Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Action Comics #45

Action Comics #45 came out this week, yet another chapter in the depowered, angry Superman trying to uncover the forces behind his current predicament. The cover continues the trend of this arc, placing one word writ large to highlight the theme. Here it is 'Injustice' and frankly I think it is the best word to grace the covers in this story so far.

Because what is happening to Superman is an injustice.

The book is co-plotted by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder, the usual writer/plotter/artist team of this book. And throughout 'The Truth', these two have been a sort of light at the end of a tunnel, showing a still heroic, still good Superman trying to inspire. I have held up Action Comics as the jewel of the super-books.

Unfortunately, the overall arc compels Superman to continue to sink deeper and deeper in to darkness, to succumb to anger, and to lash out. Yes, in this book, Superman does good. And yes, I know that Superman is being influenced by Wrath.

But I am rapidly losing interest in this story. If you are going to deconstruct a character orradically change an established character, you better give me a fantastic story. When you give me an average story, or a confusing story, or an ill-conceived story, it just isn't going to fly.

(Allow me a moment to show you that I can deal with change and I am not always a grumpy old man. Alan Moore makes Swamp Thing a plant elemental, not a mutated man. He makes him a plant elemental. Radically different. Excellent. I was on board. Make Supergirl bitter, angry, and a high school killer and write it poorly. I'm out.Make her a Red Lantern and write it well and as a redemption, I'm in.)

Scott Kolins is on art here and does a nice job of mixing splash pages with pages with many inset panels. I am just not a big Kolins fan.

The book starts out well enough. We see a news report of Superman saving families and refugees from a hurricane. We hear that Superman is depowered, exposed, and only accepted by 23% of the country but he is still Superman.

Hooray. Thank you Greg Pak for shining the light and showing it to us on the first page. And it is a well constructed page by Kolins, the light shining down and Superman raging against the storm.

But that optimism is squelched pretty early. Clark is in a diner in Alabama and we get to see more of the response of the average Joe. The waitress tries to defend Superman. The cook derides Superman. They almost come to blows. And we see that Perry has gone on a tirade against his colleague diminishing the good he has done.

Clark thinks it is all the cloying influence of Wrath. Everyone seems quick to anger, even him. He douses the diner fight by using heat vision to activate the sprinkler system. I didn't realize he still had heat vision.

Clark talks about how hard it has been for him to control his own anger. He knows he has to find and defeat Wrath.

He has set up a mobile headquarters to review all the recent events of his life.

I actually like this sort of characterization of Superman. He is actually doing some detective work here. We know Clark is a smart guy. I am glad this wasn't him getting the information from Batman or another hero. All too often these days we hear Clark say 'I'm not a detective like Batman. I can pick things up and put them down.' Clark is an investigative reporter. He should be able to do this.

But then Hiro shows up. The Toyman has somehow tracked Supes to Alabama and comes in to try to help him.

Of course, Superman's reaction these days is anger. He yells at Hiro for hunting him down. He doesn't want Hiro around because he doesn't want anyone else hurt. So he roughly tosses Hiro out and blows up this backwoods CSI lab.


But I want my Superman to be better than this, stronger than this. Why not explain to Hiro why he is sending him away. Why do this 'scorched Earth' strategy of destroying all this work?

And did this deserve a splash?

Meanwhile, back near Clark's apartment, we see that Lee Lambert is no longer the local hero, local leader.

She is shunned because of her 'Wrath infection'.

Because hey, it's the DC Universe. We can't have someone be accepted as a hero and recognized for their good works. We need to be cynical and grim.


But can't we have an uplifting moment?

We do see what Clark has uncovered. In the guise of Archie Clayton, all slouched and fitted with a Waynetech facial distorter, he works for a laundering company. I like this description, how simple body language can fool people ... like glasses and poor posture.

Clark knows that Wrath in her Metropolis Mayor identity has been heading to Lyfegene, a biological technology company in Alabama. And his tours getting laundry have uncovered a secret lab that he needs to break in to.

While I don't mind Clark doing some investigating, Pak and Kuder make a bit of a jump. They tell us that Clark hacked an electric eye on the company grounds that when broken by a Lyfegene vehicle turns off all the power in the facility. How the heck did that happen? Give me one panel where he plans this. It felt all too easy. This is the villains' headquarters. How could it get shut down so easily.

Regardless, it works. Superman breaks into the lab and sees the Supremacists guarding the place. Evil scientists are working on people clearly effected by Wrath.

It is a creepy panel, people in stocks with inky tendrils, being poked and prodded. This did deserve a splash.

Clark goes ballistic, wading in and trying to free everyone while bashing the bad guys.

But then he runs into Lee, whose arm has turned all Tetsuo, large and horrific.

And that seems to accelerate whatever is happening in Clark. He goes all Wrath-Doomsday. Yet another story where Superman becomes something monstrous. Yet another splash page in this issue.

This issue was up and down. There are nice moments like the opening splash. I like seeing Clark use his investigative skills to track down and infiltrate Wrath's base. And I don't mind hearing the internal struggle he is having to keep his ire in check.

But I don't like when he gives in to the anger, chastising Hiro, blowing up his lab, and becoming this beast. While I can buy Clark doing the detective work, I don't know if this current Superman can hack an electric eye and disable a whole power system.

Frankly I think this is just going on too long. 5 months, 3 titles. And none of it has been particularly well done. And now Action, the one place where I thought I could find a more uplifting take on this new reality has instead gone dark.


But this isn't Superman to me.

Look, maybe this will turn around. Maybe when it is all done the world will embrace Superman again. That somehow his goodness will trump the cynicism of the world. But I haven't seen anything that makes me think it is going in that direction.

Overall grade: C


Anonymous said...

This is going on much too long. It is so tedious. At least we have an explanation for all the toddler like tantrums everyone has been throwing. Wrath. However, does this reason cross over in to the other books. I've lost track of what takes place when.

Perry is just off the hook. His rant in that interview was just bizarre. This is Perry White!! He was shot in the shoulder? The Perry I know would have just thrown back a shot of Whisky and gone about his day. This whining is unbecoming and completely out of character.

At this point I'm nominating Perry White as most out of character and that is saying a lot in this mess of an arc.

And yes, turning in to a monster. Again. Please. Enough.

When oh when is this going to end?

Zoraida said...

Great review!
I have stopped reading Action Comics awhile ago and this Truth and Justice arc reinforced my decision that this is not a book for me. Anyway I wonder why this Wrath isn't affecting Lois or Jimmy, does this villain choose who to affect or not?
I am also tired of this grumpy, stubborn most of the time jerk to everyone "Clark" this is not the hero I loved and admired, it is so sad that DC has really no interest or faith in their first superhero anymore. I can~t see the end of this any time soon.

Godzylla said...

Howdy ho.

"Tetsuo," heh. And didja catch the meta nod to Curt Swan with the name of the laundering company?

Sadly, as noted, even from Pak this story has been all over the place. Perry is so over the top and cartoonish in his reaction to everything that if this turns out to not be a Wrath influence it's just inept. I see mostly normal human reactions in most of the people here, from phobic reactions to Lee to the argument between the diner employees, no Wrath needed. Even Clark's anger over the kids and others being experimented on is understandable without outside influence. (Which would make Wrath more insidious if I thought that was actually a story point.)

Again I say I do not understand the insipid philosophy that Superman's friends are only in danger when it's known that Clark IS Superman and they are Clark's friends as well. Duh-huh? But that seems to be the take here.

And lovely as the variant monster month cover is, it betrays the editorial view of Superman as "other" rather than aspirational.

One very interesting thing I interpreted from Pak's story. Clark's internal monologue at the beginning seems to imply that being depowered in itself is making it harder to keep from getting angry. So his normal body regs help to keep him calm and measured? (Aside from what we've actually seen in the post-Flashpoint universe, anyway.) Potentially very interesting take, considering how often they like to depower him these days, but nothing I expect anyone to follow up on if that was the intention.

Still... blah.

Anonymous said...

Godzylla: I missed that nod, I went back to look. Nice catch. I agree that the phobic reaction makes sense. Most of the reactions make sense with the notable mention of Perry. As you say cartoonish. It is so strange, that is the only thing I could focus on. What is wrong with him? Even beyond Wrath's influence.

I also agree that it makes no sense that when everyone finds out Superman is Clark all of a sudden these people are in danger. Although when I think about it, did Superman have any friends in this post Flashpoint universe? Previously everyone knew that Jimmy and Lois were Superman's friends. Now though it seems Superman rarely had much interaction with the Daily Planet crew, and actually I think that was one of the biggest missteps. They separated him from the Superman family and his roots if you will.

I want something to happen here to change this whole timeline. I don't care what it is. Martin and Anj suggested Vandal Savage. Fine. Have him go back and fight him and change his own timeline. Whatever it is, I'd love it if it happened sooner rather than later. I know, I know. Don't hold my breath. I won't.

Godzylla said...

I'll settle for the Frat Bro of Steel dying and the other Clark & Lois taking over.

Jay said...

Doing that would kill the franchise. Post-Flashpoint Lois and Clark will be sent home eventually, where they belong.

I think what's being lost in the lamentation with his reaction to Hiro is that he's protecting him. Clark CAN'T explain anything. Just knowing him has led to innocent people being kidnapped. And Hiro clearly doesn't get that what with his reaction to wanting to make toys out of the cabin-Fortress. His intentions are good I'm sure but its just not the time and Superman knows that. I couldn't care less if he was a little gruff. What I do care about is showing that Superman still cares by making sure Hiro got home safely. He's not being a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk. He's dangerous to be around right now, and to really know anything about him. Simply knowing where Superman was at the moment put Hiro at risk, from multiple parties. Even the US government.

Anj said...

I think he can protect Hiro and not be so brusque. But as you say, at least his heart is in the right place.

Still. I hope this gets wrapped up soon. I think it might be time to reread Morrison Superman.

Jay said...

He could have. But at the same when someone is as naive about the situation as Hiro clearly was, I just can understand him wanting him away from the situation ASAP. Again, Hiro's a friend and means well, but he's portrayed as not at all grasping the severity of what's going on and why Clark needs to be keeping on the extreme down low like this in the first place. So I can entertain both a desire to keep him safe but a little annoyance as well influencing the quick exit.

As for the whole saga though, I'm with you, I'm rather ready for it to be done. I just miss the powers now. They can play with the public identity for a while longer if they want but I'd rather him back in costume sooner than later.

Martin Gray said...

Very fair review. It's times like this I miss the lettercols - were DC having to print letters on the current direction they'd have to acknowledge it isn't the most popular.

And Superman's treatment of Hiro was appalling, sure, he was excited by toy potential, and showed it, but that's just how he presents himself. He can appreciate a tough situation, and would be a hugely useful ally.

Sina said...

It's "affecting"...not "effecting" :D