Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Action Comics Annual #1 review

Two old Superman villains make their DC New 52 debuts in this bumper issue. First up is the Kryptonite Man, whose deal is pretty similar to the already introduced Metallo - angry guy exuding deadly energy. The difference is that while the former has a Kryptonite heart, the latter glows from every orifice - right down to his nostrils. Lovely. Styling himself K-Man, Clay Ramsay gives Superman a hard time, with a personal grudge behind the blows. It's only the aid offered by John Henry Irons, in his Steel suit, that stops Superman succumbing to the green radiation.

Truth be told, the battle is pretty standard, as is K-Man's origin - he's transformed into an anti-Superman 'defence' by a mysterious scientist. What adds interest is writer Sholly Fisch's treatment of the characters: everyone convinces. There's General Sam Lane, obsessed with protecting the world from an alien he doesn't trust; Ramsay, fixated on his lost wife; and Superman and Irons, on the way to becoming friends. Fisch really gets what Superman is about, using Irons as his mouthpiece: '... maybe that's the mark of a superhero. Not just incredible powers or saving the day, but the effect you have on other people.' While over in the Superman title the world can't decide if he's saviour or threat, this book emphasises what generations know - he's a friend. Superman even holds a rescue pose long enough for Jimmy Olsen to take a cracking photo.
'Vulnerable' wanders back and forth over the course of a few days, a storytelling bugbear of mine, but Fisch's script keeps things transparent. And Cully Hamner's artwork is a treat, with standout panels aplenty and expressive people abounding. Especially gladdening is that Superman is allowed to smile, sincerely and broadly. The only disappointment is K-Man's costume, a generic jumpsuit with glowing lines ... I say let him make the most of his threat level, and go naked next time.

Or better still, dump him and bring in the classic Kryptonite Man - an alien imbued with Kryptonite energy who even had a Kryptonite dog for Krypto to fight. Put a non-human on the table and comparisons with Metallo recede.

Hamner's open style leaves plenty of room for colourist Val Staples to weave his magic, with clever bits of business including Irons holding up a green-gloved hand as he's assuring Superman that they're on the same side. Letterer Steve Wands completes the core creative team, presenting the script in attractive fonts.

There's nothing for a letterer to do in the back-up strip by filmmaker Max Landis (Chronicle) and artist Ryan Sook. It's a wordless short allowing Sook to show his storytelling chops as a scientist transforms into the Atomic Skull. We get the broad strokes - accident, power, exile, acceptance, resolve - but actual detail would be helpful. For example, there's one page in which the unnamed protagonist eats a boar cooked by his new atomic blast vision and, well, click on the image to enlarge and you tell me ...
Atomic belching? Transformation into a Star Sapphire? Knowing that Ryan Sook would be supplying both gorgeous illustrations and colour, I see a writer's temptation to let the artist do the talking - but it's Action Comics, not Action Storyboards. By the end we have yet another glowing villain - albeit one with a more grabby visual than K-Man - but no particular reason to care. A few well-chosen and placed words could have rectified that. Oh well, if Landis does more DC work, he's gotten this particular gimmick out of his system. At least, I hope he has.

All in all, this is a decent superhero comic, but missable. Despite a well-crafted story, K-Man fails to fascinate, while the Atomic Skull is one energy baddie too many for this issue - a detailed origin elsewhere would serve him better.

13 comments:

  1. This annual cemented my decision to only buy Superman when Morrison packs up and leaves. And I'm glad you found some sense in that crap in the back without text...

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    1. Hi there.

      I'm surprised you found the back-up so oblique. It seemed kind of clear in spite of how vague things were presented -- pre-Atomic Skull guy gets irradiated in an accident, his "dying" thoughts are of his dead wife, eventually he realizes the scope of what happened to him and accepts the fact his marriage wasn't perfect and that he killed his wife out of jealousy. Vague, but not impossible to follow. Plus the reveal that the guy wasn't as sympathetic as he first seemed was nicely arranged by Sook.

      I don't know... it seemed like a nice enough set up for a future appearance. Granted that's all that it was, really. But it looked pretty great, so I was fine with it.

      ...That said, having his face come off cleanly like a mask at the end was pretty goofy. Could've done without that.

      Have a good day.
      G Morrow

      tdsacomic.com

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    2. Hello G, thanks for that. You got more detail out of the two flashback splashes than I did, but as I said, I think I got the broad strokes. It's still the sequence I posted that has me wondering - presumably he's just sitting in the cave, the power is manifesting beyond his control and loosening the face, but, well, as I said, my preference is for comics that actually have the two elements that make comics, comics. I'm no keener to have all words than I am all pictures.

      Hope you're having a good day yourself!

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  2. It's a bad sign that I end up supporting Luthor, right? Superman breaks into a lab to threaten a guy. He uses way over the minimum necessary force to stop a wife-beater. (While I may be fine with throwing him into the river, I'm not fine with Superman being the one to do it.) There really does need to be a force ready to stop someone who clearly has no respect for the law.

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    1. I suppose we're supposed to forgive Superman on the basis that he was young and brash, and giving a bully a taste of his own medicine. But you're right, Mac, it was over the top - it's not like he hasn't had his powers long enough to realise he shouldn't lower himself to the bad guy's level, especially with his strength.

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    2. Mac, I've always rooted a little for Luthor. Sure, he's a moral monster (perhaps the greatest in comics history because, unlike Joker, he's not crazy), but the neat thing about Luthor is that he has no powers, he is just a man who, with his mind alone, can often fight a demigod to a standstill. Superman with his over the top powers has always struck me as dehumanizing, he's verything we're not and cannot be, while Luthor represents how you can never count human drive and ingenuity out.

      I wouldn't be too hard on this depiction of Superman, in his earliest days he meted out quite a bit of bullying justice (in fact, I recall in one of his first issues he beat up a guy in similar circumstances, this was likely a nod to that history). Superman even captured wealthy businesspersons and forced them to work under their workplace's terrible conditions. He was like an adolscent, socially conscious scamp, and Morrison has mentioned he wanted to revive that origin over the Boy Scout archetype.

      I share your qualms about someone of Superman's powers exhibiting bullying. What really made me see Sam Lane's motivation was reading Mark Waid's early Irredeemable series. If Superman cracks everyone would be in real trouble...A terryfing, troubling comic...

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    3. Mr Whiskas, you ... you're Luthor's sidekick, that's what you are!

      While Luthor's arguments strike me as having a kernel of truth, I never believe that he believes them ... at base, I believe he's just a jealous guy, trying to justify his rotten behaviour.

      I enjoyed the first year or soof Irredeemable, but I fell behind - I must dig into my pile.

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    4. I guess part of the problem for me, is that I really have trouble what happened in a specific title. So I can't tell the present Superman apart from the 5 years ago one. I just remember that there is one with the power to bench press a planet, and he's the same guy who can master surgery by speed-reading, and the same guy who would use his unsterilized fingernail just because he can. So yeah.

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    5. Martin, I've never bought Luthor's stated motivations either, the guy is purely out for himself. I only respect how he can fight Superman to a standstill with none of the demigod's powers. I was probably unclear, what I should have said was that I can see why every government would want a Superman contigency.

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  3. It is tough to tell what's happening when, you're right Mac - only recently, we've seen current day Superman in the tee-shirt and jeans.

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  4. Good review Mart. Nothing to add, really, except to say how much I loved seeing John Henry Irons again. And to note that this is the second time Fisch has associated him with a classic American song. You might not be aware what he's singing when Superman sneaks up on him, but it's "St. James Infirmary," one of my favorite classic blues tunes.

    Here's the verse he's singing:

    "I went down to the St. James Infirmary
    I saw my baby there,
    She was stretched out on a long white table,
    So cold, so sweet, so fair."

    Here's Louis Armstrong performing it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzcpUdBw7gs

    And here's a more modern version by Trombone Shorty, a funked-up samba take on Cab Calloway's version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq8ZqVTrOFI

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  5. Thanks Rob, I've not heard of that song. I suppose a few showiness are too much to hope for! Still, a bit of Louis Armstrong never goes amiss!

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