Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Action Comics #17

A while back it was announced that Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics was going to run one more issue than planned. And at the time, I was elated. I have loved this run and it's wonderful mix of Golden Age, Silver Age, and more modern interpretations of the Man of Steel. Any extra pages were going to be appreciated.

I look at Action Comics #17, which came out last week, as the 'extra issue', a sort of bridge leading up to the finale of the Vyndktvx arc. Surprisingly, it was one of my least favorite issues of the run. Part of the joy of Morrison is that the stories are wild rides, living on the fringe of comprehensibility in some places. What could be more Morrison-like than a story happening simultaneously at multiple points of a time line. And like the best of Morrison stories, I have been able to just sit back and enjoy that wild ride, understanding enough of what was happening when to appreciate it.

This issue sort of tried to wipe some of that wonder away. Action Comics #17 has the most exposition I have seen in this title. And in some ways, that took away some of the joy of what was happening. In many ways, I prefer being shown what is happening rather than being told.

There are still some great moments in this book ... some really great moments. But the middle portion of the book when Vyndktvx basically goes into monologue mode sort of fell short.

The art on the book, done by Rags Morales and Brad Walker, is fine with some nice panel compositions when a more 5th dimension feel wiggles its way into the story.

As we have learned in prior issues, Ma and Pa Kent die in a Vyndktvx-planned car wreck on Clark's senior prom night. With Martha already gone, Pa asks Clark to remove him from the hospital to let him die in peace at home. Clark obliges.

It allows Morrison to channel one of the more famous scenes in Superman's origins, a dying bedside chat from Pa.

When is Clark upset that despite his powers he was unable to save his parents, Pa gives him some of that famous Kent wisdom and extracts a promise. Pa asks Clark to be a champion of the downtrodden, a force of good, and asks that he fights a never-ending battle to make the world a better place.

I am a sucker for home-spun Pa wisdom and I think this is wonderful. It shows the bedrock that Clark's ethics are built on.

I have seen different versions of this scene, like this one above. There is something different about a bedside promise and a bedside vow. I don't think Pa would need to have Clark vow to obey (as above). I think he would know Clark would do what was right.

Meanwhile, in the present, Super-Doomsday continues to pummel a seemingly defenseless Superman. Despite this drubbing, despite Super-Doomsday wondering why Superman hasn't simply died, Supeman refuses to give up. It is a brutal scene with Doomsday beating Superman with his memorial statue.

I love Gene Ha's design of Super-Doomsday. I posted about the S-shield on Doomsday here. Another element that caught my eye was this symbol on his back (and seen in smaller version in the upper left of the front s-shield. It looked like a sort of icon, a mix of an omega and a spit-curl symbol.

I asked Ha on Twitter if there was anything else to it. And, in a wonderful addition to this corporate creation, another aspect of the symbol is that it is a copyright symbol. Fantastic!

We see some of that exposition I was talking about when the issue switches to the Legion. Their mission has been shown/implied throughout the run. Now we have them saying exactly what they are doing.

They were inspired to form by the death of Superman. They need to go back in time to stop Superman from dying which will somehow stop Universo from taking over the United Planets. They need stop the K-engine from being stolen (seen in issues 5 and 6). They talk to Ms. Nyxly (implied in the earliest issues). We see them with Superman on his orbiting Fortress (again from issue 6).

I kind knew all of that from prior issues so I don't know if I needed to hear it and be shown it. I will say the reverse origin (inspired by Superman's death) is an interesting wrinkle.

And then Vyndktvx breaks the fourth wall and starts to tell us how his plan unfolded.

He conspired against Glenmorgan, creating a power vacuum that Luthor would fill in a worse way. It is funny, because that move from someone repugnant from a societal point of view to a power-hungry super-scientist is sort of the move from the Golden Age to the Silver Age.

But again, this is exposition.

And then we hear him say that some isomorphic magic connects Glenmorgan's tie, Pa Kent's hankerchief, and Superman's cape. Getting the cape will secure Vyndktvx's victory. But that is foiled by the boy from Action Comics #0. Realizing he needs some troops to cover the details, Vyndktvyx forms his anti-Superman league.

I suppose it is nice to tie the zero issue story into the larger plot. But the isomorphic magic bit seemed strained even for Morrison. And I don't need a reason for Vyndktvx to form his army. Why wouldn't he? So maybe too much exposition again.

And then we see Nimrod shoot the teleporting tesseract bullet into Superman's brain, the site of the Legion battle in Action Comics #6.

Again, I don't know if I needed to see this scene to flesh out the story.

So this middle section, while having a couple of nice moments, seemed superfluous. Were they added to pad the page count of this issue so that the major finale could have its own moment next month?

With the exposition behind us, we get back to this fight with Doomsday, the 'second time' Superman died.

One thing I have loved about Morrison's run is that Superman is truly a champion of the people. They trust him and love him and are inspired by him. We don't see that in Superman or Justice League. That's a shame.

Anyways, look at this scene where despite Super-Doomsday looming over them, the citizens of Metropolis risk their own lives to get the Kryptonite chains off him. This was my favorite moment of the book.

And we finally get to see the face of the Super-Doomsday. I guess there isn't a surprise ... it is Doomsday!

Is this what we want Superman to be ... a monster??

And there has to be some sort of back-handed jab at DC. That their 'corporate directive' is to annihilate the competition. That they will corrupt and pervert Superman into something he isn't as long as it sells better that Marvel.

Maybe I am reading to much into this ...

But the fight isn't over. In a classic Luthor move, he wants the glory of killing Superman. And so he shows up to stop Doomsday from finishing the fight. Nice ending.

So there are some very nice moments in this book: the Pa Kent speech, the citizens helping, the continued 'abyss looking back' nature of Super-Doomsday and how it comments on today's comics; they are all fantastic.

But somehow having things explained to me by Vyndktvx sort of dulled some of the Morrison magic here.

I still think that this will end up being one of my favorite long arcs for the character. And I do think the finale is going to be great.

Overall grade: B/B+


Martin Gray said...

Excellent review! I rather enjoyed the exposition, though as you say, it was pretty much spelling out what we could infer from earlier issues. I'm a bit slow sometimes, so a reminder doesn't come amiss.

Looking forward to your review of the back-up, which I consider a miraculous return ...

Jay said...

This whole run has just been fantastic in my opinion. What an awesome origin for the Superman mythos to run off of for, hopefully, many years to come.

Anj said...

Looking forward to your review of the back-up, which I consider a miraculous return ...

That back-up reminded me so much of that story too!

Anonymous said...

Except that Grant Morrison basically gave Lois very little development in 18 months. He never showed their first meeting, never showed the triangle for 2 and gave Olsen more prominence than her.

It's a very problematic origin story for they reason alone. Lois was treated very poorly by Morrison with rare exceptions.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comment.

It is a great point that the supporting cast and especially Lois has been mostly ignored here. It seems like Morrison wanted to establish Superman's character first.

Lois was treated very poorly by Morrison with rare exceptions.

I thought her role in the zero issue was fantastic. I thought her role with Susie was okay. I think his characterization of her, when there, was fine.

But I do agree ... not enough Lois.

Vin The Comics Guy said...

I think some points were left out of #18 - such as the isomorphic angle, unless Nyxly's escape into Superman's S shield was supposed to be the trick.

also, we didn't get to see if Clark's having the drink with Nyxly made the difference from Vyndktvx being a "teetotaler". I'm not sure if something go dropped out of the final script for #18.

Hey - it's Grant's swan song. I just hope he comes back for more.