Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Action Comics #896

Last week, Action Comics #896 was released, continuing Lex Luthor's tour through the villainy of the DCU as he tries to acquire the ultimate power of the residual Black Lantern energy left on Earth. It certainly has been a dark path through the universe as Lex continues to run into former colleagues and malcontents.

I say it every month I review Action ... I am surprised how much I have been enjoying this run. I desperately want to read Superman stories, something I haven't been able to in some time (and don't get me started on 'Grounded'). So I went into this arc ready to vilify DC for not allowing Supes to be here. Now I know that this could simply be a Luthor mini and Supes could be in Action. But when my preconceived notions can be defeated, that means quality is high. So kudos to Paul Cornell.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle I needed to get over was the gallows and slapstick humor that has been part of this storyline. I wasn't too pleased to see Gorilla Grodd wielding a spoon in the advanced solicits but that issue worked.

And one of the things that continues to interest me was the mystery of who is pulling Luthor's strings throughout this story. Someone is making him act against his usual instincts. I have had some guesses and I have a couple of more after reading this issue.

Pete Woods just shines here. I have always been a fan of his work. But here he is being put through his paces, drawing all sorts of locales and time periods. No matter what he is being called upon to draw, his stuff just really sizzles.

Last issue, Vandal Savage took over LexCorp, planting explosives throughout the building and ready to bring Luthor's home down around him. Savage wants answers, specifically about a prophecy where Luthor will bring Savage happiness. Luthor's response has been to call in the Secret Six for protection.

The issue starts with a flashback of Luthor arranging that deal with the Six with Scandal Savage. I love scenes like this. This has all the airs of high society, the fine dress, the elegant surroundings. And yet it is all a mirage given the evil at the table. I mean Scandal threatens Luthor with the cutlery. I love dichotomy like this.

Luthor (and I forget if it was this Luthor or the Alex Luthor pre-Infinite Crisis) seems proud of the Six. He set them up but they have continued independently. He asks Scandal for her help and offers something in return, something that convinces Scandal to take the job.

We never see what Luthor offers but it must be something fantastic. Even Bane is floored by it, calling it outrageous.

 Whatever it is, it is enough to convince the Six to be in Lex's employ and to come when called. I don't read Secret Six but they don't sound like a group that does well following orders.So it must be some prize. Enough of a prize to have the Six jump into battle against Scandal's father.

This is definitely how a McGuffin works. Nothing we could actually see being offered would mean as much to the reader as 'something' that we don't know but can only imagine.

In what I think was the best scene, a Luthor employee that is being controlled by Mr. Mind has a conversation with the reactivated LoisBot.

Mr. Mind says he is working for someone, manipulating Lex. He then figures out that Lois must also be working for someone who is also nudging Lex in different directions. In their first meeting, Lois had infected one of Mr. Mind's lackeys with nanites to stop them from harming Lex.

So now it seems that two different powerful beings are trying to get Lex to do the dirty work with the Black Energy only to then swoop in and reap the benefits. Given that LoisBot is made from Brainiac technology and we know Brainiac is in Action #899, my guess is Lois is a Brainiac minion. (It is hinted however that she might be acting off program and might have actual feelings for Lex.)

But who is Mr. Mind working for? I think Darkseid is still my leading candidate. Maybe he (and not Superman) is 'you know who' who is coming back in Action #900. But I have thought about some other candidates. What if it is Dr. Sivana? Mind has some Fawcett-comic links and Sivana is a Luthor-like character. What about Mr. Mxyzptlk?

I like mysteries like this.

With Savage's troops fighting the Six, all sorts of hell breaks loose in the LexCorp board room. Here is another of those slapstick moments in the book. The remote which will detonate the bombs and implode the building is seen bouncing around the board room, always coming close to being pressed or employed. It would definitely be a Marx Brothers moment if seen live.

Much like the malevolence under the veneer of civility in the opening scene, here we have silliness in an otherwise serious scene. Nice layered story-telling here.

I have to admit that I have become somewhat fond of the LoisBot too.

Once activated, she leaps to Lex's defense. But not before donning this WWI ace or Amelia Earhart number. Woods must love that he gets to draw her in all manners of outfits. And doesn't the insane weapon arms remind you of old Warner Brothers or Tex Avery cartoons? It just adds to the ludicrous nature of the scene.

And now that we know that she is a double agent, she is even more intriguing.

Umm ... except that it looks like she isn't going to last much longer in the story.

Vandal Savage literally cuts her in half with his axe in his efforts to protect Scandal. Despite their differences, Vandal still has a father's love.

If LoisBot is Brainiac tech I am sure she can somehow mend herself. I hope so ... she is such a fun part of this story. Is her being bisected a visual reference to her split loyalties?

In many ways this issue is more a Vandal/Scandal story more than a Lex story. Lex has little to do with all that is happening here.

Vandal is definitely pained by the rift between him and his daughter. Where is the happiness in this relationship?

Vandal Savage is usually portrayed as an over the top and callous megalomaniac. So this rare showing of true emotion was a nice wrinkle to his character.

Luthor picks up on the sentiment and tries to talk his way out of this predicament. Maybe the happiness that Luthor is supposed to give to Vandal is the message of acceptance of Scandal's life. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the Black Energy spheres.

At the very least, Luthor comes up with one excuse to keep him living. It is clear that he hasn't given Savage any happiness yet. Doesn't Lex need to remain alive to fulfill the prophecy? It is a weak argument. Maybe the happiness promised is the glee Savage will get when he beheads Lex.

Before that conversation can conclude, the bouncing detonator gets grabbed and used. Nice cliffhanger. But who's thumb is that? Who would get anything out of imploding the building?

Unfortunately, the story ends over in the Secret Six comic meaning I have to add an issue to my already bursting pull list.

As I said before, this issue kept the Lex plot moving forward but was more of a Savage family story. The now out-in-the-open revelation that other beings are trying to manipulate Lex is a nice mystery mingled into this arc. And it is all the more fascinating now that we know LoisBot is in on the scheme. Who is pulling the strings and why? I still like Darkseid ... maybe the 'Black to White' lantern energy will somehow bring him back from the dead?

I don't know if we know for sure if this arc is ending in Action #900 but if it is that means that we only have 4 issues left to answer a lot of questions. And next issue we get the Joker!

Overall grade: B+


mathematicscore said...

I'm really enjoying this arc. Don't lament getting involved with Secret Six, it's one of the best books out there.

Martin Gray said...

Top review, Anj!

I'd like one of the manipulators to be Lex's AI 'daughter' Lena, from the Metropolis mini series, but she may have been wiped away.

Anj said...

I'd like one of the manipulators to be Lex's AI 'daughter' Lena, from the Metropolis mini series, but she may have been wiped away.

Hmmm ... great thought!

Anj said...

I'm really enjoying this arc. Don't lament getting involved with Secret Six, it's one of the best books out there.

Looks like I'll be getting a couple of issues since they crossover with Doom Patrol too.

Maybe that'll get me to jump on.

Saranga said...

Mr Mind eh? Maybe I will pick this up. I just read a lot of Shazam comics and got properly introduced to Mr Mind. Fun character.