Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: Action Comics Annual #1 Back-Up Feature

Like many people, I watched Max Landis' scathing fan film about the Death of Superman and the Reign of the Supermen. It's easy enough to find on YouTube but I won't grace it with a link here.

You know what ... I hated it.

I hated it because it was a completely negative look at the story line. It reduced some characters to 2 dimensional caricatures, focusing only on one aspect of their personalities and then portraying that one aspect in the most ludicrous way possible. It up-played the sillier parts of the plot and completely ignored any of the better beats that were happening through those issues. It was simply blistering ... making fun of the entire work, belittling the works of many many comic creators. Belittling the character of Superman ... and belittling his fans, telling us we don't care about him even if we think we do ... as if Max Landis knows me better than I know myself. It was 100% over-the-top bombastic negativity. And something that one-sided is hard to take seriously.

Okay ... whatever ... people write over the top reviews on the internet all the time. Basically 50% of the reviews are like that.

But what bothered me even more than that was the ultra-slick packaging of the thing. The cool red shirt and the very loose tie, the open bottle of Johnny Walker red, the unkempt but perfectly coifed hairdo. It was as if Landis needed to show us just how 'cool' he was before firing the napalm. He needed to prop himself up as being the 'new' upstart ... 'look at how cool I am as I sloppily poor my whiskey, as I rage against the new comic world, and as I show you how you aren't thinking right.' I can only imagine how much time was put into 'the look of the thing'. I can picture someone saying 'you know what would make you look reaallllyyy cool ... Johnny Walker.'  When you have to work that hard to try to convince me that you are cool ... you probably aren't. At the very least it made me think he wasn't.

Now, I am not saying that some of what he says isn't true. Doomsday going to Metropolis because he saw a wrestling commercial is idiotic. In fact the whole Death of Superman story, the arrival of Doomsday, that is pretty bad. But that is just the beginning, it just gets us to Superman's death. And yes, some of the Cyborg's motivations are pretty thin. But there is more to that long arc than that.

To dismiss the story as a whole ... the powerful Funeral for a Friend which showed just what Superman meant to the DCU, the maturation of Matrix Supergirl and even Superboy over Reign of the Supermen, the inspiration of Steel (a normal human who elevates because of Superman),and  to ignore the return of Superman and how while powerless he still jumped into the fray to save the world ... well that's wrong.

I just find it hard to believe that Landis read all those comics and didn't find one redeeming part to that entire arc. But a measured review probably wouldn't get you a zillion hits on YouTube and facetime on the big comic websites.


It is easier to destroy than it is to create.

It is easier to write an acidic review, something which simply makes fun of the efforts of other creators than it is to look critically at the work.

It is easier to pander to the lowest common denominator, people who live for the bile of the internet, than it is to write a balanced review.

What does Dan Jurgens think of this review? Louise Simonson? Jackson Guice? Tom Grummett?

And what does DC think about this film? This film that urinated on the hard work of many of the biggest creators in the 90s, maybe their biggest story arc in the 90s.

DC must have loved it because they hired him to write the back-up feature to Action Comics Annual #1. Way to defend your prior works DC! Of course, DC hiring Max Landis to do a story gets them some publicity too. So everyone wallows a bit in the mud here.

Anyways, this is a too long intro to my review of Landis' story. But it serves a personal purpose. I was originally going to write a blistering, scathing, aludicrously negative review of the story, focusing on what doesn't work and ignoring what does. I was going to fire back with whatever puny power this blog brings. And I was going to drink in the smugness of my own coolness.

And then I thought why waste energy like that.

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

And so instead will bring you this even critique of Landis' story.

The story is titled "Anchiale" and serves as the new 52 origin of the Atomic Skull.

The art is absolutely beautifully rendered and colored by Ryan Sook, one of my favorite artists. If anything, it is the coloring of this story that works well.

But the story has no words. Instead, the reader must piece things together from the images. For me, it robs comics of its vitality. It is the co-mingling of words and pictures that makes comics the medium it is.

The story starts with an unnamed scientist in a submarine which has a meltdown of some sort, bathing him in violet energy.

Now this is where the lack of words hurt the most. Because It took me a while to realize that this was indeed a submarine and not a lab of some sort. Sure, the second page has this guy in deep waters, but for all I know this was a building built on the coast or a station in the ocean like one of those offshore drilling sites. So a well placed 'captain the engine room is flooding' or 'we need to surface!' would have at least given me a clue about where this was all taking place. 

See how that works ... measured criticism. Not lampooning.

This guy ends up washing up on the shore of a remote island.

In some ways I thought this was a great page. There is some fatigue here as he collapses on the beach. And we are privy to his inner thoughts. It is as though his life has flashed before his eyes. And the majority of it is in cool muted blues. As a result, the red parts ... the dance club sign and the blood on this women ... stand out as obtrusive and concerning. It is clear this guy was her husband and that something tragic happened.

For me, I think a single word, him uttering this woman's name, would have been powerful.

As time on the island passes, he develops the ability to emit purple bolts of presumably radioactive energy but as a sort of breath weapon.

And as his use of this energy increases, he becomes more monstrous, eventually peeling off his face -becoming the Atomic Skull.

So this was the low point of the story for me. A radioactive breath weapon? For the Atomic Skull?? Doesn't that seem a bit idiotic ... almost Godzilla like? How will he open his mouth if he has no muscles to control his mandible? Wouldn't it just always leak a little from the spaces in the skull? Maybe the radiation comes from his lungs? Or his pharynx?

But a breath weapon?

I guess I have to roll with it.

What I did like was that just as the purple energy becomes more prominent, eventually consuming the island, consuming his body, so has it consumed his thoughts. Gone are those tranquil muted blues. Instead, his memories are all purple and red, aflame with anger and power. And here we can see that this man argued with his wife, found her out on the town, murdered her, and then 'escaped' by heading on this sub.

With this much anger still in him, with this energy consuming him, with the isolation of the island, it is no wonder he becomes a villain.

Still ... I read comics for a story ... not story boards. Even if it was that one word, his wife's name on the blue beach, it would have been better, maybe even have had some powerful irony once we learn of her ending here.

The art is beautiful. The coloring as the story progresses mirrors the tone. And the origin told in fevered glimpses is interesting. But in the end this is a wordless origin about a guy mutated by radiation.

And as the backup story in a book whose main story is about a guy mutated by radiation, it seemed redundant.

Overall grade: C+


Martin Gray said...

Excellent review, very fair, I like that you gave context before launching into your opinion of the story.

I'm not aching to see more Max Landis Superman work.

LJ-90 said...

You know? I'm not gonna say anything about your review which I think was fair even if I think I enjoyed the story more than you did.

I'm just gonna say something really quickly about the part before the review. I agree with you that it's easier to destroy than to create and I believe that if you had do your original idea of destroying Landis' work, it would have been okay in my book.

But you didn't, and you found a way to let your feelings about the movie know and still preserve your integrity and you didn't fall in the trap and become sort of a hypocrite. And that's actually admirable. That, for me, it's a Superman moment in real life.

Yeah yeah I know, it's only a comic book review, but hey, I read Superman comics because I find the character inspiring, so if I can be inspired by a comic book, I can be inspired by a review too. You just showed the world that you don't have to sink into the mud to let your feelings out and you don't need to destroy and act all cool to critic something with style.

Like I said, Superman moment of the day. It's inspiring actually.

That's all I wanted to say, and sorry for the crappy english, not my first languaje, so, sorry for the grammar.


Sean Dillon said...

Say, have you seen this yet?