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A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments – Day 127

Here is the latest cool comic book moment in our year-long look at one cool comic book moment a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we look at part of a popular Superman story by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke.

Enjoy!

Action Comics #775 was an extra-sized issue written by regular writer Joe Kelly and guest-artists Lee Bermejo and Doug Mahnke (this issue most likely was in the minds of DC when they decided to give Kelly and Mahnke JLA).

The basic set-up is that Kelly is sending up The Authority, who were extremely popular at the time, selling more copies than any of the Superman titles. Kelly creates a group called the Elite, who are a sort of parody of The Authority.

He then has them be pretty violent “heroes,” and has Superman spend the issue sickened not just by the Elite’s behavior, but by the fact that the world seems to like the Elite better than him.

He, of course, sees the Elite as no more than just villains calling themselves heroes (in their battles, they kill the “bad guys” and end up causing a lot of civilian deaths in the process).

So they end up having a “duel,” of sorts – Superman vs. The Elite on the Moon, with all of Earth watching.

At first, it seems as though the Elite has destroyed Superman totally. Then, in a nice bit, a disembodied voice tells them that they’ve just now pushed him too far. Superman then seemingly uses his powers in creative ways to kill off all of the Elite until he is left face-to-face with the Elite’s leader, Manchester Black…

What I love about this scene is the fact that you really don’t have to agree with Kelly’s position here to still appreciate that it is a well-told comic.

“The” moment for me is either Superman’s appearance at the beginning of this stretch (up until that point, he was taking the Elite apart off-panel) or the ending. I guess I’m going with the ending.

35 Comments

I agree that this is a well-told comic, but I think ultimately it fails in its goal. Kelly wants to discredit the Authority, but he goes the easy way by grossly exaggerating and mischaracterizing what the Authority is about in order to make it easier to make Superman look good. That malicious, sadistic Elite bore little resemblance to the Authority, they were basically villains. I’d rather Kelly told a more nuanced story that used an analogue closer to the real Authority than that exagerrated funhouse mirror evil version. It implies that he doesn’t really have faith in a straight up head-to-head fair comparison of the two concepts of Superman and the Authority. Second, if the goal is to show that Superman’s approach is the better, more noble of the two concepts, he also fails because how does SUperman win? By becoming more like the faux-Authority! He basically goes hardcore and malicious and extreme badass to win.

So the point of the story is to show that classic superheroism of Superman is better than the new school heroism of the Authority. But the Authority analogue acts nothing like the real Authority and Superman wins not by using his old school heroism but by behaving more like the enemy he’s supposed to be discrediting, except he just stops short of killing. So what did Kelly prove ultimately? I’m not sure, maybe that Authority had him running scared and he felt frustrated enough to write an unfair slam piece against the concept? It’s well told and all but just fails in its goal to me.

It’s a shame because I’d love to see a comic that truly compares and contrasts the different approaches of a SUperman and Authority that truly fairly portrays both sides accurately.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 8, 2009 at 4:48 am

You know what?
I don’t normally read or collect Superman as a rule, but IF I’d know that particular story and art at that time, I’d definitely would have made an exception.

Especially if the rest of the run is as good as the above sequence.

Dug the haircut on Supes. Makes him look bad-ass.

Is the Kelly/Mahnke run collected into tpbs?

American vs Pom. Sad jingoism.

I think the moment is the nod to Elvis Costello at the very end….

What IS so funny ’bout Peace, Love and Understanding?

Also a nod to “The Wild Bunch” when Borgnine tells Holden that the railroad/Pike will come at him with everything they have and Holden replies, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I like the message and the way it was delivered, but the story has one major drawback. It pretty much highlights how poorly Superman usually utilizes his powers. He should be able to mop up most threats in seconds, but pretty much relies on flight, super strength, and invulnerability first. He rarely uses his super speed to actually take out a villain quickly and with minimal property damage. Heat vision, which allows for attack from a distance is rarely used as a first option.

i would pick the ending for the look on mansuares black face is priceless when super man gives him the verbal smackdown and then flies away

I think this is easily the latest great “cool” moment for Superman, at least in one of his own titles. Definitely the last one that is one of my favorites. That “instant lobotomy” line is the moment for me, where you believe for a moment that Superman has gone over the line.

As far as exaggerating the behavior of the Authority, I didn’t think it was that bad, and I was reading the title at the time. The Authority, to me, was a response to Squadron Supreme: a super team that believes they have the right to do just about whatever they want because the have the power to do whatever they want. The Elite is just The Authority with just a slight change in motivation.

But I don’t know that this is necessarily jingoism, and I don’t know what Pom is.

You know, I never really appreaciated how good Manhke is until Frankenstein. I sort of recall his work on Superman, but I don’t remember it being this good. I need to go pull out some old issues.

Rohan Williams

May 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

Maybe it’s just because I read it after hearing so many people rave about, but I really hated this issue when I got around to reading it. Superman’s dialogue throughout is just painful, and the story felt a little too convoluted.

Maybe it’s just because I read it after hearing so many people rave about, but I really hated this issue when I got around to reading it.

Looking back, that may have been my issue as well. The incredible raves about how great a takedown of Authority concept this was or how great a celebration of Superman’s ideology it was, only to find a book that didn’t really seem to properly represent either. Without all the hype I’d probably have been more forgiving.

Hey, it’s one of the few Superman comics I actually own!

Probably the last really great Superman story told. It truly represents what Superman is about and, in spite of all this Authority comparison (I don’t think it was supposed to EXACTLY LIKE the Authority, but rather an exaggerated parody of it), this is the kind of story that pushes a character to the forefront, not throwing everything up for grabs (just like 10,000 kryptonians).

@ T:

When the Authority first appeared, I agree that they bore no resemblance to this Elite and were a really great, albeit tough superhero team(they were in good hands. Ellis, then Millar), but after that I’d say that they more than deserve this treatment.

Remember the Coup D’Etat crossover? Where they simply decide to kill the President and take over? There was no heroism in the Authority by then.

But I don’t know that this is necessarily jingoism

That’s because it isn’t. There is nothing jingoistic about the story at all, aside from the fact that Manchester Black is British and Superman is American, and Superman wins. Does that make any story that features the Titans beating up the Brotherhood of Evil jingoistic because Mallah & The Brain are French? Absolutely not. Manchester Black does not represent the “British Way” at all — if anyone thinks that, they have a low opinion of British culture and morality.

There’s no “rah rah, America, F#ck yeah, Britain sucks!” in this story at all.

Wow, that’s so insanely preachy, as if they didn’t trust their story to carry the message, but had to relentlessly tell rather than show.

I’m even more glad I didn’t pick that comic up, now.

How did Superman’s costume get restored for the last panel? Is that a new power? ;) ;)

Remember the Coup D’Etat crossover? Where they simply decide to kill the President and take over? There was no heroism in the Authority by then.

Fair enough, I stopped reading by then so you may very well be right.

Dude: the problem with your argument was that this story was done barely out of the era in which you class the Authority as still being “good” (as you include the Millar run within the “good” period, and Action Comics 775 came out in March 2001, meaning it was released, let alone written, well before Millar even had to take that post-911 hiatus from the book).
Coup D’Etat didn’t come out until 2004, so this story could not have been a statement about or satire of that much later period of the Authority.

I’m not going into the whole Authority/Elite comparison as I have never read Ellis’ series. The cool factor here is how Superman balances the “big blue boy scout” image with the tough, yet confident demeanor Siegel and Shuster created for him in his very earliest appearances. If Superman always acted like this, I’d be following his exploits more often.

Any comic who nods to “The Wild Bunch” has got to be awesome as well.

@Jack Norris:

You’re absolutely right. Coup D’Etat came out much after this issue of Action Comics. My point was that the Authority after Millar almost became their own parody.

And even from the beginning the Authority was a very violent and no-nonsense team that obviously wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

I agree with T when he says that the Elite was too easy a target and the message came across heavy-handed but I think that Kelly is simply trying to make the same point that Mark Waid did with Kingdom Come: there’s nothing wrong with the so-called old school heroism and this new breed of heroes is not all it’s cracked up to be

Wesley: Pom/Pommie is Australian slang for British /English

I agree with T when he says that the Elite was too easy a target and the message came across heavy-handed but I think that Kelly is simply trying to make the same point that Mark Waid did with Kingdom Come: there’s nothing wrong with the so-called old school heroism and this new breed of heroes is not all it’s cracked up to be

Problem is, I hate Kingdom Come even worse. It’s an even bigger failure in what it sets out to accomplish than this story, and even more heavy-handed and sanctimonious. Saying it’s like Kingdom Come is not a compliment in my book. Kingdom Come Superman basically gets mad at new-school heroes for not doing things his way, so what does he do? The equivalent of a little kid playing touch football who gets a bad call, he sulks and takes his ball and goes home to pout. He just stops fighting crime altogether because they won’t play his way. The new school heroes, we’re supposed to hate them for being so extreme or something, but I ended up admiring them because AT LEAST THEY NEVER GAVE UP. They kept trying to make a difference until the end. They never threw in the towel. What’s so heroic about Superman in that story? That he’s a spoiled brat diva who won’t come back to save the world unless it comes back and begs him to his satisfaction. If the new heroes are really as bad as you say, that’s even MORE reason to stay in the game and lead by example, not sulk and wallow in self-pity. He’s basically waiting for them to fail and screw up so that they can see he was right and he can say I told you so and lecture them. It’s the usual problem with DC….they tell, don’t show. They feel if they just tell you something in-story enough, like Superman is the ultimate self-sacrificing and inspirational hero, there’s no need to show it with any actual corresponding actions. Seeing Superman fail to save the new heroes in the end and then have the audacity to give one of his typical heavy-handed speeches while everyone kisses his ass for some of the most unheroic and selfish behavior I’ve seen from a superhero really nauseated me.

Coup D’Etat didn’t come out until 2004, so this story could not have been a statement about or satire of that much later period of the Authority.

If this is true, I wonder if what happened is that the creators of Coup D’Etat were fans of this story and altered the real Authority to make them more like the Elite. Because I never read Coup D;Etat but I agree that Ellis’s Authority were never this bad. If they were made to become as bad and unlikeable as the Elite a few years after this story was made, it makes sense that the influence of this story played a role.

@ T:

I have to admit, I never thought about Kingdom Come like that (your views about the actions of Superman there make sense), but I still think it’s a great story.

I think that what Waid and Kelly are protesting is the fact that this type of “extreme” superheroism became so popular and that the older heroes were seen as outdated and ineffective simply because they wouldn’t torture and kill the bad guys. They might have come a little too strongly,but I think it was a point that had to be made. Waid had Superman leave because the public didn’t want him anymore. They wanted Magog. I don’t think that shows perseverance or spirit on his part. He and the other heroes like him were simply what people (comic book readers included) wanted at the time.

And yes, Coup D’Etat came after this issue of Action Comics and by then the Authority might as well have been called Thunderbolts for all the heroes that they had in the lineup

I believe the Elite bore a strong resemblance to Millar’s Authority, of which I have read one story, the first in their run (piggy backed onto the last Ennis story as part of the second Authority trade). They’re arrogant, unrepentant murderers who enjoy the killing – Apollo, good, friendly Apollo, is sitting brooding, thinking about sodomizing a Thor analogue with a chainsaw. He winds up handing him over, beaten and on the ground, to the Midnighter wielding a jackhammer. That’s a far cry from where they started in Stormwatch’s “A Finer World”. Jack Hawksmoor, who previously wept at killing JFK’s illegitimate serial murdering son? Has Paris murder “Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos” in two panels and smokes a cigar in the last one on the page, saying “Booyah,” or some such. Ennis had Swift comment that she and Hawksmoor had given up a lot to act the way that they felt they needed to act in Ennis’ Authority. In Millar’s, Hawksmoor at least loves him the killin’. Shen gets the lighter duty of having a discussion with Jack Kirby to recruit him. Of course, given the fact that Millar couldn’t be bothered to note that Jenny Sparks was reborn in London and instead placed Jenny Quantum in Singapore, I suppose expecting him to get the characterizations right is expecting too much.

Anyhoo – Millar’s Authority? Superheroes who enjoy killing and do it as SOP. The Elite? Superheroes who enjoy killing and do it as SOP. There may be something to be said that Manchester Black sics the Hat on some villains families, but really, it’s not that far a cry.

Also, Superman wins by acting like the Elite not because he has to, but because he is making a point. What he does is knock them out, the way Superman always does, but in such a way that it looks like he did something much worse. The point he is making is that people think Superman is out of date and should start being more hardcore, but Superman acting that way isn’t Superman, and it’s terrifying to those he defends. The world wants heroes like the Elite, bad mammer jammers who don’t take no crap off of no one, but they want Superman there at the same time, to fall back on, to depend on, to stand for something. When it looks like that’s gone, like Superman has decided it’s time to punch through someone’s head because that way he’ll win and they won’t bother him again? When “They saw all the ugliness. The anger… and I bet it frightened them.”

This is a story about who Superman is and why he has to be that way. This is the story I give to people who think Superman is dumb and out of date and a pointless big blue boy scout. I gave it to all of my friends when it came out. I don’t like Mahnke’s art, but this is one of my favorite comics in my collection.

Dude: No big problem, really, it”s just that you still seem to be saying that this story is satirizing a phase/version of the Authority which hadn’t happened yet. I get what you’re saying about how “the Authority after Millar almost became their own parody” but when this came out Millar was still on the book, so I’m not sure how what you’re saying helps this story’s case.
Gary: You just seem to be restating everything said in the main post and some of the comments so far. Did you have something of your own to add?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 10, 2009 at 11:32 pm

No big problem, really, it’’s just that you still seem to be saying that this story is satirizing a phase/version of the Authority which hadn’t happened yet. I get what you’re saying about how “the Authority after Millar almost became their own parody” but when this came out Millar was still on the book, so I’m not sure how what you’re saying helps this story’s case.

I’d say this is a parody of Millar’s Authority as he seemed to miss the balance that Ellis had set up for them, and they did basically act like a bunch of drunken, orgy loving brutes.
Throw in the fact they spent every issue talking about how they were changing everything for superheroes, despite never actually doing that (they took down one dictator, and then spent the run fighting supervillains) and they really do look a lot like The Elite.

For anyone who maintains that Millar did a good job with The Authority, go read his Jenny Sparks mini… utterly terrible.

Jack Norris thinks:
Gary: You just seem to be restating everything said in the main post and some of the comments so far. Did you have something of your own to add?

I have thrown in my 2 cents on the issue of how accurate the Elite is to Millar’s Authority. I feel that they are an accurate representation, or at least, not a severe exaggeration. If we want to include civilian deaths, pull back a bit to include Ellis’ run and I’m pretty sure everyone in Sliding Albion Earth’s Italy would qualify. Several posters seem to feel that early Millar’s Authority was somehow more heroic than the Elite; this is not a statement I agree with, and I have backed that opinion up, including qualifiers regarding degree of exaggeration and examples not yet brought forward to support my opinion.

In 24 posts, I saw no response to T’s statement that Superman defeated the Elite by acting more like them. Did I miss it? If not, I provided it.

I suppose Ricardo hit my last paragraph, but it makes a nice summation paragraph for why I in particular like this book, so I left it in. If I didn’t have other issues I wanted to address, it probably would have been my whole post on this issue.

Funky: I’m not arguing any of that (about Millar clearly losing the balance a bit), but the “Dude” was in fact maintaining that Millar’s run still fell under the umbrella of the Authority’s “good” period (that’s a direct quote from him in that quote from me you used), so it just seemed inconsistent to count this story as a satire of a phase of the book, that, by the Dude’s own reckoning, hadn’t happened yet.

I see it as an exaggerated parody of the Authority, whether it’s by Ellis or Miller. It’s not a direct analogue. Plus, the dialogue from Machester Black (hell, his name as well) – motherless son of a camel tick, poncy twit – just screams “hip British writer who enjoys taking superheroes down a peg or 2″. I thought it worked.

ParodyAuthority

May 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Great comic and the first time i actually liked superman until the end that is. He still doesn’t provide any real answers for REAL problems like dictators,world hunger, corrupt governments, etc. He just says his corny ‘i’ll fight ” line and flies off. Yeah Superman is back..and god do i hate him.

Every time I read this comic book feels like the first time. I never hate but i do dislike Marvel heroes, they’re so cheap, they give people what they want (a baddasss team or hero with the typical cynical phrases and a babe) but doesn’t make people think. I never understand why people will buy a comic about a man saying (in every page in a 24 pages comic book): “i’m so bad… i’m gonna kill you… and i’m gonna like it.” (yeah, i’m overreacting but it’s something like that). This book is great, always remenber to me that there’s still heroes out there in the paper world. Superman will always be there to remind us what a hero (and a comic book one) really means.

It’s one of my favorites. You get to see how Superman responds to something that’s never allowed to happen in other stories: public embarrassment, and valid criticism.

The elite never stood a chance, incidentally. That’s the way I read it. That’s one of the things I like about Superman, even though I know it’s what some people can’t stand: he never has to worry about whether or not he CAN do something, he just has to think through very carefully whether or not he SHOULD. I think that’s a perfectly valid sort of character and story — it worked well for Star Trek a lot of times, too.

Well, I don’t think Ellis’ “The Authority’ is entirely fair to traditional superheroes, but it works as what it is. I don’t think this story is entirely fair to ‘The Authority’ but it also works in its own way. I’m not sure it is aimed so much at the works themselves, but at the fans reaction to them. I think I learned something about Superman by reading Ellis, and I think I learned something about post modern deconstruction of Superman by reading this, so neither is entirely wasted, at the very least.

Also, I love comics that do their very best to stay faithful to previously stated levels of powers, as well as staying faithful to implied powers, but ultimately, it’s mythology, or science fiction, or magical realism; there is real (the real world, were the reader lives) and there is story (everything and anything else). The latter should be judged on its contribution to the former, if you ask me.

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