Unexpectedly moving. That's what I found myself, somewhat surprisingly, thinking after I finished the conclusion of Chuck Austen's Superman: In the Name of Gog -- unexpectedly moving. Granted, the jury's still out as to whether the conclusion was written by Austen at all, or J. D. Finn (whom Austen recently denied being), but if you take the trade simply as a sum of its parts, it actually works quite nicely -- suprisingly nicely. That's not to say there aren't some hiccups, including a largely unnecessary Lois/Lana dust-up, but the conclusion of the trade gets to the heart of what it means to be Superman in a way ... I just wasn't expecting.
In the aftermath of Lois's shooting in Superman: Unconventional Warfare, Superman rushes to his wife's aid. But while Lois recuperates during Thanksgiving in Smallville, the Kandorian villain Preus builds an army of white supremacists in the desert, Doomsday makes his way to Metropolis, and Gog sends a mutated villain to the Kent farm. Superman is weakened by a Kryptonite injection during Superman: The Wrath of Gog, but he still manages to defeat Preus and free Jimmy Olsen and the Martian Manhunter; seeking a cure for his condition, Superman ventures to Metropolis, where he's confronted by both a time-travelling army of Gogs -- before Doomsday comes to his aid. Gog is triumphant, torturing Superman for a millenia, before Superman's unwillingness to sacrifice innocents to save his own murdered family causes Gog to recognize the pain he's caused. A reformed Gog, and a reformed Doomsday, return Superman to his own time and undo the damage, warning him of the impending Infinite Crisis before they depart.
Clearer, perhaps, than even Action Comics #775, the conclusion of In the Name of Gog demonstrates why Superman is the world's greatest super-hero, bar none. An aged Gog tortures Superman for hundreds of years, offering Superman first the option to go back in time to save his murdered family at the cost of the destruction of Metropolis, and then later, even offers Superman the opportunity to murder an infant Gog in order to save his family. Every time, Superman refuses. In fact, Superman refuses so long, and so steadfastly, that solely by virtue of his unwavering conviction never to sacrifice an innocent life, Superman convinces Gog of the error of his ways. It is amazingly powerful, and even though gigantic punches are thrown throughout this trade, Superman ultimately defeats the bad guy only with the power of his own character. This is Superman, the Superman of Joe Kelly's Action Comics #783 who gave Major Disaster a chance, too, again by virtue of the power of his own character. This is a Superman who is so good that you just can't help becoming good in his presence. Chuck Austen's been the butt of a lot of ridicule in comics, but whomever wrote the end of this trade, In the Name of Gog shouldn't be discounted because it has Austen's name on it. It features Superman written at his finest.
At the same time, In the Name of Gog features Lois Lane and Lana Lang written at their silliest. In completely ignoring established comics continuity (where Lois and Lana are friends), Austen pits the two women against each other, making neither especially likeable (Lois comes out only a little ahead, in that at least she's not pining after someone else's husband). It's obvious here that Austen, admittedly, doesn't get Lois, and uses this situation to try to understand her himself; unfortunately, he never quite succeeds, making the Lois/Lana battle feel mostly just like petty bickering.
On one hand, Austen's contention that Lois fell in love with Superman but settled for Clark is false, as the Jurgens-era comics showed Lois falling for Clark; Ma Kent's contention, however, that Lois isn't always there for her husband does ring true, if only because writers who aren't sure what to do with Lois have often pulled her from the picture. Greg Rucka's Lois isn't my favorite, either; frankly, I'm looking forward to reading Gail Simone's Action Comics trade, where her work on Birds of Prey gives me faith that Lois and Clark's relationship will be done right; the Lois/Lana fight in Gog is best skipped for better parts of the trade.
Yet Another Comics Blog took one of the issues in this trade to task a little while ago because nothing happened in the issue, or, perhaps, too much happened. Indeed, Superman: In the Name of Gog with a lot of villains and a lot of sub-plots, and it probably is best read as a trade. But one can tell that Chuck Austen had plans that never came to fruition -- there's a interesting Creeper bit that just dies off, and we never do find out why it is Superman doesn't remember Gog, who he's met before. Again, these are points that have to be ignored. This trade is not perfect, but it's imminently readable, and probably moreso than people expect.
[Contains full covers, "The Story Thus Far ..." pages]
Continuing with Superman, I'm on to That Healing Touch now. And then to Green Lantern and Adam Strange, and soon to the Countdown miniseries. Slowly but surely ...