In March we will actually reach a 'year without Superman' in his main titles. Somehow it feels like it has been a bit longer than that. I have had some reservations about pacing of this huge story as it seems like it is puttering along rather than steam rolling ahead.
All along, Action Comics seemed like it was built to have a neat and tidy run. The plot was simple ... a handful of sleeper agents are embedded on Earth and Nightwing and Flamebird plan to apprehend them. But between 'Codename:Patriot' and 'Hunt for Reactron' that major theme was delayed a little bit.
Last issue we moved that plot forward with the discovery of Jax-Ur. This issue we moved that plot even further. It feels like Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann realize that things need to come to some sort of resolution. So Chris is cured from aging. And Thara is shown to house Flamebird. And now two more sleeper agents are known.
Last month's Superman #695 ended with a cliffhanger ... Mon-El and the Science Police confronting Nightwing and Flamebird. This issue picks up where that one left off, this time from the perspective of the Kryptonian heroes.
Dr. Light tells Nightwing and Flamebird that the SciPo are coming. Unfortunately before the two can escape, they are confronted by this throng. One problem that I have had throughout this 'year without Superman' is that writers have been forced to create ways of dealing with Kryptonians so that conflict can be maintained. Two years ago I would say that Superman would have no problem dealing with this force, even with Mon-El there. Now everyone has red sun rifles, red sun cuffs, red sun rooms, red sun lightning, etc.
Realizing that running or fighting would be the wrong way to continue here, Nightwing and Flamebird stand down, allowing the Science Police to cuff them. There are those red sun cuffs, rendering the heroes helpless.
Nightwing is wearing some device of Jax-Ur's which is keeping his aging at bay. Unclear of what the machine does, the SciPo remove it from his arm despite Thara's objections. With the two in cuffs, the Guardian brings them to Police headquarters. He asks Officer Romundi to sweep the building to gather facts.
In a shocking development, Romundi is revealed to be Car-Vex, one of the sleepers.
She and Jax-Ur have a brief conversation. It is clear that Jax-Ur has his own agenda. When asked if there is anything about Nightwing and Flamebird that Ursa should be told, Jax-Ur says no. He is hiding the fact that the two are the avatars of the old Kryptonian gods. He clearly wants to continue his experiments without Zod's interference.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the Car-Vex revelation. One more piece of the puzzle revealed. But I also chuckled a bit. Just how many people are in the Science Police with another identity? Officer Kent, Officer Wilcox, and now Officer Romundi are all hiding something.
Back at the SciPo HQ, the Guardian initially shows his 'law and order' personality. Kryptonians aren't allowed on Earth. Nightwing and Flamebird are breaking the law. He is going to ship them back to New Krypton. I wonder exactly how he would accomplish that.
I have to say one thing I did like was the reference to the murder of the Science Police officers way back in the initial 'New Krypton' storyline when Gor was rounding up Superman's enemies. Back then, Superman promised the Science Police that he would bring the murderers to justice. That has never happened. And I doubt the Guardian would simply forget about that. He shouldn't be sympathetic to Nightwing and Flamebird regardless of what they have been doing.
Harper does pause a bit when they reveal it was Gor who committed those crimes. There has to be a faceoff between those two at some point.
Despite being aliens, without US citizenship, the Guardian does allow Chris his one phone call. Chris calls the one person who he thinks will help ... Lois.
As much as the Car-Vex reveal was surprising, her next scene was even better.
She calls Project 7734! She has authorization codes to talk to General Lane! She tells him about Thara and Chris. And Car-Vex has what appears to be a Kryptonian-tech crystal bomb in her locker. It looks as though she is going to activate the bomb and kill Nightwing and Flamebird for General Lane!! I love being surprised in comics.
So is Car-Vex working for Zod? Is she working for Lane? Is she a double agent? Triple Agent? Where do her loyalties really lie? Taking out Nightwing and Flamebird would serve both Generals. Plot twists like this are why I read comics!
As they continue to plead their case, Nightwing and Flamebird reveal their underlying mission to weed out Zod's sleepers. They explain how the purpose of the sleepers is to sow the seeds of war between Earth and New Krypton.
The conversation leads to Ral-Dar. He wasn't an official sleeper and so not working for Zod. In fact, the only person who benefited from Ral-Dar's acts was General Lane. Slowly but surely, Lois is building a case against her father.
General Lane arrives in force and the Guardian is suddenly conflicted. Does he hand the two over to someone who now appears to be working on the wrong side of the law? Mon-El, who knows all to well what Lane is capable of, says no.
Another thing that I have liked about the super titles (in particular James Robinson in Superman) has been the reinvention or rediscovery of some obscure DC characters. We have seen Atlas, Creature Commandos, and Prince Ra-Man in Superman. Here we meet Sergeant Cloud, the new leader of Squad K. Is he related somehow to Johnny Cloud, the Native American member of The Losers?
Realizing that Lane might not be the 'patriot' he claims to be, the Guardian turns off the red sun cuffs allowing Nightwing and Flamebird to opportunity to flee.
Of course, I don't exactly know why he needed to walk them out to face Lane before freeing them. Wouldn't it have been easier, less messy, if he just let them slip out the back door? Or was this a last second change of heart?
A quick skirmish ensues. Nightwing and Flamebird realize that human casualties will happen if the fight remains there and so they fly off.
Again, I am shocked by how easy it now is to kill a Kryptonian. First the red sun cuffs. But now the military have machine guns with clips full of Kryptonite bullets. They also have sonics that cripple Kryptonians. Will Superman be this vulnerable when he returns? Can we even call them invulnerable any more?
Chris' comments during the fight also seemed off. He says the soldiers are 'just meat' and threatens cooking them with heat vision, freezing them to ice, or crushing them like bugs. It just seemed off even if Thara was being threatened.
Just as the two heroes flee, Car-Vex detonates the bomb. That is some explosion!
Of course, I am sure that the investigation will show this was Kryptonian technology and Chris and Thara will be blamed.
So overall, this was a very interesting issue which moved things along nicely. More and more, the truth behind General Lane is being revealed. Car-Vex is revealed and is a complete mystery right now as to who she is really working for. And Thara and Chris continue to show that they are heroes. Rather than turning the interaction with the Science Police into a complete dust-up, they try to explain everything in hopes of a peaceful solution.
And things moved forward!
I also have really grown to appreciate Pere Perez' art on this title. I think it is smooth and beautiful.