By Andy Frisk
February 4, 2010 - 13:01
Kal-El succeeds in uncovering the traitor who’s been working with General Lane to assassinate Kryptonian leaders. Kal-El also succeeds in his mission on New Krypton, which is to make a difference…
“I can’t see the difference I’ve made,” states Kal-El to General Zod in the final pages of Superman WONK. “You were just instrumental in changing the foundation of our society. If that does not satisfy you, your ego is even larger than mine, El,” responds Zod. The exchange is extremely telling and sums up the entire series thematically. Kal came to New Krypton in order to exert a positive influence on his people and in essence bring “change” to the planet’s society. From the beginning he labored for and demonstrated how Kryptonian goals could be accomplished in a more peaceful and all inclusive manner. He positively affected the Military Guild, was a steadying and calming influence on his Aunt Alura (New Krypton’s leader), ferreted out New Krypton’s highest ranking traitor, and accomplished the goal of persuading (through his actions) New Krypton’s Councilors to grant the Labor Guild a seat on The Council (they were not represented on The Council at any time in New Krypton or Old Krypton’s past). Truly, Kal-El has “changed New Krypton for the better,” in Zod’s words.
Kal is still dejected though. He doesn’t feel like he’s affected any change. He can’t understand how one of their own could betray them all, “I had wanted my people to be better than that,” he says. Zod replies with “That was perhaps naïve of you.” For once Zod is right (and actually he is right a good deal of the time in the final issue of the series). Kal is naïve. He really expected more of his people, but what he failed to see is that one cannot view “the people” necessarily as a whole that can be changed all at once or that completely lives up to its ideals constantly. If one wants to affect change and adhere to the best ideals of a society then the battle must be won in the hearts and minds of individuals. A society is always going to have its diversity of thought. There will be left wing elements, right wing elements, and centrists. There will independents that will be swayed by either side. There will be true patriots (like Kal, who advances progress and beneficial change for the future while keeping and eye on the villains), and traitors (like the high ranking Kryptonian official who sides with the extremist General Lane). Surprisingly, it is Zod who is perhaps the most swayed by Kal’s progressive push, at least as far as we can tell…
Zod has gone from a right wing militant, who’s only goal was militaristic domination, to a centrist who readily admits he has a huge ego, and with his hand on Kal’s shoulder, tells him that he has changed New Krypton for the better. Perhaps it might be a little too strongly worded to call Zod a “right winger” or new “centrist,” but the change in him is obvious. Upon closer inspection though, from the beginning Zod has argued that he has always and only wanted what’s best for New Krypton and its people. He has welcomed Kal into his guild, and even left Kal in charge when he was incapacitated. He ends up stripping the dangerous and war-mongering Commander Gor of his rank in the New Kryptonian Military Guild. Finally, he reassures Kal that he has had a positive influence and supports him. Perhaps Zod isn’t as evil as thought, but represents the flip side of Kal’s idealism. Zod is the realist.
This series’ ideas and themes boil down to its last few pages’ events. Kal and Zod, the idealist and the realist, the “good” and the “bad,” come together idealistically. Well, Zod comes to Kal more than Kal comes to Zod, but they come together nevertheless. Both sides, the “left” and the “right” of Kryptonian society come together to face what is going to prove to be a real evil: the morally bereft intelligences of Brainiac and Luthor.
Herein is the theme that writers Rucka and Robinson have been presenting, and it mirrors the political world (at least that of The United States’ political world) of ideological war between the right and the left. The incessant belligerent actions and attitudes of the radical fringes on both sides toward one another end up, sadly but very truthfully, accomplishing nothing (especially in light of the right’s increasingly separatist, extremist, and dangerous rhetoric). What Rucka and Robinson are showing us is that extremism on either side is detrimental to the good of the populace, and more importantly, that extremism on either side of the political leadership is extremely detrimental to the good of the populace. If Zod can meet Kal halfway for the good of the people then the far right can meet the left and center halfway without engaging in dangerous and fascistic talk. Even more poignantly, Rucka and Robinson show that at his core, Zod truly does have the good of the populace at heart, and he only needs to see that Kal does as well in order for them to find common ground to stand on in order to work together.
It is this overall theme that made Superman: WONK such a great, relevant, and important read in the genre of mainstream superhero comics. A comic book series isn’t solely defined by its theme though, and just like a novel cannot be judged by its theme alone and has to be well written, a comic book series has to be well drawn. Superman: WONK has been extremely well drawn. Frank and Anderson’s covers have been spectacular. Each cover has represented well the individual theme and idea of each issue, oftentimes and sadly not always the case with a series (Justice League: Cry for Justice anyone?). The interior art by Woods and Randall has been simply spectacular as well in its solid anatomical work, its attention to background detail, and especially in its creativity and ingenuity. Woods and Randall faced the challenge of bringing to life a new world full of new technology, wildlife, attire, and architecture. What they created will define the look of Kryptonian society and tech for years to come, much like Johns and Frank’s work on Superman: Secret Origin will define Superman’s origin for years to come. The artwork was flawless and perfectly suited for a sci-fi tale such as this.
It seems that political themes that comment on the state of political and ideological conflict in the real world are all the rage these days at Marvel and DC Comics. This is a great trend which really brings a sense of relevance and maturity to many of their titles. Purely escapist and fun books definitely have their place, but for those of us looking for intellectual stimulation, there honestly hasn’t been a better time to be reading mainstream comics. What DC Comics and Superman: WONK have done better than Marvel Comics, at least currently, is craft an engaging tale that is much more subtle and therefore much more powerful artistically. Superman WONK definitely had a progressive theme, but it wasn’t comically over the top as Marvel Comics’ Siege has proven to have been. Dark Reign, while having an important theme and message, has been quite transparent. The Green Goblin as the head of a fascist, extra-governmental Gestapo isn’t subtle at all, even if it’s poignant. General Zod, one of the most legendary, evil, and fascistic villains in all of comics being portrayed in a much more ambiguous light, having the good of the populace at heart, and capable of progressive thought, well that’s subversive subtlety in art at its finest.