I’m fed up with Action Comics insulting my intelligence, treating me like I’m an idiot.
In my review of the previous issue, I explored the metaphysical and ethical errors in executing an individual for crimes he’d not yet committed, as per L’Call the Godslayer’s attempted assassination of Lex Luther and Clark Kent’s commendation of killing the would-be-dictator. Here I intend to examine the most egregious failing in L’Call and Clark’s philosophy: its lack of logic.
Action Comics #969 (DC Comics)
That the Godslayer’s plan proved unethical is – from a storytelling perspective – hardly problematic. After all, one would expect the villain in a tale to possess a broken moral compass, both to serve as a source of the conflict and to contrast with the hero’s exemplary attitude and actions. That his scheme seemingly hinged on an oversight regarding the topology of time as currently understood by quantum physicist and philosophers is only slightly less acceptable. On the one hand, Alan Moore in Watchmen #4, J. Michael Straczynski in his Dr. Manhattan mini-series, and Grant Morrison in Multiversity: Pax Americana all demonstrated that comic creators could comprehend the claims being put forth by the experts and craft compelling narratives that incorporated those ideas accordingly. On the other hand, artistry should not be sacrificed for accuracy, especially in the soft science-fiction of superhero comics; Marvel’s merry mutants have a proud tradition of time-travel tales (Days of Future Past, Here Comes Tomorrow, Avenge the Earth) that hardly hold up upon close scrutiny, yet rarely fail to in terms of sheer fun. Were Action Comics current’ arc equally entertaining, there’d be little cause for complaint. Clearly such is not the case.
Thus, instead of heaping praise upon any awesome action scenes or carefully-crafted character moments or intimate drama – all of which are absent here – I’m instead left to analyze the flaws in Zane and L’Call’s logic. Its absence absolutely is a problem. Even insane antagonists such as Joker act according to a twisted logic, never merely illogically – except when poorly written, as are the Remnants here. Though not formally laid out, their argument for executing Lex Luthor amounts to such:
Premise 1) Justice demands satisfaction (page 18: “Justice demands that you pay for what you’ll do!”)
P2) The satisfaction for capital crimes (e.g. genocide) is capital punishment (unstated but implied)
P3) If it is inevitable that a capital crime will be committed in the future, it is just to enact capital punishment in the present
P4) If it is possible to prevent a genocide from occurring, then it ought to be prevented from occurring
P5) Lex Luthor’s capital crime of genocide is inevitable (page 6: “Your crimes of genocide are clear… I have seen your future and it is ensured.”)
P6) Lex Luthor’s capital crime of genocide is preventable (page 7: “His future of widespread death and destruction is averted” [not referring to Lex per se, though it is by way of example])
Conclusion) Lex Luthor deserves to die for the genocide he will inevitably commit, and moreover he should be killed since doing so will prevent that genocide from taking place
The argument here is neither sound nor valid. The premises upon which it stands are not compatible with one another, because of which a coherent conclusion is not possible. It cannot be the case that both the fifth and sixth premises are simultaneously true. If Lex’s future as a Darkseid-like despot, scourge to countless worlds, is in fact inevitable, by definition it cannot be prevented. On the other hand, if his tyrannical reign is preventable, by definition it cannot be inevitable. Stated another way, if the Godslayer’s vision is of the actual future and not merely a possible future, then executing Luthor in the present will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the holocaust yet to happen. Whether Luthor rises from the grave or the paradox is resolved in some other way, the effect will be the same regardless of whether L’Call executes him or not. Alternatively, if the Godslayer’s vision is of a merely possible future and not the actual future, Luther’s protests that he is presently innocent of such crimes are absolutely valid, and L’Call would be in the wrong to execute him, as Lex would possibly never go on to commit genocide for all anyone really knew, visions or not.
This illogical premise of preventing an unpreventable future is the same predicated in Marvel’s widely panned Civil War II currently, somehow implemented even more poorly here in the pages of Action Comics. The only saving grace Action has over Civil War is that it never flirts with the notion that such pre-crime policing has any validity, as Marvel is attempting to suggest through the character of Carol Danvers (who, whether the House of Ideas calls her such or not, is at this point just a straight-up supervillain, no better than L’Call).
That, and the fact that Superman never wavers for a moment from what is right. Last issue left off with Clark Kent declaring “Lex Luthor must die.” This issue ends mere moments later with Superman stating, “I have to save Lex Luthor.” Philosophers like myself may muse for hours on the ethics and metaphysical and logic of L’Call’s argument for killing. But faster than a speeding bullet, Superman knows what’s right. As Mark Waid said of him in the seminal Kingdom Come: “Of all the things [Superman] can do, of all his powers, the greatest has always been his instinctive knowledge of right and wrong… He never has to question any of his choices. In any situation, any crisis, he knows what to do.”
That holds true of the character even in illogical issues, awful arcs, or altogether terrible runs, and it’s the reason way, despite so many otherwise mediocre stories like “Men of Steel,” I’ve always been and always will be a faithful fan of the character.