Thursday, 5 April 2012

Action Comics #8 review

Oh. My. Word. If there's a page in this week's comics more likely to make you jump out of your chair than the full-page shot of Superman flying towards the reader, I don't wish to see it. Here I'll show you ... no, I'm not sure you're ready. Get a stiff drink, bear with me as I witter on awhile and then I'll show you. Maybe.

So, Metropolis has been shrunk and placed inside a bottle by the Collector of Worlds. Superman is on his ship, in a hall of similar cities and sundry souvenirs of dead planets, trying to persuade the alien to return his city to Earth. The Collector, though, wants to conduct a Nature vs Nurture experiment - Superman can save either his adopted home, or Kandor, last surviving city of his homeworld, Krypton. Which will he choose?

You'll not be surprised to learn that Superman's answer is a resounding 'Neither/Both', that he uses his wits to win the day. He also employs a fair bit of brawn against the multi-formed creature which Lois Lane, in the same way she named Superman, christens Brainiac.

To be honest, I found the battle with Brainiac rather confusing, full of patented Grant Morrison alien/machine talk that I suppose is clever, with myriad layers of meaning. It's great that Morrison credits the audience with the brainpower to get what he's doing, but sometimes, after a hard day at the office, I'd be happy to be spoon-fed some. So, any sharper readers who can tell me just what happened with the Kryptonian crystals, and why, will have my gratitude (well, more than you already have for reading my ramblings). I did get that Superman learns Kryptonian, represented in amusing phonetic form as a lot of la-de-da.

The parts of the story after the big battle, once Metropolis and sundry other cities are restored, are what grabbed my interest this time. There's a touching conversation between Clark and Daily Star editor George Taylor paving the way for a new chapter in his career. Clark's chat with landlady Mrs Nyxly about secrets brings a surprise nod to Morrison's Superman Beyond. Superman telling the people of Metropolis about his origins and getting the key to the city, setting his thoughts on an interesting path. John Henry Irons has a decision to make, Lois asks Superman a tough question and Luthor has a lot to ponder. We learn the fates of Metallo, corrupt businessman Glenmorgan and Brainiac's ship. Clark returns to Smallville to talk to the Kents. And the manipulative little man who hung around Glenmorgan finds a new pot to stir.

It all makes for a wonderful multiple coda to Morrison's story of how Superman went from the tee-shirted vigilante of five years ago to the solid - indeed, armour-plated - citizen of today. I'd actually value a few more stories of Clark's early years as an anti-authority crusader, but either Morrison or DC don't fancy going down that road. Not to worry, so long as Morrison continues to populate Superman's stories with compelling colleagues and crazy concepts (some of which I might even understand), I'm not too fussed about where in Superman's timeline we are.

Despite all this goodness, my favourite moment in the issue comes mid-fight. It comes and goes in an instant, but it's significant (and especially good to see after the most recent issue of Wonder Woman).
So it seems at least one DC hero comes with a built-in moral compass, traceable back to his people. For the first time in decades Superman's innate goodness is attributable not just to the Kents, but to Krypton too.

Rags Morales is joined by recent Action back-up artist Brad Walker on pencils for this 30-page conclusion, and most of the pages look good. The action sequences are nicely choreographed, the designs for Brainiac are creepy as heck, and Smallville and Metropolis are a treat. What doesn't look great are Superman and Clark Kent, which you may agree is a problem in a Superman comic. Often, Superman appears awkward - his head ill-proportioned, his mien rubbery - while Clark seems about ten years younger and shorter than his alter-ego. You'd have no problem at all believing this Clark and Superman weren't the same person. By the time he reaches Smallville, it's not a question of looking too young - Clark has morphed into a gnarled lunatic.

I don't think the problem is due to this issue's inkers, as Rick Bryant and Bob McLeod are both talents. No, I think Morales and Walker are actually trying very, very hard to give Clark life, and occasionally get carried away.

And Walker - well, I think it's Walker, as no page credits are given - does deserve credit for having a crack at giving us an iconic Superman moment - not the usual 'Superman at peace with the world' splash, but a real in-your-face, never-saw-it-coming image.

But my gosh, it scared me for a second.
And you know what? The more I look at it, the more I like it. There's an exuberance, a joy that just fits Superman, and we get a useful angle on the costume showing us, for example, the thickness of that chest shield. After that initial turn of the page, Morales' bold image rears up and shakes me by the hand.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, unnecessary new costume notwithstanding, it's most definitely Superman.

8 comments:

  1. Good old Syperman. Any relation to Superman? ;D

    (If you don't realize it, look at the last line.)

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    1. Thanking you! And if that doesn't prove it's time for bed, nothing does. Night!

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  2. As much as I'd hate to drop the only Superman book I'm reading currently, I'm afraid this is the last Action comic I read. I find myself unsatisfied with this first arc. The only thing Morrison wrote that I liked was all-star Superman, but basically, like you said I always feel like I have to work so hard trying to understand his stories.

    I didn't really like that giant face of superman splash, and I know what they were going for (like you noted), but it just seems too cheese-y of a drawing for me, and I'm not too fond of Brad Walker's rendering of it (I did like some of his other faces of superman in the earlier pages).

    I think I've finally figured out what it is about his writing that I dislike. He's got some pretty interesting concepts and ideas, but his storytelling is not understandable or clear to me. I don't really relate to this new superman too well either, and a lot of that comes from Morrison's "cold" writing. I never find myself caring about any character that Morrison writes about.

    Morrison's narrative is so broken into odd segments in this introductory arc, and has different jarring tonal shifts that I think it'll turn off any new readers that are interested in Superman.

    I was listening to a podcast about people explaining Final Crisis and reading some of Morrison's interview about it, and it sounds like a really fascinating story. However, when I read that series, I never got any of that. I feel he's starting to go in that direction for Action comics too.

    I'm sure people are loving this run, but for me, I'm bailing out of it(or anything else Morrison writes). So, I'll be relying on your reviews to keep me up to date!

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    1. Hiya Biggedy, it's fair enough to drop the book, given your feelings. Mine are certainly mixed, but I've enjoyed more of this run than not.

      I find it hard to believe that editors at DC don't have the same problems we have 'getting Morrison'. They should be asking for a bit more transparency; for example, how did Superman work out how to restore the cities? How did the various aspects of the Collector of Worlds work? And a few etcs.

      I'd love to hear that podcast you mention - I strongly suspect Final Crisis was simply pish.

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    2. Hey Martin, I always look forward to your reviews every 'comic book day', I have some friends that read comics, but not really the titles that I read, so it's nice to read your thoughts.

      I'm just guessing that DC editorial must completely trust what Morrison has up his sleeve and just let him loose. His book seem to sell well, so I guess they don't question it so much? Speaking of editorial not questioning him:

      http://www.comicgeekspeak.com/episodes/comic_geek_speak-740.php

      This is that podcast I was telling you about. It's from those guys at comic geek speak. Pretty detailed recap, and there's another podcast where listeners call in and give their two cents about Final Crisis in there as well. But at the end of the day, yeah, I still think Final Crisis was a dud.

      With your Supreme review up, it gives me an example of writing that I like. I think Alan Moore's and Grant Morrison both have some pretty high concept ideas, but in my opinion Alan Moore's a better writer and storyteller.

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    3. Thanks ever so for the podcast link, I look forward to a listen.

      I agree about Moore vs Morrison - I can't ever remember feeling lost in a Moore comic.

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  3. I agree about that last picture. There’s just something so unabashedly over-the-top and likeable about it. To be completely honest, it’s the sort of thing I’ve thought DC to be afraid of since the relaunch. It also reminds me of William Blake’s “Happy Day,” what with the outstretched arms and ridiculous grin. I also think it’s really well-done technically: the rendering, the colours, the discretionary inks…of course, the problem with that for me is that the other panels displayed on this site look terrible by comparison. I hope the rest of the comic isn’t like that.

    That aside, I don’t know whether or not to start taking a look at Action again. I’ve since dropped out of a lot of these books, and I don’t know what to make of some of them at this point. I will say, Supreme looks interesting, though.

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    1. 'The Dance of Albion', eh? Thanks Mayowa, I've never seen that image - I see what you're getting at.

      The art is pretty inconsistent, in terms of finishes.

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