Friday, 29 April 2011

Action Comics #900 review


Nine-hundred issues. That's a milestone no US comic has ever reached and it's fitting that after some time away, Superman returns to claim his book back. I've enjoyed arch enemy Lex Luthor's time as placeholder - more than a lot of Superman runs - but all good things must come to an end. And as a bonus, Lex writer Paul Cornell is staying on the book.

It's a shame, though, that the conclusion of Cornell and Pete Woods' multi-part story is derailed (I'd go so far as to say 'sullied') here by having another storyline shoehorned in. For this isn't just the finale of The Black Ring, it's the continuation of the Reign of Doomsday serial. If you've been lucky enough to miss this, it involves Doomsday, the spiky bore who once kindasorta killed Superman, turning up in various books, bashing people with the S-emblem and kidnapping them. So it is that as we join him this issue he has, secreted away far off in space, Superboy, the Eradicator, Cyborg Superman, Supergirl and Steel. Their attempts to escape, while avoiding Doomsday, are interspersed with the regular story, and they're frankly not very interesting, so let's go where the action is.

That's with Lex Luthor, bumped up to godlike status and wondering what to do with his new power. The first order is, of course, to torment Superman, attempting to goad him into anger by claiming that he's not capable of real human emotion. Except that humanity isn't a question of physiology, it's a state of mind, a matter for the heart. And Superman is every bit as human as Lex. But where Superman's humanity manifests as goodness, Lex's forte is hatred. And it's the pettier side of this big emotion which proves his downfall, with a little help from the Lois Lane Robot built by Lex to challenge him. She does that, and no mistake.

The interplay between the hubristic Lex and quietly measured Superman is stellar, boding well for Cornell's continued tenancy, and their encounter is brought to cosmic life by Pete Woods, who excels at both emotion and energy. Woods is leaving the book and I wish him the best in future endeavours, he's served Lex well.

The Doomsday sequences are drawn by Jesus Merino, a penciller I like, it's just a shame he's having to draw a storyline that shows every sign of being editorially mandated, rather than one in which any writer or artist is particularly invested. Mind, I certainly expect things to improve next issue, as Cornell gets to focus on Doomsday as the main event, rather than a distraction.

I wonder if DC could strip out the Doomsday pages when they collect the back half of the Black Ring storyline, and let Cornell, Woods and Luthor have the good-looking, cohesive showcase they deserve. Merino would be in there too, having already produced work for this arc, as would this issue's talented 'memory lane sequence' guests - Gary Frank, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal and 'Bugger the story flow, I'm signing my work now for original art sales' Rags Morales. A shout-out, too, to colourists Brad Anderson and Blond, who bring a real vibrancy to the pages, and letterer Rob Leigh, who shows that not all comic book gods get pretty fonts. David Finch provides the cover, which is well done, but rather gloomy for a celebration of the Man of Steel.

So that's Lex Luthor's starring role in Action Comics over and, despite the final issue blip, it's been a better run than ever I expected - congrats to Cornell, Woods and all their collaborators. I hope this isn't the last we see of their Lex - even though they did ignore my nagging to give him back his eyebrows.

This is a big issue - 96 pages - meaning there's room for shorts by guest creatives we'd not normally see in these parts, gathered by editors Matt Idelson and Wil Moss. Time to load up the bullet points:
  • Life Support by telly writer Damon Lindelof sees a young boffin asked by Jor-El to assist him in helping baby Kal escape Krypton's coming destruction. It's a sharply written piece, there's a little poignancy, and artist Ryan Sook's Krypton is beautiful, but the point of this depressing tale is Lost on me.
  • Paul Dini, king of DC's animated cartoons, presents Autobiography, a conversation between Superman and an older peer about their place in the universe. A meditative three-pager, cutely drawn by RB Silva and Rob Lean, it's a little depressing.
  • The Incident, by Batman Begins screenwriter David S Goyer, covers well-trodden ground - it's the 'what can one Superman do?' bit again. The Man of Steel tries a little civil disobedience in Tehran. So far, so Grounded. But then Goyer pushes things further by having Superman renounce his US citizenship, something that really shouldn't occur in a bound-to-be-throwaway tale. It's a tad rude of Goyer to come into Superman's house, throw a rather important toy out of the pram and then leave, with no follow-up apparently due. Tut. I think we'd better consign this attention-seeker immediately to the land of Elseworlds, despite some fine artwork by Miguel Sepulveda. Comics gossip guy Rich Johnston is having all sorts of fun with this as I type, chatting to the US media about the story's perhaps controversial nature. I found it rather, well, depressing.
  • Only Human, by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner and one Derek Hoffman, wastes the talents of superb penciller Matt Camp by tasking him with sketchy storyboards for a decidely average Metropolis romp. Had someone turned the script into an actual comic strip this would likely have been good fun, in a Seventies style. As it was, I found it, well, not depressing, just dull - a chore to wade through.
  • Oh, hurrah for Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who write and draw Friday Night in the 21st Century, a tale that tells us something about Clark, Lois, their relationship and their attitudes towards friends - all in four pages. It's good to see that at least one guest creative team realises there's room for joy in a book marking 900 issues of the original superhero comic. The spread showing the Legion of Super-Heroes partying on down chez Kent is my favourite illustration in the book ...
  • ... well, tying with Brian Stelfreeze's pin-up, The Evolution of the Man of Tomorrow, a stunning homage to the artists who came before.
The soon-to-be-forgotten renouncing moment from Goyer's short
Stelfreeze's tribute is a fine capper to a giant issue which, while not entirely successful, deserves major points for efforts. And for giving us 93 pages of story and art - that's the equivalent of almost three free comic books - for just $5.99 DC merits extra praise

15 comments:

  1. So you prefferred the Luthor vs Superman over the Doomsday segments?

    Can I ask you what that Luthor/Superman story told you that you didn't already know about the two....?
    For me that plotline started very well but fizzled out due to the impossibility of Superman plausibly challenging this God-Lex and hence it becoming yet another 'Superman is Morally better than Luthor' potted message. Very dissapointed.
    The Doomsday plotline sustained its tension and mystery, I am curious about where & how Luthor obtained this ship and engineered this trap. Doomsday is a one note SFX character but at least when he turns up I feel Superman is going to be in trouble...

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  2. I, like you, thought the Legion splash page was the best image of this book. In fact, the 4 page story was the best story in the book.

    I love Lightning Lass' face in that image while ex-lover Timber Wolf hides from her.

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  3. It's interesting how we experienced the book so differently. This was my first exposure to Cornell's Black Ring story, and I'm intrigued to know more!

    And man, that Legion pic was nice.

    As for the citizenship thing, now that it is posted on a conservative news site, this could get interesting!

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  4. "I wonder if DC could strip out the Doomsday pages when they collect the back half of the Black Ring storyline, and let Cornell, Woods and Luthor have the good-looking, cohesive showcase they deserve."

    My thoughts exactly, and re: the rudeness of Goyer too.

    Easy fix: the whole citizenship incident happened at the START of his walk across America, and is a ssymptom of his disllusionment at the outset? Maybe?

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  5. Important points from the Lex/Superman conclusion: Lex will give up eternal happiness for all living things because Superman would be affected, which is especially ironic because earlier Lex says "You've held back humanity long enough! *zap*". Superman's greatest defeat was the loss of Pa Kent. Superman outed his identity to Lex, though whether Lex will remember is debatable.

    I was so confused by the Donner bit. Was this a rejected movie scene? A TV pilot? Or just an attempt to be different?

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  6. "It's a tad rude of Goyer to come into Superman's house, throw a rather important toy out of the pram and then leave, with no follow-up apparently due. Tut. I think we'd better consign this attention-seeker immediately to the land of Elseworlds, despite some fine artwork by Miguel Sepulveda."

    *APPLAUDS*

    Well said Mart! Well said!

    Gene

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  7. Dave, I certainly preferred the Lex story. That's the tale I've been following for nigh on a year, and I'd prefer its culmination to be the sole focus of this banner issue's lead feature. By all means DC can continue the Doomsday stuff, but a separate story would have been better - it's not as if Superman was involved until the final couple of pages.

    And was anyone really convinced that Luthor was behind the Doomsday plot? It's out of nowhere, unless anyone can point to a hint, maybe hidden in the Black Son storyline. I'll be surprised if you ever get your wish and learn how Lex found the ship and set the trap, because it's almost certainly tacked-on convenience plotting.

    As for character development in the Lex segments, Keith has very kindly covered that; same question to you as regards the Doonsday bits!

    Anj, it's nice to be on the same page, or rather, spread.

    Timbotron, we didn't experience the book so differently ... I praised the Black Ring storyline, as I have plenty of times here. Look, I'm even pushing the collection - what a tart!

    Chris, top idea, let's assume the Goyer story is pre-Grounded, and Superman is mega-depressed. DC, are you listening?

    Keith, thanks for your points on characterisation. As for the Donner script, I believe it was done especially for this issue. It's a headscratcher, isn't it?

    Hi Gene, betcha missed me namechecking you on the Heretic Jargon podcast!

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  8. Dave, I certainly preferred the Lex story. That's the tale I've been following for nigh on a year, and I'd prefer its culmination to be the sole focus of this banner issue's lead feature. By all means DC can continue the Doomsday stuff, but a separate story would have been better - it's not as if Superman was involved until the final couple of pages.

    I agree with some of what you say, It didn't cut it for me as as a story it had nowhere to go and offered absolutely nothing new about either character. But I wrote down a full review elsewhere: http://comicboards.com/php/show.php?msg=superman-2011042922395483&layout=thread

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  9. "a milestone no US comic has ever reached"

    Well that's piqued my curiosity, so which comics have passed 900, and what country are they from?

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  10. The GCD lists Dell's Four Color comics as having 1331 issues -- but that's a cheat -- most of those comics were never marketed as "Four Color" books, but as whatever the title of their feature was. But the publisher considered them all one title for indicia purposes.

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  11. I loved the Ryan Sook story. So sad and poignant.

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  12. Thanks Dave, I can't comment on your review at the website as I'm not a member, so ...

    Very interesting review, Dave. One thing, though - first you say you couldn't enjoy Superman #400 because it was 'unconnected to anything going on in the Superman books' then that Action Comics #900 fails because 'you need to have followed the previous years worth of Lex Luthor issues to get the benefit out of it'. These comments seem contradictory in terms of which approach you favour.

    And while you're right in that the Lex/Superman scenes told the regular reader nothing new about them, they put their relationship on a different footing; Lex certainly learned more about his enemy. Whether he remembers any of it remains to be seen ...

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  13. Blue Lightning, I only know of comics from the UK which have passed 900 issues, such as the Beano, Dandy, 2000AD - weekly schedules have helped.

    Rob, thanks for the clarification.

    Jeff, it was indeed sad, Ryan Sook is indeed a master. Any story with beardy Jor-El, though, automatically loses points!

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  14. I love LOST and think Lindeloff is a true talent. However, I found his short story disappointing. Seemed overly sentimental.

    Http://www.thebarbariancomic.blogspot.com

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  15. DC really do seem in awe of TV writers. Still, if it gets us the occasional Brian Q Miller, it's not so bad.

    Barbarian looks intriguing!

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