Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: Action Comics #16

Action Comics #16 came out this week, the penultimate issue of Grant Morrison's reimagining of the Man of Steel's origins. This has been one big story in Action since its inception and this issue shows us all of those plot threads collapsing in on each other. We are seeing the ends of days ... but we are seeing it on different days as time itself is attacked. 

This is standard Morrison insanity. As readers, we are shunted through four timelines: the day before yesterday, yesterday, now, and the year 3030. These are dark times, each and every one. But as readers we are only given fleeting glimpses of them before we move to the next. And the villains of this last year and a half are here as well. Vyndktyvx of course. But also his Anti-Superman Army. And the Super-Doom from Action Comics #9

Maybe I am used to this Morrison stuff, but I just rolled with, let it roll over me, picking up on the themes here. This is a crucible for Superman, a life and death battle sprinkled throughout his life. 

But I also felt that this wasn't just different times in this Superman's life being attacked. Maybe this explains the crises in other Supermen incarnations. There is a Crisis on Infinite Earths vibe here. There is some 'Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow'.  There is some Doomsday. And other small hints at other Supermen. Heck, I'm the guy who thinks Ferlin Nyxly in an early 70's issue is somehow involved. As a longtime Superman, this sort of stuff is beautiful.

We start in a dark future, the 3030 Earth, mired in a police state, a place where the Legion is in hiding. The Legion is fighting to get into their headquarters, fighting to get to the last time bubble, to go back and change things so this doesn't happen. There may be a Superman statue in the background. But his light, his inspiration is nowhere to be found here.

And here is the Legion, the original three and the espionage squad fighting their way in to head to the past. It felt like old time to see Shrinking Violet, Chameleon Boy, and Projectra use their skills to get by the first wave of guards. But it is the snaky, robot-handed Jeckie. Again, this isn't the current Legion. I can't remember when this was the Legion. But it is Morrison showing us all histories, all versions.
Chameleon Boy and Projectra might die, but their sacrifice won't be in vain if the Legion can change things. 

But how does this tie into Superman? Is Vyndktvyx reaching this far into the future?

We switch to yesterday, where Lois and Jimmy wait for Clark by the same Superman statue we saw in 3030, a statue commemorating Superman's death years ago, a death he returned from to rebuild things. Lois says this is a sign of rebirth, not death. This isn't a grave. This is a place of hope.

But we have seen that statue before in Whatever Happened ... and in Funeral For A Friend.

But things change here. The weather becomes darker. It is similar to the day Superman died. And the reverence is broken by Superman fighting Phantom Kryptonian Xa-Du.

While in battle, Superman asks Jimmy and Lois to find Mr. Triple X at the hospital. I have to say I might need to reread things. I thought Mxyzptlk died on this world. Here he is comatose.

As for Superman, he batters Xa-Du by out-boxing him. Superman studied the sweet science? Could this be some Morrison homage to Superman vs Muhammed Ali? Or just a nod to his simpler past, being taught by Pa in the barn.

Throughout the big moments, the crazy battles, there are powerful small moments. I loved this one where Lois' niece Susie. She briefly shakes off Vyndyktvyx control, saying she was forced into helping him when he threatened her family. That makes it easier for me to understand why she would join the little man. 

I always say that big moments deserve big art. I loved this picture of Vyndktvyx as he offers eternal life to anyone who turns their back on Superman when he asks for help.  This is a big moment from a plot point. Will people turn their back on their hero? I don't this Superman, the hero of the people, will be shunned.
It is also big art. I love the burned Mxy' derby sitting on Vyndktvyx' head, a trophy of his prior victory.
But I also love how spider-like he looks holding all this together. At first I thought this was an effective show of how powerful he is, squatting on the space time continuum. But then I thought this instead showed how he is barely holding this together, this globe of screens exploding away from him.

Back in the now, Superman lays at the mercy of the Anti-Superman gang and their Kryptonite spectrum powers. Green causes blood poisoning. Red causes changes in perception (an interesting take on the old concept of Red K, more that it is an hallucinogen than creating mutations). And blue kills your spirit. I guess Blue K makes you feel blue? Knowing Morrison, it has to be a soul-killing power.
And who is this red-powered woman who talks of being spurned? It has to be Maxima! I remember Green and Johnson initially wanted Reign to be Maxima but were told someone else had ideas for her. This has to be her in her red-headed glory.

While trying to revive Mr. Triple X at the hospital, Jimmy notices that outside has worsened. Red skies, storms, just like Doomsday, the day Superman died. So many references to prior stories there making this like a tapestry of Superman's lives.

But this is the thing. This doesn't look like the last time Superman died.  This is the same time Superman died. That's why it looks the same. Vyndktvyx is attacking Superman throughout time. This looks like three years ago. It looks like now. It looks like yesterday. It is all the same attack!

That's brilliant.

Before Triple X can awaken, Nimrod shows up to kill him. Look at Lois fend him off. Lois slamming a fire extinguisher into a super-villain's skull. That's the Lois I want to read.

Now the day before yesterday, we see the Earth 1 Lex building the harmonic machine his Earth23 counterpart did in Action Comics #9. In that issue, Superman trapped Superdoom between the wavelengths. Here, Lex, nudged by Vyndktvyx, releases him on Earth 1.

Back in my review of Action Comics #9, I said:
Maybe that Over-Superman will break free of his dimensional prison and threaten the Earth 1 Superman. Maybe Morrison wants to show that only a simple and pure Superman can defeat that guy, so that when our Superman faces it, we will be shown that he is what Superman should be? Maybe.

Looks like I might get to see that after all. Can Superman overcome this mockery? This faceless smug bully who is the worst of what Superman could be? I think Morrison understands Superman. To have him face this enemy and defeat him is perfect.

Krypto shows up to help but with the Kryptonite fueled army and Superdoom as well as magical Kryptonite chains he is of little help. Things look bad.

Superman in Kryptonite chains is such famous image. I bet we see a Kryptonite Nevermore image next issue, another iconic image from another Superman's life - Superman breaking out of K-chains. But look at that last panel, a determined Superman, sickly green, still ready to fight when things seem lost. That is Superman too.

Now that was a crazy ride. 

It did just what a penultimate issue should do. It set up all the pieces for the ending. Superman, The Legion, Krypto, Mr. Triple X all poised to fight Vyndktvyx, the Anti-Superman Army, and Super-Doomsday. This issue moved the story forward (throughout multiple timelines no less). And we understand enough (mostly through last issue's exposition) just what the motives are here. 

But all that was told through the beauty of multiple threats, multiple timelines, multiple stories, and multiple references to prior Superman incarnations. That is the Multitude. I don't know if I understood all of it. But I know a good Superman story when I read one. And this was a very good Superman story. This was one of those issues were it was hard to pick the panels to show because so many showed so much.

Rags Morales and Brad Walker's art shines here. This is cataclysmic in some places, trippy in others, emotional elsewhere. The art conveys all the feelings it should, enhancing this wild ride.


Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Great review. Given the wink to Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow, it'd be a nice turnaround if Mr Mxyzptlk turned out to be Superman's saviour.

Anj said...

So true Mart. I fully expect to see Vyndie take a black energy form like Mxy did at the end of "whatever happened". I think it also feeds into this Morrison belief that all stories 'really happened' even that one.

Of course, in the wake of the brutal cutting back-and-forth sniping between Moore and Morrison this year, this homage is meta-delicious.

I mean wonderfully meta-scrumptiously delicious.

mathematicscore said...

Great point Anj! What if "Vyndie" is half of Mxy split by the phantom Zone projector? HOLY CRAP!

Anonymous said...

Just happy that we're back to the pre-DCnU characterization of Lois!

Oh, thank the LORD!

She can bash anyone who messes with her, in the noggin, with a fire extinguisher, any day of the week, in my book! ;)

Anj, you've just sold me into getting this & World's Finest, onto my pull list. Thank you! ;)