Two weeks after Dan Jurgens and Victor Bogdanovic’s Action Comics #987 introduced a shocking new villain for Superman, this week’s #988 gave fans a sense of history and backstory to Mr. Oz, and explained how he got his scars, how he got to Earth, and what has made him so profoundly jaded about humanity..
Spoilers ahead for recent issues of Action Comics.
At the end of Action Comics #987, the enigmatic Mr. Oz — a cloaked figure who had been mysteriously skulking around the periphery of the Superman titles for years — revealed himself to Superman as Jor-El of Krypton.
Superman’s father — if that is indeed who he is, a mystery Superman will apparently recruit Booster Gold to help him solve — wants Kal-El to leave Earth behind, claiming that humanity is beyond salvation. He bases this on his life experiences on Earth since the destruction of Krypton, but most especially on a brief period decades ago, when he arrived in the Middle East around the same time Superman came to Kansas.
Jor-El was brought to a lawless city ruled by a tyrant, where residents were compelled to provide food and other comforts to local soldiers. He appeared, his skin color marking him as an outsider and his language unfamiliar to the locals, but a family decided to take him in anyway and care for injuries he sustained during Krypton’s explosion, including shards of Kryptonite in his eye and face.
When one member of the family, fearful of the warlord’s wrath, suggests that they should turn the stranger over to the authorities, another rebuts the argument by saying “So that butcher can torture him, hold him for ransom, or simply kill him? No. It is righteous to help the wayfarer.”
That last phrase likely was inspired by a passage from the Quran that bears similarity to the Christian Beatitudes, imploring followers to be kind to the less fortunate. There are numerous translations of the passage, and you can go deeper into the meaning here, but for the purposes of Jurgens’ comic, it illustrated simply that Jor-El’s salvation came from a man who drew from his faith the inspiration to do good in the world around him.
This would be an important dichotomy later, when the comic’s darkest moment took place and Superman’s response — “oh God” — prompted his biological father to tell him that God had nothing to do with what happened.
That man — and Jor-El — would later be betrayed by a member of his own family, who turned Jor-El over to the warlord and was forced to gun down his own family for harboring the stranger. It was this moment — when a corrupt person in power ignored an what they not only knew but had been told was right on a fundamental level — that broke Jor-El’s faith in humanity and drove him to kill some of the warlord’s men with his newfound heat vision.
Superman’s hope and optimism in opposition to the despair and cynicism of Watchmen is the premise to Geoff Johns and Gray Frank’s forthcoming Doomsday Clock miniseries. Rather than a cosmic realignment of DC’s multiverse or some other abstract high concept, the notion of building a major comic book event series around a conflict of values and issues of ethics is a surprising and interesting one.
Those themes and that approach seem to be heavily informing Jurgens’s approach to “The Oz Effect,” in which Jor-El wants to convince Superman that mankind “doesn’t deserve” his help.
You can get Action Comics #988 at your local comic shop or digltally on ComiXology.