I’ve long agreed with Morrison’s declaration that Superman is “our greatest-ever idea as a human species.” There is no story so awful or change so incongruous that DC can make which will ever permanently pollute the pure Platonic Idea of Superman that has crystalized in our collective conscious or my own personal conception of the character.
Yet that’s not to say that individual writers cannot have their own takes on Superman which, far from “our greatest-ever idea,” are instead just generic superheroes whose stories range from utterly disposable to unliterary drivel. Dan Jurgens’ take on the Man of Tomorrow in Action Comics has so far fallen somewhere along that spectrum, more often towards the former at the very least. And while he’s playing with the mythos in a fun and interesting manner by having separated the characters of Clark Kent and Superman, in other ways he does it a deep disservice, such as in this week’s issue #970.
Action Comics #970 (DC Comics)
The particular problem here is in Superman’s emphasis on sovereignty, skewing his sense of Justice (which, alongside Truth and the American Way, is supposed to be one of the three objects of his never-ending battle). When attempting to extract Luthor, who’d been subjected to extraordinary rendition to the planet Nideesi by the L’Call and Zade of the Remnants, Superman states to Lex, “You’re protected by our laws and justice. I’m here to uphold those rights even more than I’m here to help you.” The right in question, however, is enumerated in the Vicinage Clause of the Sixth Amendment:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed….”
The precedent set forth by Beavers v. Heankel states that where a crime was committed at multiple locations (such as Luthor’s genocide as Darkseid’s successor, the crime with which he was being accused, which was established in a previous issue as taking place on multiple worlds, not merely Earth), then the accused may be tried at any of the locations in question (therefore, the legal rationale which Superman is citing would not imply that Lex had to be tried on Earth). Of course, if sovereignty is the grounds on which Superman wants to make his defense, neither the Sixth Amendment nor the underlying principles would apply. Being in a separate sovereign territory, Luthor would be tried according to their local laws, with the United States making no claim of jurisdiction over its own nationals abroad (as some other countries do).
Moreover, despite extraordinary rendition being condemned by the international community, Superman certainly cannot claim it is not The American Way, with the United States performing more extraordinary renditions than any other country. Were a foreign nation to abduct a prominent individual such as Luther, it would spark an international incident, and the United States would indeed lobby for his release, but the apparatus for securing such would not be the judiciary but the diplomats of the State Department – of whom Superman is certainly not acting as a representative.
Superman’s later line of argumentation in his legal defense at Luther’s trial is certainly more relevant, therefore, than any concerns over sovereignty. It hinged on the premise that possible events cannot be considered admissible evidence (essentially a less eloquent version of Jessica Walter’s speech in Civil War II #0). This is unfortunately dropped without Jurgens giving it the exploration it’s due (Marvel, after all, devoted their entire line-wide event to exploring the ethics of policing future-crime, instead of the few paltry panels here).
The prosecution then introduces new evidence not previously shared with the defense (in this case, a Mother Box found in Luther’s possession), and makes the implausibly large leap of logic that merely possessing this non-contraband item – which Mister Miracle, Orion, and the Forever People also possess – proves his ill intent. On this weak evidence alone, the prosecution rests its case, only for the prosecutor, L’Call, to recuse himself from deliberations, revealing that he was simultaneously to act as Luthor’s jurist as well. It’s then revealed that the rest of the jurors are likewise biased, violating the principle of impartiality codified in the Sixth Amendment, as noted above. Luthor protests the unfairness of the proceedings, and had Jurgen’s Superman truly cared about Justice or the American Way, this is the point at which he’d have abolished the kangaroo court. Instead, he voices his own verdict of “guilty” as well.
While I’ve not particularly been enamored by Jurgen’s run thus far or his portrayal of Superman in it, I do not believe that he miscomprehends the character so much that the last panel is indeed intended to portray Superman’s genuine reaction. Likely, it’s a ploy on the part of the Man of Steel to rescue Luthor per his original purpose for travelling to that planet. But if I’m wrong about such, and Jurgen’s Superman, merely through poor storytelling and worse characterization, is actually actively working against the cause of Justice, then Action Comics will have gone from being merely disposable to outright disdainful.