Action Comics (1938 Series) #775
Title: What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?
Writer: Joe Kelly
Pencils: Doug Mahnke & Lee Bermejo
Inks: Tom Nguyen, Dexter Vines, Jim Royal, Jose Marzan, Wade Von Grawbadger, Wayne Faucher
Colors: Rob Schwager
Cover Art: Tim Bradstreet
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
With the new DC animated film Superman Vs. the Elite coming out today, I thought I would go back and reread the comic book that inspired it. This 2001 story by Joe Kelly was one that I remembered really enjoying when it was first released. Now, over ten years later, does it still hold up?
Hell, it’s more relevant than ever.
In “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” Superman is shocked when a new group of metahumans arrives on the scene. The Elite, led by Manchester Black, is a quartet of extremely powerful individuals who hand out their own form of brutal, murderous justice to criminals, often with no concern about civilian casualties or collateral damage. Public opinion of the group, remarkably, begins to rise, and Superman is suddenly faced with the question of his own relevancy.
This book was written as a response of sort to the growing popularity of comics like Wildstorm’s The Authority, itself a book initially conceived as the Justice League taken to brutal extremes. Then, like now, people questioned whether Superman could fit or belong in a darker, harder world. The thing that Joe Kelly did so perfectly in 38 short pages was show just why it was vital that a character like Superman refuse to cross the line the Elite trod upon. The final sequence of the story, the showdown between Superman and the Elite, is one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching sequences I’ve ever seen in a DC Universe comic book, but it isn’t gratuitous or shallow. It makes the point, it reminds us who Superman really is and why he’s important, and why characters like Black and the Elite are, ultimately, taking the easy way out.
The artwork here isn’t bad, with two strong pencillers and a tag team of talented inkers, but it does lack a bit of consistency, shunting from one style to another with more frequency than one would want. It tells the story well, though, and that story is strong enough that any glitches moving from one art style to the next can be easily forgiven.
If you’ve never read this comic before, it is currently available from the Comixology store (and if you’re reading this review on the date it’s published, it’s currently part of a 99-cent Superman Vs. the Elite sale). It’s well worth checking out before you watch the movie. It’s truly one of my picks for the greatest Superman stories of all time.