Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Action Comics #981

Action Comics #981 is the third chapter of the Revenge storyline, an arc uniting some of Superman's deadliest foes into a lethal squad.

I often find the middle chapter of an arc to slow things down a bit and this issue holds form. There is a great cliffhanger. There is a nice building momentum in some side scenes. And there is a lot of fighting. But this issue didn't feel like it had the substance of the prior chapters.

It's not like this is a miss of an issue. It's not like I disliked the issue. But as I have said elsewhere, I am expecting a lot of the Superman books these days. And this one didn't seem to hold up. I wonder if my overall apathy about General Zod is coloring my view. Because I do think Dan Jurgens up to this point has elevated this book substantially.

Jack Herbert brings a fine lined elegance to the art here. I don't know if this style is best suited for the brawl which dominates this issue as well.

Honestly, I think maybe I sound a bit too harsh here. But this was mostly big splashes of haymaker punches. I think enjoyed the smaller moments more than the melee.


Last issue, Superman was heading into Belle Reve prison but got trapped within the Dark Vault, a pseudo-Phantom Zone nightmarish realm. Even within that, Superman brawled with the Cyborg Superman. But the villains were able to escape with General Zod in tow.

That left Superman inside the vault, haunted by visions of all his loved ones telling him how badly he has failed them. Despite recognizing that some things are real (the Cyborg) but these visions aren't, he eventually succumbs to the horrors in front of him.

Luckily, the Vault dissipates. It isn't clear initially how that happened. The coloring made me wonder if Superman used his 'flare' power. I wonder if that power is gone since 'Rebirth'. This seemed like a quick and maybe too easy ending to this threat.

I did like the looks of the zombies berating Superman. Horrific.


Meanwhile, Zod is alone with Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator.

One thing I like about this interaction is that Zod isn't Mongul. He doesn't kowtow to the Cyborg Superman. He barely listens to Henshaw. He almost chokes out the Cyborg. He only goes along with things because the Cyborg promises Zod access to the Phantom Zone and his troops.

Zod almost seems to have contempt for these other villains. But he does know strategy. Rather than raze Belle Reve and bring attention to himself, Zod goes along with the other two and heads to the Fortress.

Zod acting so haughty, even to the Eradicator and the villain that rescued him, is spot on.


Meanwhile, Superman is told that Rick Flag imploded the Dark Vault. Superman learns that Amanda Waller was holding and using General Zod there. And he is disgusted.

Waller tells Superman that she makes the hard choices. He'll have to as well, deciding between doing something distasteful or letting someone he loves die. Could this be some sort of foreshadowing? Between this line and the Vault visions, I wonder if we'll see this situation played out.


En route, Zod wonders why these other villains are acting this way. Both say they want revenge. The Eradicator talks about Superman diluting the bloodline. Zod is surprised. He obviously didn't know about Jon.

I  wonder what Zod's thoughts about Jon would be. Pleased of a new generation of half-Kryptons? Upset that Superman has gone native? Thinking about Krypton breeding out humanity?

That expression doesn't say rage. Hmmm ...

And I wonder if the whole Chris Kent story is gone in this new rewritten history. Does Zod's son exist?


Of course, Superman isn't going to just let these three fly off. He finds them in the sky and throws down. I noticed some odd lines from Superman during the fight, things like listening for Zod's heartbeat and being happy that Zod got close enough to be targeted with heat vision.

But for the most part, this is a one-sided fight with the villains having their way with Superman.

But this is the part that I really liked about this was the response from the rest of the Superman Family. We had seen that Superman had recruited his friends and family to fight an impending threat (who I assumed to be Mr. Oz).

Now they all see Superman losing in battle. And we see them preparing to join the fray. Here Kara Danvers tells Cat Grant that Superman needs help. We also see Lex, Kenan Kong, and Lois and Jon also see the report and begin to ready themselves.

I like when there is a Superman family of sorts. We didn't see much of that in the New 52. But I still feel weird when I say that Lex is part of the family.


Not that it helps. They don't mobilize in time.

Superman gets 'put down like a dog' by Zod, punched through the street.

For once, Superman decides to retreat. He knows he can't win.

Now I can understand how powerful these three villains are. But Superman didn't seem up to snuff in this fight.

And then we find out why.


He tracks down Jon and Lois and reveals why he was fighting the way he was, why he was thinking what he was thinking, and why he needed to retreat.

Somehow the Dark Vault has blinded him.

Now this is a good cliffhanger as well as a nice surprise which informs what we just saw. And this reveal definitely cranks up the danger of the Revenge Squad. This cabal of villains were dangerous enough when Superman has all his faculties. Our Man of Steel will need his friends and family to help him win.

Maybe there was more to this issue than I initially thought.

Overall grade: B

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this issue.

And I love that finally -finally!- Kara shows up. Not a flashback. Not an hologram. Kara Zor-El in the flesh. When it was the last time Supergirl made an appearance in Action Comics?

I also wondered about Chris Kent. We know Jurgens has -predictably- seen that his run is still canon. However, Superman obviously recognizes Dru-Zod. This isn't one of the poorly-received replacements conceived by DC during the "Sole Survivor of Krypton" years. This is the real deal.

So... "Last Son" and "New Krypton" happened?

I look forward to read the next phase of the battle. The Superman Family is coming together!

Thayse L Couto said...

I really liked this chapter, but bothered me a little that Kara is not among the dead people in the Super Illusion , I'm looking forward to the next chapter, it will be great to see the Super Family (except Lex) fighting together

Martin Gray said...

I liked this one more than you, Anj,I enjoyed the interaction between the villains a lot, and Superman really had his courage heart ticking. Jack Herbert art is always a plus, it's not a million miles in tone from the excellent Mr Zircher.

Suicide Squad showed the Black Vault get destroyed - there should have been a moment of that here, rather than just a reference later.

The reveal of the blindness was really well done, it's all there, looking back.

The Chris Kent thing must be gone, otherwise Lois and Clark would surely have referenced him as their 'first' son by now

That crossing guard cover is adorable!

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

This was a weird one for me to review. When I closed the issue on reading I was underwhelmed. As I was reviewing it, there was a lot of stuff there. I was sort of torn. That gut response vs the analytic.

Anyways, I hope Chris isn't around. He'd only muddy the waters. But we'll see.

And yes, in retrospect, all the blind clues were there!

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one a bit miffed about the Kara scene? She gets one panel and they manage to throw in a "girls problems are about shopping"-trope on her.

Anonymous said...

"I really liked this chapter, but bothered me a little that Kara is not among the dead people in the Super Illusion"

It bothered me, too.

I hope he proves me wrong, but I've the feeling Jurgens don't care much for Kara. She didn't even officially exist back when he first wrote Superman. Matrix was the only Supergirl around, and she was Lex's tool, had thin ties with Superman, and was swiftly pummelled by Doomsday. So I don't think he cares.

"Anyways, I hope Chris isn't around. He'd only muddy the waters. But we'll see."

The waters are already incredibly muddy. Chris can't possibly make them muddier. I wouldn't mind if he still existed. Or New Krypton (including the Sterling Gates run) happened.

And I'm tired of reading Superman's back issues and wondering: "Is this in-continuity? It did or didn't happen? Or it happened differently?"

I'm... sick of the endless rebooting.

Justin said...

I hadn't been reading Action Comics, but decided to stick around after "Superman Reborn" and I've been pleasantly surprised. The current arc has been pretty strong and I thought the reveal in this album was very well handled (like Mart, I went back and looked at earlier pages...man, I should have caught it). Anyway, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of this story. I also am reading both Action and Superman for the first time in a very very long time and that makes me happy.

Thayse L Couto said...

"Am I the only one a bit miffed about the Kara scene? She gets one panel and they manage to throw in a "girls problems are about shopping"-trope on her."

I thought that was okay,Cat has always been a bit shallow/sarcastic so I thought the question for Kara was pretty normal.

"I hope he proves me wrong, but I've the feeling Jurgens don't care much for Kara. She didn't even officially exist back when he first wrote Superman. Matrix was the only Supergirl around, and she was Lex's tool, had thin ties with Superman, and was swiftly pummelled by Doomsday. So I don't think he cares."

Supergirl and Superman has not had such a close relationship since the new 52 began, the difference is that even with all the fighting and anger that existed there,I have the feeling at least until now that the Superman new 52 cared more about Kara than the current one,I understand that he has Jon and Lois but why completely exclude one of the last blood relatives? If that was just Lois and Jon I would understand but it was not the case, not to mention that the first real contact that the two had,Clark asked for help in the end of the comic.

I really miss their pre-New 52 relationship and I'm beginning to think we'll never see anything like this again or at least not so soon.

Nobile said...

I see your point, Anj, but I have to say this story has a great "Superman II" feeling, besides some nods to "Man of Steel" and the final panel is sure recalling the final chapter of "Krypton No More!" saga back in the seventies, a story where a gorgeous Garcia-Lopez's Supergirl played a pivotal part. I expect good developments.