Action Comics #849
by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Allan Goldman (penciller), and Ron Randall (inker)
As many of you may remember (and the rest of you, click here), a couple weeks ago I reviewed Action Comics #848 with more than a little frustration. The story was about religion, but in a largely incomprehensible way, attempting to paint Christian missionaries as supervillains. It didn't work, but as it was the first half of a two-parter, I was willing to grant that it could start to make some more sense in the second half.
Well, it doesn't.
Where to begin? First of all, there's this doozy of a page at the book's beginning, when Superman faces off against the newly-minted religious superhuman Redemption:
Dang, Superman. The dude asks you to help the helpless and you dislocate his shoulder? That is cold. Even worse, on the next page he decides that maybe Redemption is right, so he flies back to Nyasir to help the missionaries himself. We don't see it happen, instead getting a caption between panels: "He was right. I liberated the Sakira. They've been placed under United Nations protection." Well, hallelujah to that. Good thing their protection wasn't delayed by any unnecessary superhero brawls. Now when are you planning to apologize for the dislocated shoulder?
Following this, Superman goes to visit the elderly woman who thought he was an angel in Superman #659. Remember that one? The one I called the best Superman story in over 20 years? The scene tries to bring some of the poignancy of that story across, and to its credit it's the most interesting scene in the book. But it's also tough to see where it fits into this story. There's some pontificating about faith being relative, but I simply fail to see how it ties in with Redemption's attempt to protect unarmed missionaries from an oppressive government.
The moral of the story seems to be that missionary work is wrong by definition. No matter how great the good done, no matter how unjust the obstacles to that work may be, the risk of "imposing one's beliefs" outweighs them all. Here it is in Superman's own words: "All of those good works come with strings attached—and often an intrusion into the culture or laws of other lands." And Redemption, who has been converted to Superman's view by the story's end: "We don't need to be in Nyasir." I'm not saying that missionaries never act unethically, and I'm particularly disturbed by the belief, held by many prominent evangelicals, that it's better to give a starving person a Bible than a sandwich. But this sort of isolationism is unspeakably dangerous. Take Darfur, for instance—the oppression of the Sakira in Action #848 looks an awful lot like a Janjaweed raid. Is Superman really encouraging isolationism in reaction to this sort of oppression? In the end, the story seems to say that it is better to do nothing in the face of injustice than to do something in the name of religion.
As Paul noted a few weeks ago, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman to be a champion of the downtrodden, and "Redemption" is an egregious betrayal of that spirit. It's not just a bad story—it's downright irresponsible.