[15 April 2014]
Good anger management skills are vital in certain fields. Regardless of whether someone has superpowers, the impact of poor anger management skills is the same. Nobody makes rational decisions when they’re angry. In an angry mind, every mental resource is dedicated to putting the perceived source of that anger into horrible pain. Sometimes it’s a telemarketer, sometimes it’s a traffic jam, and sometimes it’s just some random person who says the wrong thing at the wrong time. This is why people who work in fields like technical support, nursing, and sales have to have good anger management skills. It’s also why people who play contact sports can get away with having only mediocre anger management skills. But for Superman, he has to have the best. Since he has the power to throw the Earth into the sun if he has a bad enough day, he has to know how to control his anger.
This ability for a powerful being to control his temper is the main challenge Superman faces in Action Comics #30. For the past few issues, someone has been attacking him on multiple fronts with ghost soldiers. It’s not the strangest way someone has attacked Superman, but it is definitely more effective than most. What better way to attack a man who can kill pretty much anything in any number of ways than to attack him with soldiers that are already dead? These ghost soldiers have attacked Wonder Woman, slaughtered innocent creatures from Subterranea, and put Lana Lang in the crossfire. Just one of those acts would be enough to upset Superman. But doing them all at once is like annoying someone the day after their dog got run over. It’s too much, even for the Man of Steel.
As frustrating as these attacks may be, they are consistent with the most daunting challenges that Superman faces. There are very few threats in the DC Universe that threaten Superman physically. Aside from Doomsday, General Zod, and Darkseid, he can usually punch his way through most major threats. The biggest danger he faces is losing control of his power or having someone else control him. This is what happened during the events of Trinity War. Superman let himself be controlled to a point where he took a life. But controlling Superman’s mind is a task that few have the means to attempt and even fewer have the means to succeed. For most people, it would be like a caveman attempting to hack the NSA. That’s why making Superman angry is a much easier way to make him lose control. And it requires no powerful psychic so anyone who is sufficiently annoying or foolish can do this.
The fool in this instance is Harrow. She commands The Tower, which has been coordinating the attacks on Superman. She also has the most effective non-robot army it’s possible to have. She raises the dead and uses them to do their bidding. And since they’re already dead, they provide a challenge that Superman can’t solve with punching or heat vision. That and they’re not subject to labor laws either.
By all accounts, she has the perfect army and she uses it to frustrate Superman in ways that would test anyone’s anger management skills. Even with all his power and his ideals, Superman still has the capacity to get pissed off. And that’s what gives his struggle in this story meaning. In the same way it’s difficult to find credible threats for Superman, it’s just as difficult to find threats that push him to crossing those lines that he cannot cross. These are lines that characters like Batman, Wolverine, Green Lantern, and Iron man probably cross while sleepwalking. But Superman can’t cross those lines because he’s supposed to be that ideal that everyone is supposed to strive for. And that ideal shouldn’t have anger management issues.
Harrow pushes Superman’s anger management skills to the edge. It’s painfully obvious that Superman wants to just solve this problem with a few punches and some heat vision. That’s probably how most people would solve such a frustrating problem if they had Superman’s power. But he manages to keep himself from crossing that line. He constantly muses on the value of taking a deep breath and counting to ten. It’s one of the most basic anger management skills anyone can learn. Most teenagers learn it when they find out that hormones are a potent fuel for irrational anger. Yet it ends up working for Superman so it must have some merit.
It should mark another victory for Superman. He is able to avoid crossing that line. He can continue to be that ideal that he’s supposed to be. However, Harrow turns this around on him completely and she does so in a way that’s far more reasonable than anything Lex Luthor has attempted. She essentially uses his victory over her dead army to prove that Superman is more a threat to the world than anything she or his enemies can ever conjure. It may sound like the desperate musings of a defeated villain, but it’s not entirely wrong.
By being an ideal and not crossing certain lines, Superman prevents himself from making difficult decisions at times. And no decision is more difficult than one that involves taking a life to save others. It’s a decision that police officers, doctors, and soldiers have to make on a daily basis and they don’t have the luxury of being more powerful than a locomotive. It’s easy for anyone to ask who has the right to determine whether someone lives or dies. But in Superman’s case, he has the power to end a threat before it hurts others. Harrow points out that he could have ended her and her attacks by simply making those hard decisions and living with the consequences. He chose not to. His actions might be ideal on paper, but in practice he basically left a festering wound untreated. He might be able to handle those wounds, but others might not.
This powerful message gives the impression that Superman lost the battle in Action Comics #30. Harrow made her point and while The Tower was destroyed, she proved to Superman that he could have avoided all these infuriating frustrations easily. But he chose not to and only made it worse. It provides a sobering message for Superman and one he’ll have to consider when facing threats like Zod and Doomsday. This issue is billed as a prelude to the upcoming Doom crossover event and in many respects, it provides the perfect context for the challenge that Superman faces. But that’s part of what makes him Superman.