Review: Superman: Action Comics: The Oz Effect - Deluxe Edition (Rebirth) hardcover (DC Comics)

March 21, 2018

 ·  3 comments

Without knowing what if anything comes after DC Comics's Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock, it would seem that the tentpole major events between DC Universe: Rebirth and Doomsday Clock are just Batman/Flash: The Button and Superman: Action Comics: The Oz Effect (underscored by Button and Oz both receiving deluxe collections with lenticular covers). This puts a lot of weight on those two events to carry DC's latest, ambitious endeavor from redemptive start to controversial finish.

We've already discussed where Button succeeded and failed, a rousing multi-dimensional team-up that ultimately served more to recap than to move Rebirth's story forward in any tangible way. Button had the job more engrained in the Watchmen-tied fabric of Rebirth, explaining away the iconic smiley face button that showed up in the Batcave at the end of the initial special. With Oz Effect, the potential path was more uncertain; many suspected very direct Watchmen ties, but these were by no means guaranteed. Still, the stakes were high -- with Mr. Oz pulling the strings in a variety of DC titles, Oz's identity and plan would be a significant indication whether Rebirth was still on track.

What we find ultimately is that Oz Effect is not much of a Rebirth story -- not, to be sure, as compared to Button. It is a Superman story, and maybe a fair one if it did not have the weight of Rebirth's expectations upon it. But from the team of Dan Jurgens and company, who have in their Rebirth run demonstrated greatness, Oz Effect is immediately not as good as Superman: Action Comics Vol. 4: The New World, and that's a problem. Mr. Oz's identity, after all this time, is a disappointment, and this vaunted, much-hyped story unfolds predictably; that leaves DC at a disadvantage going into Doomsday Clock. Perhaps the only thing that can redeem Oz Effect is if it's mentioned heavily in Clock, which would seem not to be the case given various guarantees that the only prior reading one needs for Clock is Watchmen.

All credit to Jurgens for what could have been the first chapter of an epic Superman story. But given that Jurgens is about to leave Action Comics with the arrival of Brian Michael Bendis, one senses Jurgens won't get to complete what he starts here with Oz Effect, which is worrying both for this Superman saga and also for the Rebirth narrative as a whole. Taken on its own, unfortunately Oz Effect didn't win out of the gate.

[Review contains spoilers]

Oz Effect is at its best in one of its closing chapters, in which Superman breaks Oz's staff and frees him from the mind control (presumably by Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan) that has ruled his actions to this point. With the final touching scenes in which Oz -- apparently Superman's father Jor-El, saved by Manhattan from the destruction of Krypton -- renounces his actions and professes his love for his son, at least Jurgens redeems Jor-El as more than just a one-dimensional cackling villain, which seemed to be the direction Jurgens was heading. Jor-El's turn to good is unfortunately the book's biggest surprise, where Jor-El seeming to have good intentions but really not, seeming to want to help his son but really not, and managing to fool his grandson Jon over to his side all rolled out in otherwise rote fashion.

I'd venture giving his villains a point of view is not Jurgens's strong suit. The bad guys being bad in A New World came off wonderfully, but the alien prophets of Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel who wanted to kill Lex Luthor for the good of the future were equally thin. Jurgens doesn't do enough to make his "good" villains' motivations actually sensible (versus Geoff Johns's Sinestro or Black Adam, for instance) and so there's a lot of dull space where Jurgens seems to mean for us to side with the villain but we actually don't.

Not to mention that, from the moment of Jor-El's revelation, I think we all knew this would end up with a woefully misguided Jon Kent trying to convince his father to listen to "grandpa." Again, things are so starkly black and white here that Jon comes off as nothing more than naive; the reader is neither surprised by Jon's reaction nor by the fact that Superman is able to talk him down, and so we end up with scenes that fill pages without any real sense of suspense. This is the kind of lazy writing I think we all feared with Jon's inception -- at least when Damian Wayne went rogue and sometimes defied his father, there was the danger of a body count.

There is some promise in Jurgens's premise of Superman being confronted with the world going wrong. Whatever your political stripe I think we can all agree it's pretty tense out there, and Jurgens's story addresses fairly directly the zeitgeist of war, violence, prejudice, and so on. There's not much in the way of solutions offered short of Superman going "back to work," though my guess is that would have been only Jurgens's first salvo -- the first part of a multi-part story and not, for example, a one-off like Action Comics #775's "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" We haven't seen all that much of Superman in Geoff Johns's Doomsday Clock so far, but there's a sense at some point Johns will weigh Superman against the state of the world. Again an important question will be how and whether Doomsday Clock references Oz Effect and whether Oz will turn out to be cooperative or simply repetitious.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Superman: Action Comics: The Oz Effect

Obviously Superman: Action Comics: The Oz Effect is a significant book for DC and I had high hopes for it, but what it delivered was so much less than what I wanted. Even, unfortunately, story artist Viktor Bogdanovic's art didn't land for me, being far more cartoonish than I think this story needed (Ryan Sook, who draws the Jor-El origin chapter, would have been a better fit overall). I would assuredly feel less strongly were the stakes for this story less; perhaps we must indeed dismiss Oz Effect as "just" a Superman story and hope that what comes next in the Rebirth saga redeems these missteps.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches, unused covers, plot breakdowns]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Action Comics: The Oz Effect - Deluxe Edition
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 3 )

  1. The 'back to work' sequence was really the only part of this story I felt gripped, it set the emotional ground going into Doomsday Clock very well I thought.

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  2. I think even Bleeding Cool's Roz-Em theory would have been a better answer to the mystery than Jor-El. I can't help wondering if this and "The Button" would have been more satisfying and relevant to Doomsday Clock if Johns were still around to supervise them, and not away working on movies, TV shows and whatnot.

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    Replies
    1. I get the impression the nature of Doomsday Clock changed at some point. I don't know if that affected Mr Oz's identity (i.e. he was originally going to be a Watchmen character), but that would make some sense. It'd also explain why The Button was rather empty as a bridge between Rebirth and Doomsday Clock.

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