Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Action Comics #977

Last week, I gushed ... maybe too much ... about how great Supergirl #8 was.

Settle in. I am about to gush about Action Comics #977.

I have been waiting for Superman to be back track in DC continuity. Yes, I loved Morrison's Action Comics run. Yes, I loved the early Pak/Kuder run in Action Comics. But otherwise, the years since the New 52 have been sort of a drag for Superman fans. It all seemed to reach a terrible critical mass of "Who is this character" in The Truth, when Superman was depowered, out of Metropolis, angry at Lois, riding a motorcycle, and kidnapping and pulverizing super-villains until they obeyed him. That isn't Superman.

It wasn't right.

Which is why I have been thrilled about #Rebirth, a movement which was based on bringing back classic interpretations of characters. The theme has been to move away from deconstruction of these characters and instead to focus on construction instead. Ollie is a socially relevant crusader. Wonder Woman is an ambassador of peace. Supergirl is a young hero on the journey. And Superman is with Lois, a reporter at the Daily Planet, and an inspiration.

That doesn't mean there aren't speedbumps. #Rebirth led to Superman Reborn which made two Superman timelines into one. But the pre-Flashpoint and the New 52 Kal's walked very different paths. The differences need to be reconciled. And while that can be done on a reader-to-reader basis (me figuring out what I want in and out), Action Comics #977 is a sort of primer. It sets the foundation of Superman's origin and beginnings. And that is a good place to start.

Writer Dan Jurgens and artist Ian Churchill do a wonderful job setting the stage, acknowledging the stories from the past, and moving us forward. And we get the beginning of a new villain as well.

I loved this book. And frankly, it was needed.

 The book opens on a familiar and yet oddly fresh scene. Clark is typing an article for Perry. So the stage has been reset. We once again have a Superman disguised as a mild-mannered reporter working for a great Metropolitan newspaper. No more identity reveal. No more angry Perry at being tricked. This is how it should be. (I also love the nods on post-its and books in Clark's cubicle - Siegel, Shuster, Swan, and Harras are all mentioned.)

But we also get a new wrinkle. Perry is Jon's godfather!

So this new timeline is still settling in. But we are back to a stable city setting. In fact, Lois mentions the plan for the family to move back to Metropolis soon. Maybe the Hamilton farm is about to fade?

What I like is that Lois and Clark aren't exactly comfortable with the new timeline either. It feels like the dominant personality is the pre-Flashpoint one. But what has and has not happened? What are the specifics? And do they know them all? Time to investigate.

Just like the variable Lois names on mail and mailboxes in Superman #20, I think Clark saying he can't remember specifics shows the universe is still in flux. What really happened?

I have said it other places (and I am dating myself here) but this feels like comics in the immediate aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Which stories still happened? Which stories didn't? Initially, it was often left up to the reader to decide. It was only when definitive stories happened (like Man of Steel or Perez's Wonder Woman) to reset things that it became more apparent.

Throughout the issue, we see a new villain.
Appearing as a red humanoid body with floating text like in the Matrix movies, this person first courts Metallo by rebuilding his body. Then he flatters Blanque by understanding that villain's manifesto of 'violence as art' and controlling a car to run down some innocents.

Given the look and the power set, this has to be the new Cyborg Superman. We are heading away from Zor-El and back towards Hank Henshaw.

What is more interesting is the return to a more 90s look for Metallo. This isn't Corben's head on a mecha body. This looks like a Byrne era villain.

In the Fortress, Superman asks to see a replay of his own origin. There is something akin to 'This is your life'. Or maybe 'This is my life.'

This Superman might not know origin of his has trumped the others. So why not look.

Right off the bat, you can see in this shot of Kryptonian life that it is something of a hodge podge. Some are dressed like Byrne's Krypton. Others like a more Silver Age look. Others even more modern.

So there might not be a specific Krypton we are pulling from. It might be all Kryptons.

But it is pretty clear that Geoff Johns' Superman Secret Origin is the primary source.

This Jor-El doesn't have the Marlon Brando hair but he does have the beard he sported in that book. And Lara is once again blonde.

And per usual, the Science Council isn't listening so Jor-El has to take matters into his own hands.

I do like that we get a Kara picture in the house. It shows they were a close El family.

And hear the desperate scientists worry if a kindly couple will find their son. Superman is there witnessing this. And he voices a reassurance of how warm the Kents are.

This sort of 'Superman visiting Krypton' story is very Silver Age. I can see in my head a picture of Superman crying as he sees Krypton explode in a 50s retelling of his origin.

I did like that Superman has a visceral reaction to this. He calls it gut-wrenching and wonders why he wanted to watch this to begin with.

And then we see the Kents, looking like they walked right out of Superman Secret Origin, finding the rocket.

Again, this is almost a retelling of Superman's origin. So seeing Martha state how they will take him in was lovely.

So now we know about this side of the story.

And then we get two pages that pull images almost directly from the Secret Origins mini. Feel free to go back and read my reviews from 2009.

But Pete's cast, Clark holding Lana in a storm, Lex cackling about Kryptonite ... it is all from that mini-series.

This is *the* origin now. And that makes me happy.

As folks have said elsewhere, this means the Legion most likely exists!

Superman is satisfied with learning his new history.

But we see that someone else is there in the Kryptonite technology. That crystal ghost has to be Henshaw as well. It will be how he opts into the Kryptonian side of his Cyborg body.

I have read Superman's origin story countless times. But with the recent upheaval, setting his beginnings on solid ground felt necessary. And as a reader, I kind of needed to catch my breath a little after the Reborn arc. So Jurgens giving us this, so we can pause and understand who this Superman is, was a great idea.

And as someone who like Superman Secret Origin, I don't mind that being the template.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

First book I read illustrated by Churchill was a... Cable issue, I think. Mostly I remember him for his Post-Crisis Supergirl issues. His art has definitely changed and improved a lot since.

I missed the references on Clark's cubicle. Good catch!

"Given the look and the power set, this has to be the new Cyborg Superman. We are heading away from Zor-El and back towards Hank Henshaw."

Thank God for that.

That scene where Superman watches a recording of his life definitely has a kind of Silver/Bronze feeling. How many times did Superman or even Supergirl do this? Action Comics #500, the Krypton Chronicles...

"I do like that we get a Kara picture in the house. It shows they were a close El family."

Zor is no longer an estranged brother. I approve. And Kara's family look like their Pre-Flashpoint selves!

I was a tad relieved when I read in DC Wikia that Kara would make a flashback appearance alongside Superman's main supporting cast. I feared that it would be very brief, and it was, but at least her existence and her status like a member of Superman's family and cast is being acknowledged.

Still I thought we would have a flashback scene of her rocket crash-landing on Earth. Howver the flashback skimmed over Superman's early years (surely deliberate on Jurgens' part). Oh, well. Good enough.

"This is *the* origin now. And that makes me happy."

In your 2009 reviews you told you felt "Superman: Secret Origin" was solid enough to be used for twenty years. So far, you have been right. It's more modern than Superman's Pre-Crisis origin but it's less bare-bones than Byrne's version. Ergo, it's good enough to be used over and again.

Also, Jor and Lara's heart-wrenching scene is one reason because I'll never embrace John Byrne's origin. "Man of Steel"'s version of that scene always felt colder. Too colder.

Superman can and would love and honour both his birth and foster parents, and THAT is something Byrne has never got.

Of course, since Byrne's initial idea had Kryptonians looking animal-like because "human aliens are not realistic" I doubt he ever got Superman, however he claims to be a fan.

"As folks have said elsewhere, this means the Legion most likely exists!"

Thank God. Who did think it was a good idea divorcing the Legion from Superman origin?

Oh, right. "Someone" who disliked the Legion and disliked Superboy because he was "an innecessary character".

Martin Gray said...

Lovely job as ever, Anj. I think Mike Carlin is referenced at Clark's desk too.

I do think that now Perry is Jon's godfather he should be in on the secret; he's been brought into the family,and it would be really hurtful were he to find out he's not quite trusted.Mind, like Gordon over in Batman, he HAS to have worked it out.

I giggled on seeing Jackee at the end, positioned as an important supporting cast member. If she's appeared in a page worth of panels so far, I'd be surprised. Still,the page hopefully represents the future too, with Jackee and Ron reminding us Superman doesn't live in a all-white world. Let's see them have some storylines soon. And Alice, and Jimmy, and even good old Steve!