Action Comics #19 came out this week and was such a fascinating book to read.
It was the first issue post Grant Morrison lyrical opus.
It was the first and last issue of the Andy Diggle 'era' on the book.
And it was the beginning of Tony Daniel's time on the book, as artist here and as writer/artist for the 2 issues after.
That's a lot of stuff going on with the book making it the most intriguing book in my pull list this week. And that was before I even read a word.
I did have high hopes for the book for a while, since reading Andy Diggle's interviews about Superman and the direction of the book. Not surprisingly, the book delivers on the expectation. This read like a true Superman story. Not the blustering, angry, sneering character in Scott Lobdell's Superman (which I have had issues with). And not like the nostalgic pastiche, 'what timeline is it', metatextual Morrison story (which I loved). This read like Superman ... with a strong Lois, with him defending the oppressed, with a diabolical Luthor, and with big action ... a fitting story for Action Comics.
And that makes this more bittersweet because Diggle felt compelled to leave because of editorial issues. I have sampled his Superman and savored it but won't get any more.
Tony Daniel really shines here. Whether it be a flirty romantic scene in a bar, outrageous splash page action of Superman fighting mecha, or Luthor wringing his hands in glee, it all just pops off the page.
Alas, it is all over.
Diggle starts his story one year in the past and I think it is a brilliant move. Morrison's arc was wonderful, nuanced, and layered. We learned about Clark's Daily Star beginnings, his jeans/t-shirt time, and his journalistic style. But we didn't get a lot of Superman/Clark interacting with his supporting cast. And the Vyndktvx story kind of stormed off on its own in an All-Star Superman sort of way.
So setting the clock back a year would have given Diggle time to set the stage for how Superman is in the DCnU. How we got from a beloved 'worker' style Superman to the distrusted guy who just fought H'El.
It would have given him time to solidify the best supporting cast in comics, a cast mostly ignored in the Super books since the New 52.
For me, the opening scene of Lois flirting with Clark was the best scene of the issue. I got to finally ... finally ... see the Lois I have been wanting to see. Here she is strong investigative journalist, willing to put herself in danger to get the story and use the news to right wrongs, all while embedded in a war zone. And, as someone who liked the Clark/Lois romance, it was great to see the two so openly flirt with each other. Just wonderful.
Despite some pretty obvious romantic banter, Clark is called away and has to literally fly into action.
Most telling is this panel. He clearly has feelings for Lois but feels he needs to walk away because 'it wouldn't work out' but even he doesn't seem to be buying it. And then there is the 'I fear my enemies would lash out at here' rationalization. This is a much more mature look at this relationship than Clark walking in on a shirtless Jon Carroll or peeking at Lois' texts.
I thought the art here works with the words so well. Clark in shadows works well to mirror a sort of sad moment in his life, in blackness.
Unfortunately, it is this moment when Jon Carroll swoops in on Lois at the bar. I guess I have to applaud Diggle for showing us Lois and Clark almost in love as a couple.
The next pages are Superman battling with Quraci warships, the same art pages seen in the Diggle preview pages a couple of weeks ago albeit with text and dialogue. Intermingled in the pages are the phrases we saw in those pages - "I don't like bullies". "I'll throw the last punch", etc.
What a great panel. Superman squares off against these huge mecha war machines. But he offers the pilots a chance to power down and talk. He says he on the Earth to protect, not provoke. And he says he defends the downtrodden. He looks determined.
This is Superman.
I often say that big action deserves big art and the fight against the war machines is big action. As a result, and appropriately, we get a lot of splash pages and near splash pages showing Superman fight these monstrosities.
This is the best shot of the battle. It reminded me of the best japanese animation battle scenes .. screaming missiles, crazy smoke trails, the fighting machine cloaked in the haze so you only have a vague sense of it, a small Superman dwarfed by this thing.
This just sizzles. Big action deserves big art! Daniel delivers.
Of course rail guns, missiles, and even 'infrasonics' can only do so much to Superman. After being battered around a bit, Superman is able to destroy the things, ending the threat.
But things take a chilling turn.
A pilot who ejected from one of the battle units suddenly looks like Jimmy Olsen (explaining the gatefold cover image) and then is killed from afar by a self-destruct mechanism he wasn't even aware he was carrying under his skin.
So why Jimmy? Unless whoever is behind this knows that will carry some psychological impact. And whoever it is, they can't be very nice if they are so cavalier with their hired help.
We learn pretty quickly that the guy behind this attack is Lex Luthor.
Now in Morrison's Action he was a paunchy highly intelligent self-serving coward. In Lobdell's Superman he is a mad scientist who seems to have gone toe to toe with Superman. So where did that change come from. So I am glad he is the main villain here so that we can get a handle on what happened to him.
Diggle does a great job showing us who this Lex is by pulling a bit of a switcheroo on the reader. We first see Luthor talking to a world famous psychiatrist and asking her to help him. It almost softens Luthor to think that he would seek out someone for aid, to seek mental health. Does Luthor have some self-awareness?
After telling her she can tell him anything, the psychiatrist unloads ... calling him a sociopath and the most dangerous man on the planet.
And then the switcheroo. Luthor ignores what she tells him, telling her she is wrong. As we pan back, we see that the psychiatrist is a prisoner of Lex's, forced to do these sessions under threats of death. And he hasn't liked what she has said yet.
So we go from wondering if Lex is seeking help, to hearing he is a sociopath, to being shown he is so deranged he has imprisoned his therapist. It turns the reader on their head as we go from sympathizing with Lex,
maybe even admiring him for realizing he has a problem to fearing and
The whole unfolding of that scene is simply brilliant.
And then we hear his plot. The missiles that were shot at Superman included a Kryptonite infused nanobot which not only can read Superman's DNA but rewrite it. And the nanobot is so small, Superman doesn't even know he has been effected. Nice malevolent work here by Daniel.
Now part of me wonders how a nanobot could read an alien genome. And wouldn't it have to rewrite DNA on a cellular level? Won't that take a long time? And wouldn't his super-immune system fight this thing?
All right, I am overthinking this.
The book ends with Superman already effected by the nanobot, his hand green and eventually deformed into a claw. Nice hook. I love that when Superman crash lands from the pain that people actually care and ask him if he is okay!
So ends the Andy Diggle experiment. And too bad we won't see more. We saw a great portrayal of Lois - strong, determined, sexy, righteous. We see a good Superman protecting the people and thrashing giant robots. We see a demonic Lex Luthor, a perfect threat for Superman. The scene with the psychiatrist is wonderfully constructed. Tony Daniel shines here, especially in the battle scene. And we got a decent hook for a story.
It was a true Superman story, something we haven't seen in a bit.