By Jarrod Jones. It has been more than a year since DC Comics kicked off its highly successful Rebirth initiative — and with it, a gigantic mystery in the form of the villainous Mr. Oz.

Action Comics #987 marks the begging of “The Oz Effect”, a five-part saga that promises severe consequences for the entire Superman line. (Writer Dan Jurgens says the conclusion in Action #991 will be, as ominous as this sounds, “final.”) Who is Mr. Oz? Why has he been watching Superman and his family from afar? To what extent has he manipulated Superman’s life? The issue promises to answer at least one of those questions, thank god.

But what’s so fascinating about this installment of Action isn’t just the reveal of Superman’s latest big bad (though that’s pretty fascinating in and of itself), it’s that it takes advantage of its increased profile to hammer home the vital cultural importance of the Man of Steel.

Let’s dive into Action Comics #987. Needless to say, big-time spoilers ahead.

Action Comics #987Action Comics #987

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Dan Jurgens.

Pencils by Viktor Bogdanovic.

Inks by Jonathan Glapion, Jay Leisten, and Victor Bogdanovic.

Colors by Mike Spicer. 

Letters by Rob Leigh.

Ozzy, man. The presence of “Mr. Oz” has cast an ominous pall over Rebirth since even before the initiative began.

Oz first popped up back in the days of the New 52 with Superman #32, a book, it should be mentioned, that was written by Geoff Johns, author of DC’s upcoming Doomsday Clock event. It’s no coincidence that “The Oz Effect” will come to an end on November 8 (with Action #991), just two weeks leading up to the release of Doomsday Clock, where Dr. Manhattan’s place in the DCU and his involvement in the genesis of the New 52 will finally be addressed.

However, with Mr. Oz’s identity now revealed in this issue of Action — and we’ll talk more about the specifics of that in a minute — the villain’s complicity in Dr. Manhattan’s cosmic shenanigans isn’t as cut-and-dry as a lot of folks originally surmised.

The long-held theory of Mr. Oz’s identity posited that the green-cloaked Machiavelli was none other than Adrian Veidt, known in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen as Ozymandias. That would seem to fit into the hyper-secretive agenda of Dr. Manhattan and, presumably, what’s going to happen in Doomsday Clock, but now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, all bets are officially off. If anything, more questions come from his reveal. How much does Mr. Oz know about Dr. Manhattan? Is he involved with Manhattan’s multiversal tampering, and if so, to what extent? And how do the events of “Superman Reborn” fit into all of this? My head… my head!

Interior panel to 'Action Comics' #987. Art by Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion, Jay Liesten, and Mike Spicer/DC Comics

Interior panel to ‘Action Comics’ #987. Art by Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion, Jay Liesten, and Mike Spicer/DC Comics

A Superman for all. Mr. Oz sets his plan into motion to turn the world — which he believes to be a war-torn cesspool of violence and hatred — against itself. Widespread violence, terrorism, and racial disputes break out across the globe at once. Perhaps most distressingly, war breaks out in Logamba, a country where Superman had just left after delivering vaccines to the people in need. It’s madness.

Viktor Bogdanovic heightens the dread by rendering threatening shapes and shadows around nearly every panel during the issue’s more frightening moments. (He’s teamed with inkers Jay Leisten and Jonathan Glapion, the latter of whom gives Bogdanovic’s pencils a Capullo-esque musculature.) A sense of foreboding is punctuated by Mike Spicers colors: when Oz executes his master plan, Spicer paints Metropolis under charcoal-choked clouds. It’s a spooky thing to behold.

Even the lenticular cover by Nick Bradshaw and Brad Anderson, which reveals a macabre Dantean perversion of the S-symbol, portends colossal and evil things on the horizon.

Oz’s legions of followers, spotted throughout the issue with the stylized “Oz” brand tattooed in their flesh, begin to wreak all sorts of havoc. Superman streaks across the sky to intervene — in some instances he saves the day, in others he comes up short. That the world is tottering into hell bewilders our Man of Steel as much as it frightens him. “Something darker is at work here,” Superman tells himself. It’s here that writer Dan Jurgens swoops in and puts some societal relevance into the issue. “As though anger and ignorance have boiled over all at once. Where people can’t look past their own selfishness… and the common good is a foreign concept.

Earlier in the book Superman stops a mass shooting of Latinos and Muslims perpetrated by a disgruntled white man, crushing the weapon in his hands and providing the would-be killer with these words: “The only person responsible for the blackness smothering your soul — is you.” If this feels a bit on-the-nose that’s because it’s supposed to be; the sequence illustrates the very essence of the hero with an unquestionable clarity. Superman has always been a champion for the downtrodden, regardless of their religion, race, or country of origin. Don’t forget: Superman’s not exactly from around here, either.

(Graeme McMillan goes deeper into the societal implications of this in his thoughtful write-up over at The Hollywood Reporter‘s Heat Vision blog. You should definitely give it a read.)

Interior panel to 'Action Comics' #987. Art by Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion, Jay Liesten, and Mike Spicer/DC Comics

Interior panel to ‘Action Comics’ #987. Art by Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion, Jay Liesten, and Mike Spicer/DC Comics

Daddy issues. I have heard plenty of theories as to who Mr. Oz would ultimately turn out to be — my favorite theory being he was the pre-Flashpoint Lex Luthor — but none of them, not a damn one of them, actually nailed it. Here’s a twist I never thought I’d see coming: Mr. Oz is Jor-El, Superman’s presumably very dead biological father. What does this mean for the Superman books? The implications are pretty severe.

For one, this may be a very bold bait-and-switch. (I’ve heard from sources inside DC that this is not the case, though the main story beats for Doomsday Clock are being kept under lock and key, even among those working on the books it will most affect.) If this Jor-El turns out to be a fraud, that means he’s gone out of his way to utterly disrupt Superman’s life in the most profound way possible: by throwing his entire reason for being into question. (“Had I known this place was such a cesspool, I would have sent you someplace better,” Oz says.) How will Superman react to such a desecration of this father’s memory?

On the other hand, this could be 100% genuine. Jor-El surviving the cataclysm of Krypton seems unlikely, until you get a glimpse at the next issue of Action‘s lenticular cover.  Here it shows Jor-El caught in a beam of ominous blue light, just as his son rockets into the cosmos and his wife dies before his very eyes. It seems we should infer Dr. Manhattan’s involvement here, which draws the hidden agenda of Mr. Oz closer to that of DC’s Doomsday Clock. Does this also mean that Manhattan has a stake in the continued existential plight of Superman?

So many questions. But it’s comforting that this entire saga has been executed with the same thoughtfulness and reverence as the rest of the Rebirth initiative. Action Comics #987 strikes out in bold and, at times, scary places, but it also stays on message.

For the most part, Superman comics have often dwelled on themes of peace and acceptance. It’s kind of Superman’s thing. But these days it’s become more important than ever to remind people that the entire concept of Superman’s never-ending battle for truth and justice is about as inclusive as these things get. Superman will protect anyone who comes into harm’s way.

A Superman comic that takes the time to reflect the precarious nature of our own world isn’t necessarily exceptional — again, this is Superman we’re talking about here — but that something like this would take place at the beginning of one of DC’s most anticipated events of the year — that’s something worth commending.

8.5 out of 10

Have you read the first part of “The Oz Effect”? Who did you think Mr. Oz was going to be? Sound off in the comments below.

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