Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Action Comics #980

Action Comics #980 came out last week and was another chapter in Cyborg Superman's creation of a new Superman Revenge Squad. Written by Dan Jurgens with art by Patrick Zircher, the book is set-up chapter. Jurgens is taking his time putting this team together, perhaps in a way to build up suspense while filling in some of the gaps in these characters' back stories. There is definitely a need, in the post-Reborn super-world, to smooth out the rough edges of continuity here. So Jurgens uses this issue to make sure everyone is on the same page historically.

But there are all the other recent changes to main characters' lives that we need to be kept abreast of as well. So the move to Metropolis and the creation of Batman's Justice League of America are all covered here as well.

I have been very impressed with Jurgens' run on the title so far. And I am always impressed with Zircher's art. But this issue felt like something of a pause. We seemed to downshift a bit. And maybe that is a necessary evil in a middle chapter of a story. We need to set up the rest of the plot. But I feel like the story covered in this issue could have been covered in a fraction of the pages.

I will freely admit that I am a Harley Quinn fan. So I had to get this Gary Frank cover with Quinn is just impotently hammering away on the Cyborg's head. Frank draws everybody great but this Harley is just about perfect!

On to the issue.

The issue opens in Cyborg Superman's lair. We get a sort of role call for the players in the Revenge Squad so far. Henshaw lays out why each of these villains has a grudge against Superman. Each has come close to defeating the Man of Steel individually so together it should be easy. But first, they need something from inside Superman's Arctic Fortress and for that they'll need to spring General Zod.

I suppose it helps inform new readers who all of these guys are. And it at least sets up motivations.

I do think a little back story of Metallo would be appreciated given he was a sort of good guy in the New 52 run, protecting Lois and working with Kal.

One thing about the Cyborg is that it seems somewhat silly that he would wear the Oblivion Stone on a thin chain around his neck and outside his shirt! It's like he is begging for a hero to rip it from his neck.

Meanwhile, Lois is trying to convince Jon that a move away from Hamilton and into Metropolis will be good for the family. You would think after the madness of the recent Superman book would make him run from Hamilton. But he still wants to stay in the sleepy town and hang out with his friends. (I don't know, I'd be more than happy to leave if my best friend, next door neighbor, doctor, and teacher were all murderous villains aiming for me.)

Jon complains that his father can be Superman from anywhere. Lois has to remind him that they both can do good from the Daily Planet as well. It isn't just super-heroics that can change the world.

I was kind of down that Jon didn't even think to mention Lois' work. It felt like he knew how important Lois' contributions in the world were.

Of course, Superman knows that a group is forming to attack him. He knows that Blanque and the Eradicator know his secret identity. And he rightfully worries.

He tells Jon he needs to protect the house. He says he can handle the group and their is nothing to worry about. And Lois knows that Clark wouldn't say those things unless ... [he was actually worried about the opposite].

There is something stiff in Superman's body language in the lower panel. It doesn't feel natural. It implies that he is worried or lying or both. Brilliant.

Knowing he needs to track down the villains, Superman heads to the Watchtower. Batman is able to trace the Eradicator's unique energy to Belle Reve, the Black Vault prison dome around the Suicide Squad.

I love this interaction. In the JLA book, everyone keeps asking Batman why he is putting together an army. There seems to be some threat that Batman is worried and the JLA is his response. So to hear Batman say that the Squad does do some good.

But Superman won't have anything to do with it. The Squad members are blackmailed into working for Waller. Their bodies are brutalized. The ends don't justify the means. And he knows that Batman has a Squad member in the League (Killer Frost). He is skeptical of Waller's methods.

That last small panel of Batman silently side-eyeing Superman is great. Batman is hiding something from his friend. There is something off about this new League. There might be something more devious in Batman's motives.

The Eradicator and the Cyborg are trying to get into Belle Reve to spring Zod. To get there, they need to get through the Black Vault. I had never heard about the Black Vault before but apparently is an energy prison with some aspects of the Phantom Zone which, when entered, can drive men mad with insane visions.

Inside, Henshaw suffers horrific visions of his origin. Jurgens re-establishes the exact origin from the pre-New 52 world, down to Henshaw's wife's death and his blaming Superman for his death. As a reader, I needed to know this to try to get a foundation for this character. But I still need to know how he reverted to human and became a citizen working for Argus.

I did like these surreal pages of visions. Between the fog-edged panels and more slanted, weird hard edged panels, you definitely get the sense this place doesn't follow the usual rules of physics.

Superman also suffers nightmarish visions.

He appears before the headstones of the Kents who blame Clark for their deaths. He saves everyone but them. They crawl from the graves to attack their son.

Now you might think that Superman would have unpacked this guilt so long ago that even a place like the Black Vault couldn't effect him. But for me, it shows just how deep this guilt runs. When the chance come to be haunted by something, it is his parents' deaths that springs up first. He still carries it with him.

Inside the Vault, the Cyborg actually attacks Superman. Now Superman knows that Henshaw has re-ascended.

But the environment is still too overpowering. Neither can keep up this fight because they are so shaken. The Eradicator grabs Henshaw and moves on, leaving Superman alone in his painful visions. Again, these odd panels during the more real action in the Vault gives the feel that this place is warped. Nicely done. And nice reverse symmetry in the Cyborg and Superman positions.

So overall a decent issue. We get motivations. We get some Lois and Jon. The Batman scene is brief but heavy. And then the nightmare world with the Kents. Perhaps it is a testament to the usual quality of this book these days that an entertaining chapter like this seems less than usual. I would have died for a book like this 5 years ago.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Looks like I liked this one more than you, though I had qualms of my own (eg leaving Jon and Lois pretty much under-protected). As you say though, this is so much better than most of the New 52 stuff that I'm generally grinning about the series.

Anonymous said...

That cover is riotous.

Maybe this story is something padded. Whatever it happens, the battle will fill the next two issues, until the Super-Family arrives. And then, two more issues.

Cyborg Superman's origin is still linked to the Birthing Matrix or that piece of canon has been retconned out since "Man of Steel" isn't canon anymore?

Regardless, I find interesting that DC slipped a COIE #7 reference in the Superman core books in 1990. Maybe it's only me, but I don't think readers are liable to forget about Kara Zor-El if you reference her heroic sacrifice over and again. Well, DC's incompetence was our gain.

I wouldn't want to stay in Hamilton, either. Maybe this happens before the last revelations in the other book?

"Now you might think that Superman would have unpacked this guilt so long ago that even a place like the Black Vault couldn't effect him. But for me, it shows just how deep this guilt runs. When the chance come to be haunted by something, it is his parents' deaths that springs up first. He still carries it with him."

Perfectly in-character. Superman was mourning Pa for a long while after his death during "Superman: Brainiac".

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!
A I said, this was a very good issue. This story is picking up steam!