Originally published at AiTP!
In a fight between Batman and Superman, a surprising number of individuals favor the mere-mortal to win against the veritable demi-god, the totality of their argument summarized in just two words: “preparation time.” The presumption is that not only is Batman a master tactician, but also that his opponent Superman is a lumbering brute, so reliant on his fists to fight that his brain has all but atrophied from disuse. Given sufficient time, Batman would deduce a way to stop Superman, with Superman squandering the same time rescuing cats from trees instead of likewise preparing for the bout with Batman. Such ignores a proud tradition in the comics of Superman displaying not only a broad genius-level intellect, but very specifically tactical acumen as well. Action Comics #962 is but the latest in this long line.
This was seen somewhat in the previous issue wherein Superman successfully moved the fight against Doomsday from the woodlands near his family farm to an even more desolated wilderness, far from his loved ones and all other innocents. But such is a lesson even Snyder’s Superman seems to have learned. This issues proves that he had a plan in place for subduing Doomsday beyond merely pummeling him away from people. Here he changes the playing field on his opponent once again, this time to his Himalayan Fortress of Solitude. Therein he announces “Activate Defensive Protocol: Doomsday,” suggesting that he’d not only prepared for this potentiality, but others as well. The Doomsday Protocol seems underwhelming at first, amounting to little more than turrets firing upon the monster, which predictably have little effect. However, when he begins to reach for a spotlight-shaped device, his full plan is immediately evident – and not only so, but is both brilliant and sublime in its simplicity.
And such was hardly the first time Superman showed as much or more brains than brawn. All-Star Superman #12 saw him likewise looking to the Fortress’ arsenal, that time to the gravity gun, using the fundamental force’s dilation of time against the twenty-four hour powers of Lex Luthor. Before that, in “Up, Up, and Away,” Johns and Busiek wrote a wonderfully tactical Man of Steel who’d calculate the trajectory of every ricochet, going so far even as to knock out Bloodsport with just the right force and at just the right angle that the shooter, upon hitting the ground, reflexively discharged his weapon at the exact trajectory to take down Silver Banshee and Livewire as well. More recently, in Matt Kindt’s underappreciated “Faster than a Bullet” from Adventures of Superman (with art also by this issue’s Stephen Segovia), Superman was shown learning the language, customs, and histories of three different alien cultures and single-handedly solving the source of their strife with one another in the moments between him disarming the pseudo-nuclear weapons which they had launched and the payloads of such harmlessly hitting the ground – showing a mind for grand strategy, in addition to tactics.
Most relevant to this issue, however, are the tactics demonstrated by Moore’s Man of Steel in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” I’d already drawn comparison to such in my review for the previous issue of Action Comics, and it’s more obvious than ever that the classic imaginary story was on Dan Jurgens’ mind as he’s been writing “Path of Doom.” In both, Superman redoubts to his Fortress for the final defense of Lois and his loved one’s against his deadliest foe(s). Allies including as Wonder Woman attempt to come to his aid, but it ultimately falls to Superman himself to finish the fight. And he does so each time, most tellingly, with the Phantom Zone Projector.
Such is not to suggest that Alan Moore and Dan Jurgens are in any way telling the same story. Moore’s masterpiece was his grand argument as to why the world doesn’t need a Superman – that even an individual as incorruptible as Superman would eventually cross a line that undermined his moral authority to exercise such godlike power. Jurgens, however, lacks any thesis more complex than “musclemen punching kaiju through mountains looks cool!” While I can’t say I disagree, Jurgens puts too much emphasis on the “Action” in Action Comics. He may be writing a smarter Superman than is too often depicted, but he’s certainly not writing a smarter comic book than fans of the genre have grown accustomed to, especially since the days of Moore and his compatriots in the British Invasion. If Jurgens is going to invite comparison between his own work and one of the defining Superman stories of all time – which he’d absolutely done in invoking the Phantom Zone Projector – he’s going to have to better balance the plethora of action with pathos and profundity as well.