Action Comics #894 review

Lex Luthor is used to getting what he wants. But what happens when you meet someone over whom you have no power, someone you can't threaten, someone who wants nothing from you? Someone who's not really someone at all, but a concept - Death.

That's the fix Lex finds himself in this month, as his quest for Black Lantern power is derailed by the small matter of his being dead. Death of the Endless, from Vertigo's Sandman comic, appears at his side and he bids to persuade her to return him to life. Death is more interested in having a chat, working out what makes Lex tick and helping him on a journey. At one stage, she asks Lex if he'd like a Paradise, either for him personally, or for everyone, but he's not having that, positing that he'd spend forever looking for the catch - a fine piece of character building.

Lex just doesn't trust folk, you see, even someone who, logically, has no reason to to screw him over - Death holds all the cards. But Lex's ego is bigger than Death.

For the past few months writer Paul Cornell has been giving us the best look at Lex Luthor's personality since the late Bronze Age, when Superman's arch enemy discovered love, and loss. This issue shows again what a complicated fellow Lex is, as he stubbornly tries to outwit a being who tells gods when to shuffle off stage.

Death herself is on splendid form; Sandman devotees need have no fears that a story set in the DC Universe won't do justice to the beloved character created by Neil Gaiman. For one thing, Gaiman has had input into part five of 'The Black Ring'. For another, Paul Cornell is a terrific comics writer and novelist in his own right, not one to play in someone else's backyard unless he knows he won't break the toys (he'd certainly avoid a cliched metaphor like that). Death's devastating logic and sly sense of humour are intact, along with her curiosity about, and soft spot for, humanity.

The end of this issue sets up next month's confrontation with immortal villain Vandal Savage, via a tarot card recalling a position Lex found himself in at the start of this storyline. That'll make two cannibal foes in three issues for Lex - gulp.

Artistic partner Pete Woods draws a lovely Death, immediately recognisable as the sweet Goth girl whose airy expressions belie her steely focus. And Woods continues to redefine Lex, putting his imprint onto every image of the old stinker.

DC have promoted this issue rather more than the average Superman Family book, creating massive expectations. I can't see many people being disappointed. The cover by David Finch, whose illustration homages the style of seminal Death artist Chris Bachalo, is a fine capper to a fascinating tale.

And there's more ... the Jimmy Olsen strip has its second instalment, with our hero dealing with a visit to Metropolis by aliens who may or may not be a threat to the planet (Daily and otherwise). It's another delightful flight of fancy from writer Nick Spencer and artists RB Silva and Dym, and while I understand the story is disappearing as the price and page count of Action Comics falls, you can bet I'll be buying it's conclusion in a JO Special.