Action Comics Annual #13 review

Two tales from the early years of Lex Luthor, one Earth-bound but looking to the stars, the other taking us to another world, one that may eventually rule Earth. Two tales, and three father figures for the man who murdered his own father.

The opening story, 'Father Box', shows us Lex's first day in Metropolis, soon after said killing. He's penniless, but wangles a job with Intergang boss Bruno Mannheim, thanks to a run-in with undercover reporter Perry White. And shortly after that, he finds himself on Apokolips, in thrall to Darkseid as a 'scientwister'.

The fable sets Lex down beside Darkseid and lets us see how he measures up. Not surprisingly, given Lex's ego, his answer is: rather well, actually, While anyone else would be able to accept that a god - someone who never has to strive for power, but simply is power - is greater than them, Lex isn't having it. If you ever wondered why Lex is so suspicious of aliens, this is the story for you.

As interesting as it is to see Lex and Darkseid interact, the more fascinating relationship is that between Perry White and Lex. Rather than the grumpy manager we're used to, this Perry is a scrappy young hack, willing to risk his life to clean up Metropolis. He's apparently a few years older than Lex and while he'd love to see the newcomer direct his intellect along the path of decency, he's sharp enough to know that ain't going to happen. Lex, for his part, sees Perry's interest in him as patronising and wrongheaded, losing his temper at the tiniest perceived slight. I think that to Lex, Perry is his hated father, all over again. 

These two might have been friends, but they won't be - one lives for the truth, while the other worships at the altar of self-delusion.

Just as Perry, and Darkseid too, can see the flaws that cripple Lex, so does Ra's al-Ghul in the second story. Set perhaps a couple of years after the first tale, it shows the future adversary of Batman having taken Lex under his wing. I'd never have thought of Lex as being interested in Eastern philosophy, and he's not; what he wants to understand is how a man wields power

Ra's is looking for a male heir to his criminal empire, the role he later wants Batman to accept. But Ra's being Ra's, he must test Lex. And Lex being Lex ...

This isn't the Lex of the first story, it's a young man far more open to the idea of accepting a father figure, though he'd likely never admit that. We see him attending to Ra's, as the master of the League of Assassins shows him the star that shares his name, explains his philosophy of culling populations for mankind's own good. And while Lex doesn't buy into his ideas, it helps him define what his own path to power will be. Ra's would be one kind of saviour, Lex another - but neither has yet met the World's Finest Heroes who would stand in their way.

The story's climax is a knockout, one I never saw coming, yet one which makes perfect sense for both characters.

Author Paul Cornell's first story is presented as a traditional comics script - panels, dialogue, that sort of thing. It's a stimulating romp, offering wonderful pen portraits of Lex, Perry and a terrifically bombastic Darkseid.

The writer gives us something different in the Ra's al-Ghul piece, the comic script as prose poem. The resultant story demands to be re-read, considered. Knowing how smart Cornell is, if you believe you got all the allusions first time out, you're likely missing something. The lyricism of the storytelling gives 'A Father's Box' the quality of myth, fitting for a story of men who see themselves as gods.

Ed Benes illustrates, and does a fine job of capturing the aristocratic creepiness, and occasional sexiness, of Ra's. I like his Lex too, always thinking, and ever so slightly unctious. Jason Wright colours with the moody palette that has served Secret Six so well.

Colouring the previous story is Val Staples, who gets to go a little wild given those scenes set on Apokolips. Reds, oranges, purples - they comprise a sickly, nightmare colour scheme for a hellish world. Back on Earth, the colours are more naturalistic, though still intense where tone can accentuate the mood.

And drawing? That would be Marco Rudy, who did such a fantastic job on the recent Supergirl Annual #2 (psst - hover over those words for the review). Every page is an experiment, with figures defining panels rather than being constrained by them. After an opening that nods towards the natural, pages showing a Metropolis jazz club (complete with the nutty songs you might expect in the DCU) evoke the groovy layouts of Silver Age romance comics. Elsewhere, faces are highly etched one moment, pop art psychedelic the next. I'm even reminded of the great David Lloyd in places.

When we get to Apokolips, via a marvellous splash page, Rudy settles into a single style for awhile - fixed grids recalling a jewel's facets; ornate inter-panel art; Kirby-esque borders; explosive figures. It's quite the performance, perfect for an alien world being experienced by an Earthman. 

John J Hill letters both stories with his usual flair - the man is gifted. Wil Moss and Matt Idelson edit, Ethan Van Sciver provides the cover grandeur - this book is a splendid package.

I'm going on. I'm excited. Action Comics #13 is a tremendous read that, like Cornell's current run in the regular title with artist Pete Woods, sheds light on Lex Luthor. But it's the young Lex Luthor, and we get to see how some of the DCU's other big names in villainy helped form his character, his ideas. We get a new canonical first meeting between Lex and Perry that shows the newshound as being as heroic, as foolhardy as any of his future Daily Planet employees. Ra's al-Ghul and Darkseid are seen at their scheming best, as both Lex's peers, and rejected father figures. 

Throughout, Cornell and his artistic partners show us that while Lex is one smart cookie, emotional intelligence he has not. And that's why his plots against Superman inevitably fail.


  1. Probably the one item this week I'm looking forward to the most.

  2. Hope you enjoy it, let me know if you have time.

  3. We usually are on the same page but I was pretty underwhelmed here.

    I would rather have Luthor claw his way to power by himself rather than interning with other big bads.

    Nice call on the David Lloyd feel in Rudy. I totally see that now.

  4. I forgot to say, I see some Thriller-era Trevor Von Eedon too!

    On the intern bit, I think it's a measure of Lex's genius that he's able to reverese-engineer Apokolips technology - I don't doubt he'd have built his scientific empire either way.


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