Action Comics #22 came out this week, starting an 'all Scott Lobdell, all the time' couple of months in the Superman titles. While Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are waiting in the wings, Lobdell takes over the venerable Action title with artist Tyler Kirkham.
When this was first announced, I literally cringed. We were in the midst of the incongruous and inscrutable H'El on Earth storyline and Lobdell wasn't writing a Superman consistent with my vision of the character. Now I still have some issues with Lobdell's approach to Superman but I have to admit that his last couple of Superman issues have been much better than the detestable early part of his run on the book. In particular, the Psi-War plotline is pretty engaging. And judging by this issue, it looks like Lobdell will use his writing monopoly to advance that story in both books. Maybe DC should put the little numbered S-shields on the covers during this time?
Tyler Kirkham is on art here. I have liked his work on Green Lantern Corps and Legion Lost so I was not surprised to find that I liked it here. There is a nice variation on his art here, smooth and clean in places, detailed and gritty in other spots.
Those numbered shields might be helpful here. A week ago Superman #21 ended with a cliffhanger, Hector Hammond facing off against H.I.V.E.'s Queen Bee. Here he is working with HIVE, in space and about to board their 'world-killer' orbiting space station.
This is a pretty impressive death satellite. It is surprising that it hasn't been noticed by anyone! I will say, suddenly the H.I.V.E. goes from being a wonky old Teen Titans Hydra clone to a much bigger threat.
It is also interesting to read that Hammond has battled the Green Lantern Corps in the past, in deep space no less. It means at least some remnants of the 'old DC' are still around in the universal reboot of the New 52. But that also makes it relatively confusing. The New 52 really still has that 'immediate Post-Crisis' feel to it. What has happened? What hasn't?
While basking in the glow of this death machine, Hammond is startled by the sudden arrival of Straith, a member of the Pax Galactica. He has a sort of 'Future Imperfect Hulk feel to him with his green skin and white hair, albeit with armor and an energy war hammer. Given the atomic symbol on his gauntlet and the title of the story ' Atomic Knights', I wondered at first if we were going to get a re-imagining of that old DC dalmatian-riding group. But in the end, I think I have a different idea.
Hammond isn't impressed by Straith's showy arrival or his apparent strength, calling him a moron and threatening him.
Again, the first panel shows how the timing of this story might be just a bit off. An editorial reference points to Superman #24, a book not out for 3 months!!! Hard for me to get too excited about a Queen Bee/Hammond fight in that book if I already know they team up!
Straith has little patience and with one blow of his giant war hammer destroys the orbiting laser cannon/satellite. Just like that I immediately had a better sense of this guy's power level.
One thing I did love about this scene is the mix of cowardice and bravado in the Hammond panel. He clearly still feels superior to everyone but he also knows when the time is right to run away.
Back on Earth, Clark and Cat attend a gala movie premiere, a film which features an aging retiring star called Harlan Quint as well as the debut of a starlet/singer Ali Allred.
I have come to like this version of Cat Grant much more than the conniving prior incarnation. This one remains focused on the entertainment side of news but seems ... I don't know ... shrewd. She tells Clark that her side of their site will pay the bills allowing him to go out an win Pulitzer prizes. I find her sort of optimism in the face of TMZ squalor charming.
She and Clark crash the backstage party and Cat is able to grab an exclusive from Allred, thanks to a little heat vision assist from Clark. He actually uses his powers to sabotage all the other reporters technology. I don't know ... it seems a little petty. Moreover, you would think that someone somewhere would have a
Still, this was a nice scene with Cat.
On the other side of the room, Clark catches the scent of Infinitium, a rare and powerful substance. And his nose leads him to Quint who is wearing some sort of exoskeleton apparently powered by the stuff.
Aging superstar actor powered by something called Infinitium. I wonder if this guy is trying to have remarkable longevity? My second thought is he might be part of The Twenty organization we heard about in Superman.
I actually wouldn't have minded more of this scene as I thought the characterization for the most part was spot on and the subplots and discussions more interesting. Unfortunately, Hector Hammond shows up and ruins things, telepathically broadcasting into everyone's minds that he needs to meet Superman in orbit.
Even Superman has to marvel at how powerful Hammond's reach is to pull off a calling card like that. Will we ever hear how Hammond has increased his telepathic abilities so much? Or do we just roll with it?
Hammond, in the end, ends up using Superman. He points out the destroyed HIVE satellite and tells Superman that Straith destroyed it. Maybe Straith is a threat just like HIVE.
I always say when art and words come together, there is no better medium than comics. This last panel is perfect. You can tell how irritated Superman is that Hammond is right. Superman has to investigate Straith even if it means being used in a way by Hammond. The expression, the crossed arms ... they tell us so much more than the dialogue can convey.
And artist Tyler Kirkham continues to be on a roll. Superman flies up to Straith on to the moon and asks him just what he is doing there. I loved the quizzical expression on Superman in that second panel.
Unfortunately, this being comics, this benign conversation starter deteriorates into a full out brawl. Straith doesn't like the question and smacks Superman and a slugfest begins. And Straith, remarkably, doesn't just hold his own but actually appears to win the fight!
One thing that is interesting is Superman chides himself for asking questions first and punching later. I hope that it is frustration that makes him say that because I think Superman should always try a peaceful solution initially. It also seemed odd for that statement to be here in the immediate aftermath of Andy Diggle's short run where in the story and sent out on promo art there is a big push on how Superman doesn't "throw the first punch."
Straith is stopped from trying to kill Superman by his leader Lourdes of the Pax Galactica. She has led her troops here to stop a deadly threat called 'Lexus'. And she thinks Superman should help.
So lots of stuff to talk about here.
First off ... a villain named Lexus? I don't know.
But more importantly, I think the Pax Galactica isn't a riff on the Atomic Knights but rather Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Pax Galactica ... Guardians of the Galaxy. When I saw this splash page, I immediately thought of Gamora of the Guardians. And there might even be some word play on her name. Gamora is like Gomorrah - the biblical city of Sin. Lourdes is a holy place, a site of miracles. Sort of opposites? I will not be surprised if the helmeted guy is a rodent/animal of some sort (like Rocket Racoon) and the shrouded guy is a plant.
This seems to fit into a trend of recent Lobdell Superman stories. There isn't anything amazing about this story. The idea of two heroes accidentally mistaking each other for threats and fighting is as old as comics. But sprinkled into a blustering main plot are some nice moments of character, things I didn't see early in Lobdell's run.
And, I kind of hope there are some jabs at Marvel in this plot. Am I over-reaching with this Guardians of the Galaxy idea?
I thought Tyler Kirkham really did great work here, particularly with Superman, Clark, and Cat. Nice details in both quiet moments and the action sequences.
Overall grade: B