Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Action Comics #999

Action Comics #999 came out this last week and reminded me of the days when you would watch a car's odometer slowly turn over some huge number. We are on the cusp of Action Comics #1000, a mega-accomplishment which brings with it a new, bold direction. We have all seen the 'Bendis is Coming!' ads. I have had waxing and waning optimism about Bendis' run. I am approaching the future with some trepidation.

But we are here to talk about Action Comics #999. This is writer Dan Jurgens' swan song. Yes, a Luthor centric special is in the works. But this is Jurgens goodbye to running the comic and guiding the Man of Steel. After a prolific run which has now spanned 3 decades, this could honestly be Jurgens' goodbye to the character. And as a result, I am looking at this issue like a funeral mass. I was sad going in, hoping to celebrate the creators and this run while also being sad that they'll be gone. For me, since Rebirth, I have had a Superman that reads right, that feels right, and that I have enjoyed. And I haven't been able to say that often these last many years.

And this issue is a bit of pure Superman. He is looking for truth and justice. He isn't cruel. He wants to inspire and bring people together. And we see a lot of that here.

We also get Will Conrad on art. There is a fair amount of realism here. The bulk of this issue are conversation scenes that are heavy with emotion and Conrad does a great job bringing us those beats.

But this is a turning point for the creators, for the comics, and for a couple of characters. On to the book.

Last issue, Lois had successfully rescued her father from being executed. The physical threat is over.

So can these two reconcile? General Lane has long been a military man of action, a man who follows orders, a man who fears Superman and aliens. It is hard for me to know how much of his past is still in continuity. But the undercurrent of his needing to be prepared should Superman go rogue remains a constant.

Lois, of course, trusts Superman, loves Superman, married Superman. And she has gone against her father in the press, revealing his secrets. As she says, the press is there to keep people accountable. Her father's missions from the shadows needed to be revealed. She is a woman of action, who wants truth and justice herself.

The conversation between father and daughter is curt and cutting. And unfortunately Jon, who wants to meet his grandfather, has to witness it all.

Superman isn't there because he is in space stopping an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Within the asteroid is a rare crystal which is nearly invulnerable when exposed to air, something that would stand up even to him.

Superman gathers the crystal because he needs it. He plans of releasing Hank Henshaw from the Phantom Zone because it is a cruel prison, one which destroys minds already addled.

There is a lot to this scene, from an editor's note telling us what S.T.A.R. stands for to Superman thanking the Kents for raising him to know right from wrong.

Meanwhile Lois and Sam continue there debate. The General knows that he has to be ready for any threat. That is the cost of freedom.

Lois makes sure that he knows that she is aware of the cost of freedom. She has covered war. She had friends growing up whose fathers died in service.

In a brilliant debate point, General lane turns Lois' words back on her. She said that the press is there to make sure everyone has to answer to someone. So who does Superman answer to? Who is the one who will hold him accountable? Hmmm ...

These are such strong personalities and in some ways two sides of the same coin. They both want justice and fairness and truth. But they come from viewpoints of fear or hope.

Superman used the aforementioned crystal to make a prison cell and releases Cyborg Superman from the Phantom Zone. Superman can't in good conscience leave Hank Henshaw in that realm. We get a retelling of Henshaw's tragic origin, of losing his family and going mad.

After a skirmish, Superman tosses Henshaw in the cage and gives the villain a memory crystal with which Henshaw can relive his favorite memories of his wife and kids. Perhaps this kinder prison will help rehabilitate the Cyborg.

For me, it is almost as creepy. There is something very Philip K. Dick about this. Isn't an endless montage of loving memories keeping Henshaw placated just as much of a prison?

Maybe I am thinking too much about this.

And then we get the link of the stories.

Superman sees how friends and family are all that Henshaw wants. It's all anyone wants. Maybe he has to help mend the bond between the Lanes.

I don't know, that flat face of the Cyborg in these panels is creepy. Is he just zoned out? Is this placated life lost in memories truly free?

Finally Clark comes back just as Sam is storming out. Clark physically won't get out of the way. He guides Sam back. Clark admits he sat back hoping the father and daughter could learn to love each other. But it is clear they need a hand.

In a great last page, he 'introduces' Sam and Lois, pointing out how similar they are, how passionate they are, and how they should love and respect each other. It is an olive branch extended leading to a dinner together.

Yes, this is a fine ending for Jurgens. We get closure here. Sure, this seems as fast as the emotional scenes in Supergirl #19. But we have background with Lois and Sam. We have some history. And you can see how they are ready to try and reconcile even if neither is ready to extend their hand first.

I loved this.

So time to turn the page.

I don't know if Bendis will be able to match the excellence we have seen in the last two years in the Superman books. So a thank you to Dan Jurgens for giving us the Superman long time fans have been clamoring for. And thank you for this issue showing a compassionate Superman trying to right some wrongs and help people heal.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

A decent issue which truly feels like the end of an era.

I'll not miss Jurgens, though. It was a step up from the last years of New 52 Superman, but his run kind of petered out with the start of the Mr. Oz arc. In my opinion, of course.

It was nice to read an argument between Sam and Lois where both sides have a point. A step up from wishing Kara forgets about her moral code for once and just sets the smug bastard on fire.

(Even though I still miss New Krypton in spite of its flaws)

I don't believe I agree with Superman on the Phantom Zone. The Zoners are the worst of the worst. As far as I'm concerned, they deserve their punishment.

Given his words, I've got the feeling he's judging the Zone negatively because it's something come from Jor-El... whom he's apparently avoiding to call his father.

I guess Jurgens is still stuck in the Post-Crisis "Krypton doesn't matter. Krypton was a terrible place anyway. Nothing come from Krypton is good" mindset.

Oh, well. Onward to AC #1000 and Bendis' run.

Martin Gray said...

Terrific issue, thought you're right about the creepiness of the new-style prison. Surely in the universe, or the future, there a prison strong enough for Cyborg Superman that offers psychiatric services? The solution he comes up with here doesn't show any faith in rehabilitation, Superman does indeed seem to be doping his foe.

And yes, thank you Dan Jurgens - I hope this isn't your last stint on the characters.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a regular reader of Superman, though I've read a decent amount over the last few months and agree the work has been good.

This was a nice pause point, with acts of compassion extended to both the super-villain (Henshaw) and the fanatic-"villain" (Lane).

Wish I had that beautiful "B" cover - my LCS only orders the main cover unless you have a standing order for the alt cover.

This pop culture reference is probably obvious to anyone who reads this blog, but the fate of Cyborg Superman also reminds me of the original, discarded pilot of Star Trek:TOS called "The Cage," pieces of which were embedded in a later 2-part episode called "The Menagerie."

Captain Pike of the pilot episode, his body mangled leaving a quadriplegic confined to a kind of wheelchair device, ultimately accepts an alien offer to live in a more pleasant world of illusion. As one alien says near the end, "Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality; may you find your way as pleasant."

I suppose variations of the story have been told before and since.

For Pike, it was an escape from a painful reality. For Hank Henshaw, maybe it will serve to heal.

If not - the Phantom Zone is no normal jail. Better to be jailed in the punishment/reward of a fantasy than in an other-dimensional Zone offering no rehabilitative services; one which only worsens those who reside in it - "antagonize the demons that afflict him" as Superman observes; one with no chance of parole. Neither presently offers a productive life, but the current "prison" might present a future.

I'm into Kryptonian crystals - re-reading the early sunstone-heavy early issues of New 52 Supergirl. She's supposedly the same as Rebirth Supergirl, but not really...

But hey, here's a thought: We can think of the current only semi-soft rebooted version of Kara as having gotten 60 issues. New 52's 40 issues, then a 1-year pause which would have been boring to read if DC had even dared publish it, and would have gotten nothing but horrible reviews. Did we really need to see Supergirl getting increasingly de-powered, probably just capable of fighting bank robbers, being occasionally and ineffectually suntanned back into action over the course of a full year? Add to those 40 another 20, albeit renumbered. That's almost the same count as the prior edition of 67 issues, and the half of those issues pre-Puckett almost shouldn't be counted.

Not too shabby when looked at in that way.

Sorry I drifted off-topic of this issue of Action.

Anonymous said...

"I'm into Kryptonian crystals - re-reading the early sunstone-heavy early issues of New 52 Supergirl. She's supposedly the same as Rebirth Supergirl, but not really..."

I may be wrong, but I think I read somewhere Geoff Johns said Steve Orlando he could ignore Supergirl's prior characterization if he needed.

Nonetheless, I've no issues to believe New 52 SG and Rebirth SG are the same person. People get too hung up on the worst parts, but New 52 Supergirl had displayed plenty hints of being a good person beneath the anger and grief. Hence, Superboy meeting her past self, finding she was a real warm, nice girl, and wondering what had happened to her (her homeworld ending and her family dying is what happened). In the last SG issue Kara also remembers how angry and confused she was before concluding that wasn't her real self.

Anonymous said...

June solicitations are out. No Supergirl for June either, but more importantly - after DC killed off half their female led titles it's an appaling read.

I'm sorry, we are at a point where DCs representation of female characters are no longer just terrible, it's disgusting and it makes me feel disgusting for giving them money. That's not how I want to feel with what I do in my spare time. I didn't think the day would come, but I'm done with DC. I will only support them in initiatives that I believe in from now on, i.e. DC Superhero Girls, the rest of my whole pull list I will kill and try to find independents who I think will change comics for the better so I can feel good about reading them again.

I will still continue reading your blog Anj, I think your blog is part of what comics need today.

DC is not what comics needs today. If their way is the only way that comics can survive, then comics doesn't deserve to exist.

Thank you for your continuing dedication and speaking for a character that shines bright.