As much as I have been clamoring for a Superman book that stars Superman acting like Superman, I have to admit that the Lex Luthor run in Action Comics has been enjoyable and getting better and better. Action Comics #895 continues that trend.
This is the first book I have read by Paul Cornell although I had heard great things about his Marvel stuff. One thing that I am very impressed with is his capturing of a clear and consistent voice for Luthor here. Sure, Lex is power-hungry and willing to do about anything to get it. But something that Cornell has added is a subtle snarkiness to some of Luthor's lines. He knows he is better than everybody and he is willing to let that be known with a sarcastic and some times humorous edge. In fact, this sort of understated humor has been one of the constants in this book that is working very well. Sometimes I think it goes over the top (working well with Grodd, not so well with Mr. Mind) but it adds another layer to the storyline. This could have been Luthor wallowing in his own evil, cackling and shaking his fists. This is a much more nuanced look at Lex and his desires. Luthor really feels like a well-rounded, three-dimensional character.
Moreover, at first I thought the 'guest star super-villain of the month' style of the book might grate on me. But by playing Lex off these other villains, it lets Cornell add to the depth of the Luthor character.
This month's guest is Vandal Savage. We saw at the end of last issue that 2 of the Black Lantern globes were in Europe hundreds of years ago and under the control of Savage.
Walled into a city in the Czech Republic area, the black 'pustules' (perfect word for them) provide energy for Savage. But they clearly have an effect on the emotional stability of those around them. It is implied that the near constant revolutions within that geographic area are inflamed by the leaking Black Lantern energy.
I did like this opening page as we see Savage literally walking through time, the background scene remaining constant despite the century while Savage's fashion sense changes with the time. It is a visual that really clicked.
Savage has seen a prophecy that Luthor (unknown to him back in the 14th century) will eventually come to the energy globes, 'make his presence felt', and leave Savage 'happy'. Knowing the power the 'pustules' give him, Savage wants to try to stop that prophecy from coming true.
These stops in time go as far as the late 20th century where we see Savage talking to a school-aged Scandal. It is creepy but consistent with his character that he would bring his tween daughter out on a military patrol.
One of things that irks me in comics is when some retcon occurs that makes me have to rethink the way I have looked at all the prior stories I have read. The worst one in recent memory was the rape of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis. Since that happened in the early days of the JLA, it meant that every subsequent story she was in had that awful event in her past. So all those carefree JLE stories, all the times she interacted with the heroes of the JLA, that would have been part of the history. It tainted those stories a bit. Would she and they have reacted and talked as they did if this horrible thing had occurred.
Anyways, if Savage was watching for Luthor for hundreds of years, wouldn't that change how we looked at any prior interaction they had?
The thing that I loved most about this book was that Cornell actually addresses this concern of mine. So here, when Savage finally is able to put the name Luthor to the face of the man in the prophecy, he talks to Scandal. He says outright they need to hide their concern about Luthor.
Moreover, Cornell shows us two times Savage and Luthor interacted in recent history (in The Flash and Salvation Run) and shows some 'deleted scenes' where Savage tries to lure Luthor to his Czech stronghold. This understanding that Savage's foreknowledge would color any Lex/Vandal crossovers and showing us these scenes impressed me so much. For a continuity geek like me, I really appreciated this acknowledgment that this story was 'changing history'.
Anyways, Luthor wants nothing to do with Savage or his Czech city, at least not at this time. In the best line of the book, Luthor says that he doesn't associate with super-villains unless it is to lead them. Supervillains "have master plans and costumes and pretensions". That is pure Luthor.
We then move forward to the present where Lex dreams of the Black Lantern globes. In an epiphany, he sees that there are only 10 of these globes including the two globes that he has changed to white energy. I liked this dream picture of Lex in his armor with the globes floating around him. The two white globes in front of him gave his armor a sort of Kirby-esque feel and with him looming over the Earth there was a New Gods riff here.
As much as I liked that, I also liked seeing that Luthor sleeps with the Lois-bot. It actually adds to Luthor's humanity. He is not opposed to sharing his bed with someone, despite the fact she is mechanical.
The dream showed him that he will obtain the power he craves when he changes the spheres. And he transforms that energy by analyzing the globes. The globes seem to store Black Lantern energy or link to another dimension. He needs to change all ten.
I can't shake the feeling that Luthor is being manipulated here. From the beginning when he began to act more reckless to these 'epiphanies' in his dreams, someone must be pulling his strings. But who? And why? Will changing the globes open a portal to this other dimension allowing someone to come into this one? Initially I thought Krona but that seems like an overused plot. Maybe someone from the New Gods? Someone from Blackest Night?
Luthor isn't sure, but he knows he is destined for something great. After all, if Death herself visited him he must be approaching great power.
I love that Lois-bot sasses him, telling him he was in a coma and must have been in a delirium. After all, Death didn't have skis. Hmmm ... another Black Racer joke. Could Black Racer be the entity that is nudging Luthor along?
I can't imagine any live person giving Luthor some playful back talk like this and surviving. Does this mean Luthor loves 'Lois'? She is free to talk freely to him? It is such a weird but interesting relationship.
In what I thought might be the weakest part of the issue, Luthor is able to create a satellite that analyzes the globes from afar. It seems a little too easy, especially when Luthor then says that some globes, which are difficult to get to, will need to be analyzed in person. This just seemed like an easy way to change only Savage's globes without having Luthor need to go there. Wouldn't the satellite be able to change them all? And what is the satellite actually doing from afar?
Regardless, the satellites have changed Savage's 'pustules'. Suddenly that emotional wave of anger and hate is gone. Ironically, people are still warring even without the black energy's influence.
With Luthor having fulfilled the early portion of the prophecy by making his presence felt, Savage decides to go on the offensive. He invades the LexCorps headquarters, shuts down all electronics (including Lois-bot), and places explosives all over the building. If Luthor doesn't share his information about the globes, Savage will literally bring down Luthor's empire.
Luthor is unimpressed and triggers a silent alarm. Don't ask me how that electronic device works when all others are down.
Cornell shows us a quick scene with Sebastian Mallory, the up-and-coming LexCorps exec from the Jimmy Olsen story so maybe he will become a standing character.
The alarm triggers a signal in the Secret Six lair. Did Luthor have this specific contingency plan if he faced Vandal Savage? Did he always want Scandal to defend him against her father? It is an interesting dilemma the Savage's will be in. Nice cliff-hanger.
Of course, for someone like me who doesn't collect Secret Six, I have no idea of the current stability of Savage family politics. But, my guess is that somehow bringing Scandal and Vandal together is going to make the elder Savage happy therefore fulfilling the prophecy.
Therefore, this was a very good issue. The moments filling in the back Savage/Luthor continuity as well as the Lex/Lois-scenes really crackled. The one downside was the satellite analyzer which felt a little too easy.
Pete Woods continues to just shine here. His work is near flawless. I love his Lois.