic’s artwork parallels Jurgens’ poignant story, symbolically reflecting the emotions pulsating through the veins of the comic.

ACTION COMICS #991 page 7. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

ACTION COMICS #991: Final Verdict

Taking a step back and looking at “The Oz Effect” after its five issues, it represents a paradigm shift for Superman and his relationship to the world. The horrors of humanity have been unleashed, and Superman sees that clearly now. In the final few pages of ACTION COMICS #991, the atrocities popping up all over Earth overwhelm Superman. He can hear people in pain all over the globe, represented by a full-page spread filled with word bubbles of agonizing sentiment. Yet when Superman takes flight again, he only has one plan in mind. Where is he going? “Back to work,” Superman answers his son, before flying into the dawn.

“The Oz Effect” redefines and reaffirms Superman’s commitment to Earth. These five comics have played with the boundaries between comic book fantasy and cold, hard reality. Jurgens took that reality and beat Superman over the head with it. Now, Kal-El has no more delusions. He knows exactly the threat he faces. Humanity is losing hope. Yet Superman never can, and he never will. ACTION COMICS #991 poignantly reminds us just how great a hero Superman truly is. Jurgens shows us that despite the harsh reality we face, superheroes still have an important place. We need Superman now more than ever.

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