Sunday, May 13, 2007

Action Comics #848

Action Comics #848
“Redemption, Part One: If You Believe, a Man Can Fly”
by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Allan Goldman (pencils), and Ron Randall (inks)
DC Comics

Fabian Nicieza—who, with Kurt Busiek, cowrote an excellent parable about faith and responsibility in Superman #659—takes a different approach to the same questions in Action Comics #848. The results, sadly, are frustrating at best. In the story’s opening pages we learn of a powerful metahuman named Redemption who serves as a protector to Christian missionaries in Nyasir, a small (imaginary) African country. The missionaries—members of the “First Church of Redemption”—have converted the Sakira tribe, but the government of Nyasir uses troops to systematically threaten and harass them. Redemption—whose powers stem from the faith that others have in him—accidentally kills several of these troops, prompting Superman to investigate the new superhuman and the church to which he belongs. When Nyasir’s government eventually kills the missionaries, Redemption attempts to avenge them, and Superman intervenes.

Unfortunately, the story is quite muddled, and its message is obscured. The setting—both temporally and geographically—is unclear. We know next to nothing about the missionaries, the Sakira tribe, or the government troops who threaten them. The story is structured as if we are supposed to view Redemption as the villain, but he is nowhere near as reprehensible as the jackbooted thugs he opposes. Superman muses that
"There is a fine line between having a belief, sharing a belief and imposing it. What happens if a metahuman crosses that line...?"

But is that what Redemption does? He’s not attempting to convert the Nyasirian troops, but rather to protect unarmed civilians from them. After he accidentally kills them (in self-defense), Superman states that “I don’t care to see carnage enabled behind the excuse of religion.” But given what the readers have witnessed, that’s a severe misinterpretation of what’s going on. Redemption seems to be, like Superman, a champion of the downtrodden; his only crime is lack of training. At the issue’s close, Superman confronts Redemption—who has just disarmed the Nyasirian troops without harming them—and declares “this ends now.” In this moment, Superman looks for all the world like the protector of a tyrannical dictatorship. How, exactly, does protecting unarmed missionaries from armed militias make Redemption a supervillain?

It’s possible that this story is intended to be a continued explorations of the themes so elegantly portrayed in Superman #659. But by neglecting to give us background, by failing to adequately explain the central character’s moral approach to the situation at hand, Nicieza turns this exploration into a confusing mess. The next issue will conclude the story, and it’s possible that some much-needed explanation follows. But given the bafflement of this issue, I have little faith that the saga of Redemption will reach a satisfying conclusion.


D. G. D. Davidson said...

Whoa. There's been a lot of "action" on this blog since I looked last. What a great post!

I haven't read this comic, but here's a question: Is it possible Superman is in the wrong? Any recent Superman comics I pick up (and those are admittedly very, very few in number) tend to show him as fallible and typically in grave error. Is he, perhaps, in a similar situation in this story? Is it possible Superman is trying to find a clear villain in this story when in fact there isn't one?

Gabriel Mckee said...

It's possible, but if that is what we're supposed to think then it's another testament to the muddled nature of the story as a whole. We get lots of Clark Kent pontificating on why it's wrong, but absolutely no counterpoint. This is the first half of a two-parter, so the story does still have a chance to save itself.

Jason said...

I checked that issue out after reaading this post. It did seem pretty harsh in its treatment of Redemption, some pretty blatant opinions coming out. It will be interesting to see what the second issue holds. I hope you'll post a follow up when it releases.

I am enjoying the blog here. Keep up the good work. Oh, and maybe you can answer a question that keeps bugging me - why do superheroines always have to dress in tight, revealing spandex??? (Don't worry, I think I know the reason - just curious on this esteemed group's opinion).

D. G. D. Davidson said...

You know, Jason, that question is so classic it's parodied even in the comics industry. Read Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and then read the sequel, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which is largely a send-up of comics in general, and it focuses on scantily clad femme fatales. I find it a little odd that Miller, having made such comments, also re-drew the heroine of Bone as if she were a busty manga babe, but who can understand Frank Miller?

Also, check out Little White Mouse, an excellent series that intentionally offers an alternative to such representations of women. I think we'll see an increasing rebellion in comics against such misogyny in the future.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

Er, let me clarify: the misogyny of always representing women as babes in tights, not the misogyny of Little White Mouse, which isn't misogynist.