Thursday, December 31, 2009
Action #775 was one of the greatest comics ever written, and it did so by establishing a team of villains who had the means and the inclination to bully anyone on the planet around -- a threat that begged for someone to rise up and challenge them. How does a writer make a threat like that work in 2001? In the Thirties, the writer might give the villain whatever pseudoscientific menace came to mind -- a ray beam, say, or mind control powers. It's very hard to be original with villains. Joe Kelly made What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? work on an entirely different level -- he dug into the comic literature of the time and found a real challenge for superheroes -- antiheros. And so, his invention, The Elite, is based on the existing characters The Authority. But instead of competing with the Justice League and their kind at the cash register, and in fans' hearts, The Elite was placed into the DC Universe and became the antagonist facing the representative of all superheroes for all time -- Superman.
In a series of encounters, Superman and The Elite faced brazenly evil opponents in contrasting styles, the contrast keying on whether or not to kill an enemy. This difference of philosophy rapidly escalated into confrontation, with the brilliantly insolent dialogue of The Elite's leader Manchester Black insulting Superman with a passion for antagonism. The action opened when The Elite handled a case in Libya in their own murderous style before Superman got to the scene. Then they were just getting started in Tokyo where their awesome powers dropped Superman from the sky as collateral damage while they massacred another threat. In their third encounter, Superman arrived on the scene first, sparing the lives of alien invaders; when The Elite were about to kill Superman's captives, Superman threw a punch, prompting the challenge of an all-out dual between this Macchiavellian foursome and the Man of Steel.
There are no flying men who can lift mountains. But there is a Superman, and he is a dream, and lifting us up is exactly what he does.