Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Superman kills

Action Comics #19 (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) is weird for a few reasons. First of all, the super-intelligent Ultra (as they're still calling him) isn't so smart. He's revived a medieval plague in an attempt to destroy humanity and start his own race, but decides not to eliminate the one threat to his plan: a scientist named Travers who's working on a cure. Ultra knows that Travers is getting close, but rather than kill the scientist before he succeeds, Ultra chooses to simply monitor him until Travers actually has a cure. I thought that maybe Ultra planned to use the cure as part of his own plan, but there's no evidence of that in the story and there's not a logical reason for it in the first place.

Another weird thing is the reaction of the scientific community to Travers' research. The "purple plague" has already killed hundreds of Metropolitans and the medical world is "mystified" (according to a newspaper headline), but without even inspecting his research they automatically assume that the one person close to a potential cure is a "sensation-seeking opportunist."

Unfortunately, they're right that Travers hasn't quite got to the cure yet, but when his tests fail, they blackball him, even to the point of a chemical company's refusing to sell him supplies. Which leads to the third weird thing:

Superman, who's been encouraging and supporting Travers the whole time, breaks into the chemical company and steals the supplies Travers needs. He doesn't even pull the classic, leave-the-money-on-the-counter trick. He just straight up takes them and dares a guard to stop him.

That's not the last morally questionable action Superman takes in the issue either.

In his final confrontation with Ultra, the mad scientist shoots some kind of weapon at Superman. There's no explanation for what the gun does or whether it would affect Superman at all, but let's assume it could actually harm him somehow. Rather than simply dodge out of its way, he grabs Ultra and pulls the man into the blast, killing him.

Or at least Superman believes it's killed him. It's probably not a huge spoiler to suggest that Ultra may have survived, but Superman mistakenly declares him dead. Clearly he meant to murder the villain, though (as we find out in the very next issue) Siegel and Shuster didn't.

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