Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: Action Comics #986

Action Comics #986 came out this week, the second and final part of the Only Human arc by the fill-in creative team of writer Rob Williams and artist Guillem March. The story is a fine pause on the bigger storylines of the title, examining the new relationship between Lex and Superman and commenting on human nature.

One of the things that has felt new in the Rebirth era of books is Lex actually being something of a super-hero. While more narcissistic and evil attitudes always seem to be bubbling just below the surface, Lex has pretty much been flying the straight and narrow. And Superman has had to reluctantly accept Lex as being the good guy he has been. I don't know, if I were Supes, if I could ever trust Lex. But Superman is also supposed to be optimistic, thinking humanity is inherently good. And that friction is good grist for the mill. This story kind of peels back the curtains a bit, showing who Lex truly is ... and maybe showing how Lex is struggling to be good as well.

Rob Williams makes sure the right character moments are in here, using a pretty insignificant conflict with the Machinist as the scaffolding that this main character thrust of the story is built on. And Guillem March brings a scratchy sort of urgency to the proceedings. And we get a great Mr. Oz moment at the end to bring us back into the main plotline.

Lastly, I am well aware of the comic history of covers being bait that rarely signifies what is on the inside. But I was waiting for a brawl with Titano that simply never happens.

On to the book.

The Truth starts where last issue ended. Luthor, under the influence of one of the Machinist's mind tick is 'forced' into battling Superman. Lex had lamented last issue that Superman was something above humanity, immutable and perfect, and therefore easy to hate.

Here, that idea is played up again. Right off the bat, Luthor says he can't stop himself from battling. After all he is only human. It plays up the idea that humanity and civility is simply a construct covering up our more basic instincts. And I don't know if I buy it. I think it is an excuse Lex is using.

In my review of Action Comics #985, I said this:
I wonder if somewhere in this story we will learn that the chips can't make you do something you wouldn't do otherwise. Maybe this shows Lex that he still harbors that hate for Superman.

In this issue my idea was born out. The Machinist says the ticks can only nudge someone in a direction they want to go. Lex still feels ill will for Superman. I suppose no big surprise.

 I love Superman's response to the whole thing.

Instead of yelling that Lex is showing his true colors, instead of engaging in a brawl, Superman tries to talk Lex down. He tells Lex to fight it. And then he admits that he as been impressed with Lex's recent change.

 Lex has inspired Superman.

I never thought I would write that sentence. But I thought this was a very good moment. Maybe Supes being inspired by Lex will make Lex be inspired by Supes?

(Of course, just last issue Superman was floating outside Lexcorp accusing Lex of being a villain. A little hard to jibe these two scenes.)

 Even more interesting is the physical change in Lex's body as he unleashes the full power of his Apokiliptian armor. He certainly looks like Darkseid, doesn't he. Hmmm ....

But this was all a gambit by Superman. With Lex unloading everything the armor has, the 4th World tech shorts out the more pedestrian Mind Tick chip. Suddenly, Lex is free and of his right mind.

 With Lex out of the way, the Machinist can't put up much of a fight. Superman wades in, eliminates the ground troops, and destroys the Machinist's control mask.

And it turns out the Machinist is just some guy.

The Machinist was really just a plot device to set the stage to get all this Lex/Superman stuff.

 Again, that notion that humans are animals by their nature is again brought up in the aftermath.

The civil wars the Machinist was funding will still go on. It's human nature to fight. That is basically self-commentary by Lex. At least he recognizes it and so hopefully can overcome.

But did you ever think you'd see Lex and Superman sitting on a moutaintop, chilling out? So weird.

Back in Lexcorp, Luthor begins examining his armor when he comes across an Oz symbol!

And then Oz himself shows up. He knows Lex had built in stealth tracking tech into the chip that the Machinist hijacked (hardly noble).

And he chastises Lex. Oz says Lex isn't Superman and never will be. With a sweep of his scythe, Oz smashes the S-symbol off Lex's chest and disables the armor. And Oz doesn't seem happy with humanity in general. It seems that he has the same opinion of us that Lex does, animals below Superman.

Such a haughty opinion could be the thoughts of a version of Jor-El (the current leading candidate for who Oz is). If Jor thinks Krypton was a superior race, above such petty squabbles, he might think Earth is a cesspool. Now I didn't like when the New 52 Supergirl had this opinion. I certainly don't want Jor-El, even a version of Jor-El, to be sullied in this way either.

Maybe ... maybe ... if he is the Jor-El from the pre-Crisis Earth 3, I could buy it.

Anyways, this issue told a philosophical story about humanity and civility with a few action beats mixed in. In that way, it should be a solid prelude to the Mr. Oz epic which is about to unfold.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

"Lastly, I am well aware of the comic history of covers being bait that rarely signifies what is on the inside. But I was waiting for a brawl with Titano that simply never happens."

Supergirl (Volume 1) #4 promised Linda would get turned into a half-Supergirl, half-Tin Man monster with werewolf hands. And the seventh issue promised a Supergirl/Zatanna tug war over a Yeti. They lied to me!

"Lex has inspired Superman."

Boggles the mind, right?

Now, all of us know Lex's redemption has so many chances to last like Magneto's redemption back in the 80's or any of the Cheetah's redemptions. Minor villains can be redeemed for good, but not archnemesis.

But it's been entertaining. It was tantamount to see Pre-Crisis Luthor considering "What if I stop holding a grudge against Superman for accidentally burning my experiment fifteen years ago and I set out to prove I can be a greater hero than him?"

And Oz finally reveals himself to Lex. Obviously that "You will never be Superman" line is interesting. It sounds like Superman or Superboy calling Prime out back in Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis respectively.

Who will he be? I HOPE it isn't Jor-El. Whoever he is, his identity is supposed to shake Superman and make him lose faith.

Anonymous said...

The list of people that Superman cares enough about for this to be huge can't be that long.

I would like if it was future Lex. It would mean that the oracle was right and maybe fate can't be changed and some people are destined for evil.

Future Jon would work, but that would just be a rehash of the last green lanterns arc.

My personal favorite would be Rao. What if it turns out that the Kryptonian deity is as big a dick as every other deity out there.

Martin Gray said...

Even in versions of the Legend where Kryptonians had a superiority complex towards earth folk, Jor-El was the one speaking up for them, this can't be any classic version of him. Earth 3? Maybe, but it's a bit out there.

Oh Lord, what if IS Superboy Prime yet again, he was such a massive superman fanboy, and we all know how Geoff Johns loves his warped version of the character. 'Mr Oz' - hmm, well, he just blew in from Kansas?

I suppose Superman wanting to believe in Lex chimes with the Bronze Age stories in which he seemed to have been reformed by his relationships with Adora and Lex Jr.

I love that Lex wears a Lex-branded vest.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Rao is a wild thought.

I pray it isn't Superboy Prime.

And I agree, Jor-El has never seemed this vicious.