With War of the Supermen just a few days away, we have basically reached the end of the 'Year Without Superman'. And that means we have reached the ending of the Nightwing and Flamebird storyline in Action Comics. What started as a seemingly simple action story - 2 heroes hunting down 6 fugitives - somehow mutated over the last 14 issues to an analysis of Kryptonian mythology and deities.
Action Comics #889 had the tough task of wrapping up this story in a short 22 pages. And there were 2 levels of this story to complete - the 'on the ground' story of heroes trying to stop the runaway Rao and the 'Kryptonian gods' story of Nightwing/Flamebird/Vohc. Both are big plots with big moments and, as such, I expected a big finale. Unfortunately, this arc ended with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang. I have seen understated endings in massive stories like this too many times to count ... the punched hole into a new reality in Akira, the school stage morality play in Neon Genesis:Evangelion, Supergirl's hug of the Carnivean in Supergirl #50 (vol 3), even the miracle machine ending of Final Crisis ... and I usually feel disappointed. And to be honest, I felt a little disappointed here too.
Back in the sands of the Middle East, combined heroes from the JSA and JLA as well as Flamebird just can't seem to get anywhere in their efforts against the Rao construct.
In fact, the 'godling' is so full of energy that he begins to form a gravity well, a sort of small big bang, which will destroy the world. As the heroes swarm around Rao, Flamebird and Vohc continue to spout venom at each other.
When things seem their worst, and some of the heroes are in danger, Chris shows up as Nightwing manifested and helps in the rescue efforts.
There are some interesting things here. While we have seen a lot of the Thara/Flamebird relationship, this is the first time we have really seen Chris/Nightwing. We read Nightwing's thoughts ... about how his 'hiding in the shadows' of the universe means he sees and knows all ... and how that sudden ascension in Chris is dismaying and difficult for the young Kryptonian. I like how the visual of Nightwing includes multiple shadows of himself lingering around.
Vohc continues to fume like a jealous school boy, how Flamebird spurning him will lead him to destroy the universe. While Wonder Woman and Dr. Fate try to beat the logorrhea out of him, Nightwing and Flamebird (the deities) are finally reunited. This reunion was a major part of the undercurrent of this title. Remember, in the past, their reunion has always led to either ruination or one of the two dying.
In the meantime, Rao final begins to manifest a 'black hole' like phenomenon around his body. The Kryptonian heroes fly into the swirling mass to get to Rao's 'twisted diseased heart', a dying collapsing star. Vohc is also in here and the three skirmish more.
Are those Rao's ribs? Are we literally in his body?
And so we come to the understated ending to this god-war.
While Nightwing hangs back for some reason, Flamebird dunks Vohc in the internal red sun, burning away the Vohc persona from Jax-Ur. Throughout the fight, Vohc continues to sound like a petulant kid with a crush. Even his dying words are that he just wanted something for himself, something that he could create that Flamebird would not destroy.
While I know that other 'gods' are often portrayed as overly emotional adolescents (the Greek Gods for instance), this tantrum seemed like a pretty silly reason to try to destroy the universe.
And then the second part of the understated ending. Chris/Nightwing simply absorbs the 'sun' threatening the Earth. So much for that threat. Seems like a little bit of a cop-out. But without it's heart, Rao simply falls.
Again, there is some interesting bits here. Nightwing casts the Vohc being and the sun into the new Phantom Zone. In fact, that explains the recreation of the Zone, as the Kryptonian 'builder god' goes back to building.
Nightwing also says that somehow he has changed, has become different. This might explain why the outcome of this reunion is somewhat different.
With the god-war over, Nightwing and Flamebird become Chris and Thara once more and share a kiss. Unlike the doomed lovers before, this Nightwing and Flamebird will be 'never apart'.
Since Kryptonians are still illegal on Earth, the JSA shoo them away.
The story ends somewhat ominously with Luthor somehow on scene grabbing samples of Rao.
So what can I say. Does this ending satisfy? I feel like this whole investigation into Kryptonian mythology was sort of a left-hand turn from where this arc started. And I don't know if the motivations of the gods translated well to this Rao-battle. And I don't know if some of the questions I was hoping to be answered ... Chris's age jumps, the new Phantom Zone ... have been answered.
On top of that, the understated ending with both threats sort of fading away seemed ... well ... underwhelming. And frankly, it wasn't the ending of Nightwing and Flamebird's story. They fly off happily; their story ends in War of the Supermen.
I looked back at my reviews of the first couple of issues of this run, the blood-soaked action-packed battles with Tor-An and Ursa. They were over-the-top giddy fun. These last issues just seem to have become a bit bogged down.
There was a surprise in the Captain Atom back-up feature when an ogre who had been fighting alongside the hero revealed himself to be Mordru. When Atom realizes that he has aided a villain, Mordru says that the morals of Earth are different than those of Sorcerer's World ... what is evil on Earth isn't necessarily evil here.
It does remove Mirabai from the War of the Supermen story. It seems a little off that she was ubiquitous in earlier issues of the New Krypton world only to be removed in the back-up feature.
I don't envy the writers here. Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann brought the story up to the level of deities. Sometimes I wonder if writing about near omnipotent beings makes a tidy conclusion impossible. The art throughout the book ... from Alex Garner's spectacular cover, the Pere Perez' smooth lines, to Cafu's slick work ... was great.
I do hope we get to see some sort of conclusion to the Thara/Chris story in War of the Supermen. If they are only in the background and fade from the DCU, I'll be unhappy.
Overall grade: C
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