Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Action Comics #893 review

If anyone had told me years ago that Superman's Action Comics would one day be a split title shared by Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen, I'd have laughed.

But it's happened, and I do laugh. But not at the notion, at the results. For the two strips in this issue are among the funniest DC offerings in memory, while still delivering drama.

The Luthor strip has the biggest dollop of drama; here the humour is often black, as everyone's favourite bald super scientist matches wits with everyone's favourite super-gorilla. Yes, it's Flash rogue Grodd, and he's brought, let's say, a rather unusual weapon. I can't remember the last time he introduced himself as Super-Gorilla Grodd, as he does here - with a name like that it's a wonder he doesn't show up in the Superman books more often.

Grodd has force of mind powers and super-strength to back up his massive intellect. Lex just has his brilliant mind. Operative word, 'just'. Because Luthor's had time for forward planning prior to his sortie to Uganda in search of Black Lantern energy, stacking the odds in his favour.

Writer Paul Cornell gives us a remarkable Grodd. This is no beastly buffoon with ideas about his station, it's a terrifyingly cruel carnivore with a knack for getting into opponents' heads (in more ways than one, it transpires). I enjoyed the presentation of the Flash's simian nemesis so much that I may just start a campaign for a Cornell-written Grodd to take over the Flash's book.

Cold and cunning as Grodd is here, he's at least matched by Luthor, who can be hilarious one moment, chilling the next. It's difficult to say who's more inhumane, Grodd or a Luthor who shows more affection for his Lois Lane android than his loyal (God knows why) employees.

Still, there's a moment this issue which points towards the robotic reporter eventually turning on her 21st-century Pygmalion. And that may be for the best, as the idea of Lex having a Lois-shaped mechanical sex toy is somewhat stomach churning ... I like the idea of finding new sides to Luthor, but this is a tad too kinky (OK, it's not as weird as the Silver Age Supergirl's thing for a horse, but still ...).

The ending is a cracker - even though DC's publicity machine had pointed towards that final page, it's nevertheless a joy when we get there. Action Comics #894 is going to be memorable.

And if Sean Chen and Wayne Faucher are back for a second month as guest artists, I'll not complain. They do a splendid job of stepping into Pete Woods' shoes this time, with roomy renderings of the jungle and spiffy character work. (I'm especially glad they never got the memo about Luthor having mislaid his eyebrows.) And the final page guest star looks as enchanting as she ever has, which will please her legion of fans.

David Finch's cover is a decent image, too, though it's a shame Grodd's tool isn't apparent due to the necessary logo placement

Jimmy Olsen's first chapter in Action Comics is a delight from start to finish. Writer Nick Spencer plugs it right into the meanderings of the ginger journo's pal in Superman. We remain in Metropolis with a Jimmy who has, to some extent, lost his mojo. After all the years of seeing himself mostly as Superman's pal, he's in a pathetic place at the start of Jimmy Olsen's Big Week. He's sitting around in his shorts playing video games, with too much front to admit he might be upset at being dumped by girlfriend Chloe Sullivan.

And soon he's on the town, having been dragged out by chums Kev and Rory, where he bumps into his nemesis, rising Lexcorp star Sebastien Mallory, with Chloe on his arm. Not that she's so shallow as to date someone else ten minutes after breaking up with Jim - the reporter is spending a week with him for a profile. Well, there's nothing to yank our boy Jim from a funk like a challenge, and he's soon throwing down a gauntlet to Sebastien: 'My week is gonna be way bigger than yours.'

Given the size of the threat to Metropolis on the final page, Jimmy's going to have his work cut out. And I can't wait to see what happens.

In just ten pages, Spencer and artist RB Silva hit a home run. First off, they give us a spot-on Jimmy - cocky but not arrogant, ingenious but underachieving - that shows why he's remained among the most famous supporting characters in comics. When properly characterised, he's unique, adding value to any story he appears in.

Then they introduce Chloe from the Smallville TV show into the comics universe with ease. So what if we've never heard of her previously, Jimmy's had so little panel time over the last few years that he's had plenty of opportunities for the odd fling. Here Chloe reminds me of his Silver Age girlfriend, Lucy Lane, whose role was to be ever pissed-off, ever dumping Jimmy. I'm sure Chloe will gain a few more facets as we get to know her, though.

The set-up of Jimmy's initial serial looks set to make for some fun comics - considering just how huge Day One's challenge is, you wonder how much bigger can things get?

And the dialogue and narration is wonderfully sharp, with Jimmy, for example, describing Lexcorp as 'a company best known for failed villainy and premature hair loss'. The gags shine a spotlight on his character, demonstrating his wit and worldview. Mind, there's one word that's obviously too hip for me, despite my having watched lots of films starring John, Joan and Ann Cusack - what's 'cusacking'? Context indicates 'being a downer' but I need to know why.

Silva's artwork - inked by Dym and coloured by Dave McCaig - sells the script from panel one right through to the final splash, with Jimmy and his pals and gals never looking less than engaging. His Chloe design evokes actress Alison Mack without, I assume, requiring DC to pay a licensing fee for her facial likeness ... which means she looks a lot like Lucy Lane!

Cute touches include a magic lamp-shaped sound effect as Jimmy outwits a genie, and the classic device of little rays around Jim's head to indicate surprise or alarm. I also like that in the DCU, the Superman logo isn't the Superman logo, if a video game is any indication. The pages are breezily designed, a perfect match for Spencer's script. My only quibble is the lack of freckles on Jimmy - aside from the red-hair and bow tie, they're his most iconic feature, yet they barely appear. Without them, Jimmy looks naked.

And there you have it - Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, a Lois Lane android, Gorilla Grodd, Chloe Sullivan, stories full of twists, turns and marvellous character moments, art that dances before the eyes ...

... Superman who?

6 comments:

  1. I've always dug Sean Chen's art, and I wonder why he doesn't get a regular gig. Too slow maybe? Or does he have a regular gig and I just don't know about it?

    This Luthor making it with an android isn't so bad, since this version used to also have Matrix/Supergirl who was basically a protoplasmic mass.

    The Finch cover is just another reminder that David Finch is guess has pedophobia. Its like he hates to draw feet.

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  2. Cusacking might be derived from High Fidelity, which features a lot of monologuing about ex-girlfriends, which is pretty much what Jimmy has been doing in that scene. But no, I'd never heard it before, either. I'm guessing Spencer coined it himself.

    Either that or Jimmy has just cone back to his class reunion to kill someone.

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  3. Travis, you could be right about David Finch ... didn't Rob Liefeld have that condition?

    I like Sean Chen too, wasn't he also drawing Lex, Grodd and jungles when we last saw him, in Salvation Run? That must be it - he's stuck in the jungle.

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  4. Rob, that makes perfect sense, cheers! Cusacking indeed.

    Ever see Cusack in Serendipity and Identity? I liked those fillums.

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  5. You think maybe Hank Pym gave Lex some pointers on how to treat an android?

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