Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Action Comics #21

Action Comics #21 came out this week and ended the brief Andy Diggle (1 issue) and Tony Daniel era (?) on the book. Andy Diggle, who walked off the book after his first issue continues to get credit as a co-plotter but I have to wonder just how much this story resembles what he had in mind. Daniel does the co-plotting, scripting, and art on the book. I have to say that I can only wonder just how great this book would have been if both of these creators stayed on board and had their vision of the book allowed to blossom.

I say that because there are a lot of very good moments in this book. In particular, there are some great panel progressions that really tell a story in a way that is unique to comics. And Superman sounds like Superman here. And Lois feels like Lois, which is a refreshing change from recent days. But, I also feel like this story was wrapped up quickly and tweaked to explain some things a bit too easily to make me feel that this is the exact finale that Diggle had in mind.

This isn't a perfect book. As I said, the ending is a little too easy and a somewhat off screen. This book takes place only a year ago but Jimmy seems a bit too young and naive to have become the Jimmy we saw shacking up in Clark's apartment just 12 months later.

But it is a very good Superman book, satisfying and entertaining. And that makes this somewhat a bittersweet review. Because I will again have to ponder 'what might have been'?

Last issue, Superman was battling a giant monster created by Hybrid-virus mutated humans. And in an odd sort of riff on Syndrome from The Incredibles, Luthor (who created the Hybrid virus) dons a super-suit to destroy the thing and be recognized as Earth's hero.

Now how a nanobot virus designed to re-write Superman's DNA could infect humans and make them monstrous and able to merge, I have no idea. So I wonder if this was what Diggle initially wanted. As I sometimes need to do, I will roll with it.

One thing I like is Lois' intrepid and investigative nature surging to the front. While emergency services are clearing the block while wearing their hazmat suits, Lois is walking through the rubble to get her story. Wonderful stuff.

Superman uses the little knowledge he has of the mutated creature need for oxygen to make it disassemble into its component humans. As he plans his next steps, he sees a mutated Lois crying out for help. Of course, it is explained away as a hallucination (like the Jimmy one from the first chapter).

That revelation was almost too quick for my taste. We had just seen Lois leap into the hot zone with little concern for her own well-being. For a second I thought the mirage might be real. Unfortunately, we get the reality of the situation the next panel.

I still wonder if the 'hallucination' was part of the first plot by Diggle or a simple solution to explain away the Jimmy 'death' before.

Dr. Veritas does show up as a hologram to provide a possible cure. The virus was weakened by red sun rays (I still don't know if I understand that either) in her lab so she teleports in a Red Sun light cannon. She isn't sure if the light will kill those infected or just eliminate the virus but it is an answer.

As I said above, it is a bit too easy of a solution, literally appearing on the stage.

One thing I did like was that despite knowing he will be severely weakened by the red sun rays (and already hobbled by the virus his body is fighting), Superman says he will stay until the job is done. That is what Superman would do.

Lex arrives. I love the this sort of old-school feel of Lex in a power suit. And he actually gets to kick Superman around a bit. Between the red sun and the virus, Superman isn't at top form. And this sounds like Lex. He talks about himself as a force of nature protecting the world from the alien threat of Superman. I love scenes like this where Lex talks about saving the planet while surrounded by the death and carnage he has wrought.

Amazingly, the red sunlight seems to cure the infected as they de-evolve back to their human form and are shuttled to safety by Lois who has finally arrived at the scene.

Now one thing I didn't realize about this story is that this is Luthor's coming out party as a super-villain. I thought that Lex would have been established as a villain more than a year ago. But it is here, in this battle, that Superman realizes just who his arch-enemy is.

This is one of those panel progressions that I love. The gleeful Luthor revealed by x-ray vision, the battered Superman whispering his name, and the shocked face of Lois realizing who is responsible for this horror show.

Fortunately, Lois has her phone ready and has recorded it all. Unfortunately, in all the craziness, she drops it into the Metropolis river.

This was another nice moment.

I love Lex's cavalier attitude about the sanctity of human life. Despite the victims being apparently cured, Lex implies he is going to kill them to control the spread of infection. He blames Superman for letting them go free and spread the Hybrid threat to the world. Ummm ... that's the virus you created Lex! It shows just how deluded Lex is.

And there is something classic about the glowing red eyes in the solid black panel to convey how angry Superman is.

If the 'red sun' cure seemed easy for the infected humans, Superman's cure seems just as easy. How many times have we seen the mega-dose of yellow sun rays expunge any difficult plot point that faces Superman?

I will say it is a very powerful image by Daniel here.

Rejuvenated and virus-free, Superman flies down and knocks Lex unconscious.

Again, nice panel progression here, even if it furthers the notion that a portion of humanity fears Superman. At least here, it seems plausible. Superman is floating over the defeated Lex, anger in his eyes. The bystanders know who Lex is and don't understand why Superman would clock him. 

This three panel sequence showing an angry Superman who then is ashamed of hearing people sounding afraid of him and then looking up and being more heroic, knowing that is the person he needs to be. This was just fantastic, showing a younger Superman.

While Lois and Jimmy (who she calls her assistant!) tell the police all they overheard, implicating Luthor in the disaster, it simply doesn't have the power as the recorded confession she had on her phone.

Well, when things settle down and while having lunch, Clark says he did some searching and found Lois' phone. He couldn't let her have all the fun. Plus, of course, it is important to he.

For those out there who feel that Lois and Clark should be together, panels like that second one are wonderful. We saw some flirting in the first issue of this arc. Here we see Lois still has feelings for Clark, even if Jon walks into the restaurant on the next panel. Even Clark admits he and Lois are just friends ... even when it is clear he wishes there was more.

So overall a story that had a lot of excellent elements and big art when it needed it. We have a perfect Lois. We have the 'origin' of Luthor as a criminal. There was an overall feeling that this was the right sort of Superman. And that was enough to let me overlook some of the odd quirks and holes in the plot. If this was a primer on what Andy Diggle was planning for the book then I fear we really lost out.

If only ...

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Very nice review, Anj. I'd be happy for Daniel to stick around and try a few full scripts alongside his art, see what he can give us ... he certainly has a good feel for who Superman and Lois are, and his Lex has potential. And yes Indeedy, the art is just lovely, he even makes the Rags Morales version of Clark look good.

Maybe one day we'll hear just what Diggle had planned for this arc.

Jay said...

I actually was pretty let-down. I just thought it was overall kinda boring. The Hybrid idea is a one and done kind of thing instead of becoming an independent, sentient threat of any kind. The story relied way too much on that red light tech which I saw as kind of a cheap escape-all. And I had anticipated this Luthor/Superman fight to be the one to explain the scars, and no dice there. I loved Lois's characterization and the art as usual, but overall the arc ends up as kind of a dud for me. Who knows if things would have been different if Diggle had stayed or if Daniel stayed pretty true to his original ideas, but I'm already anticipating the new team once Lobdell finishes his fill-in stint.

Kandou Erik said...

For all its faults, did the story at least come to together at the end? I skipped out of issues #20 and #21 - but am curious (now that its just 3-part story), wether I should pick up those missing issues.

I sure with Diggle would tell more about why he left. I was so excited for his run. Oh well.

Good review!

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

In many ways I agree with you Jay. The details of the plot are a bit murky. But the 'feel' of the characters was right on and frankly that is crucial to my enjoyment. As a result, I may have upgraded a bit.

Things to wrap up Erik, in a rapid manner.

And I would love to talk to Diggle about his ultimate plans although I doubt we will ever hear them.

Lastly, is it telling that I am happy to read a book where Lois acts like Lois, Lex acts like Lex, and Superman acts like Superman? That should always be true!

Jay said...

Oh I agree there, I had absolutely no issue with any of the characterizations. Superman was good, and I thought Lois and Jimmy as a team really shined, their chemistry here was really fun. Lex was fine, although I still think there's something more sinister and intimidating to the way Lobdell wrote him in Superman #15 out of anyone else's interpretation so far in the New 52 though. And I remain intrigued with Dr. Veritas. We still don't know much about her but I want to.

Count Drunkula said...

Have they announced who is taking over ACTION after Villains Month? I really can't stand the thought of Lobdell on two monthly Superman books. I'm excited for Snyder's UNCHAINED, but I'm not thrilled by Jim Lee's art, so I don't know how long I'll stick with that one.

Jay said...

I don't think any one guy should have the keys to the entire kingdom, so I'm definitely anticipating a new Action team sooner or later, but it hasn't been announced yet. That said, I've really enjoyed pretty much all the ideas Lobdell has put to page for Superman since he's been writing him, even if the execution isn't always the best it can be (teaming him with a better scripter permanently would help immensely there). Snyder's Unchained I'm pretty wary on. On one hand he's trying to push something we haven't seen before with Superman, but virtually everything else he's said is as vanilla as could be. I'll give it a solid chance but I'm concerned. I'm not that big a fan of what he's done with Batman to this point, so I'm not too keen on him having a large influence on Superman.