By Chad Nevett
Avengers #34.1 is ostensibly about Hyperion, the protagonist of the issue – but it’s actually about Superman. It’s easy to think that this is simply an attempt by writer Al Ewing to expand upon the version of Hyperion introduced in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run and, technically, that is true. However, Hyperion is a Superman analogue and stories about Superman analogues are really about Superman. They present versions of a Superman to critique, mock, show adoration and love for the character. They’re thought exercises presented as stories. “What if Superman was a violent sociopath?” “What if Superman eliminated government?” “What if Superman was a soldier?” “What if Superman was a corporate pawn?”
Some are more interesting than others; some create a lasting character that becomes a legitimate alternative to Superman.
Hyperion began as a basic Superman analogue when Roy Thomas thought it would be fun to have the Avengers fight the Justice League. He was then expanded upon and developed along with the other members of the Squadron Sinister/Supreme for a story about superheroes using their powers to do more than fight crime. And, over the years, he’s gone through many variations. Any time he pops up, it seems that this version is a new one, divorced from any previous incarnations, almost like Hyperion’s world continually suffers massive reboots on a cosmic scale.
This Hyperion is the survivor of a reality destroyed as part of the collapsing multiverse, joining the Avengers. He was raised on an alternate Earth by a scientist to be, as we learn in this issue, a teacher. The code that his adopted father gives him is “Truth without compromise. Thought without error. All things for the betterment of the whole.” This is his “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” (now “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow”) and is a fairly one-to-one translation if you squint properly.
Avengers #34.1 by Ewing, Dale Keown, Norman Lee, Jason Keith and Cory Petit hands Hyperion a fairly generic kidnapping plot and use it to examine the idea of Superman as an inspirational figure, specifically what that would mean if that was his primary goal. Throughout the issue, Hyperion ruminates on what his father taught him and what his father thought that he should be. After small teases, Ewing makes it explicit when Hyperion’s father says:
“Were you really put here just to react? At best, you’d be treatment for a wound that should never have been inflicted. At worst — someone’s revenge fantasy. The biggest bully in the playground. And I don’t think that’s what you are. I think you’re one of the teachers.”
The idea of ‘Superman as teacher’ expands upon his usual inspirational role (nor is it a new approach for a Superman analogue, admittedly) by adding purposeful intention to his actions. Hyperion acts in a manner that isn’t only meant to be emulated, it’s meant to guide and instruct. To impart meaning and knowledge beyond the superficial observation of what he does. It’s a complicated idea which many superhero comics have attempted to convey, and it may be too complicated for a genre rooted in simple action/reaction stories that revolve around the application of violence as an acceptable solution to all problems. Conceptually, Ewing doesn’t have Hyperion do anything different than not use violence to resolve the conflict.
A Superman that solves problems without the use of violence isn’t new for Superman analogues or Superman proper, as Joe Casey, Derec Aucoin, and Charlie Adlard spent a year telling stories where the character was explicitly a pacifist. Moreover, not hitting someone isn’t the same as teaching necessarily. I also don’t think that Hyperion’s lack of violent response is itself the point here.
The crisis at hand in this issue is that Brendan Doyle (aka the Mauler, a low-level supervillain) has kidnapped a young boy that, up until this point, we think was his own son, whom he and the mother gave up for adoption. He’s decided to take the boy back and raise him ‘right.’ When Hyperion confronts Doyle, he considers a violent response that is brutal in its efficiency. He discards it, partly because he has used his abilities to view the DNA of Doyle and the child, and can see that they’re not related. He employs a Socratic method of questioning, allowing Doyle to reveal that the true cause of this was the death of his real son and the feelings of inadequacy that it produced. He had always thought that he was protecting the boy by giving him up and it not working out that way caused a breakdown. With that revelation, the crisis is averted, the boy is returned to his family, and Hyperion is the hero.
But, what is Hyperion’s lesson?
Given the choice between the treatment or the bully, Hyperion opts for the former, despite both those options being a negative in the eyes of his father. Part of the lesson is that, sometimes, you have to react. As much as Hyperion would love to find a way to stop a supervillain from suffering a breakdown and kidnapping a boy he temporarily mistakes for his son, that’s not always possible and action still must be taken to resolve the situation. Sometimes, you need to fix the broken part to help fix the whole.
The manner in which Hyperion treats Doyle is that of a good teacher responding to the in-class antics of a child. He doesn’t lash out and respond with anger, he asks questions, and seeks to understand the root cause of the behaviour to help find a way forward. It won’t always work. I love that the emphasis is placed on a different aspect of what being a teacher is. It’s not just someone who imparts facts and knowledge; it’s someone who, ideally, shows kindness, patience, and understanding. Someone who creates a safe space for children to begin to realise their potential. Yes, there is instruction and there is inspiration, but there’s also love.
That’s a Superman that I can get behind.
Avengers 34.1 “The World In His Hands”
Writers: Al Ewing
Artist: Dale Keown
Inker: Norman Lee
Colourist: Jason Keith
Letterer: Cory Petit
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