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