Friday, March 15, 2024

Review: Action Comics #1063

Action Comics #1063 came out this week, one of the most baffling and therefore unsatisfying reads of recent memory. And because of that, this is going to be, perhaps, a baffling review.

Writer Jason Aaron completes his 3 issue Bizarro story in a story that flips from Superman's mind (for some reason) to the devastated real world as our hero tries to figure out how to save the world without falling prey to possession by Bizarro. So much of the story before this part seemed to come out of nowhere (Bizarro going crazy because he was teased, Bizarro learning sorcery, the world on fire and detroyed). Now this issue is a rapid fire, convoluted finale with our hero literally beating himself up, our hero not really saving the day, and the destructive genie stuffed back into the bottle. And in the most heroic, important moment in the book (a moment given to the Joker not Superman), Aaron uses what I consider one of the worst 'outs' a writer can do.

It is a shame because John Timms' art is quite beautiful. Timms' can give us insane battles, an iconic looking Superman, and some solid story-telling when things veer more philosophical. So maybe the right thing to do is just look at the pictures and not read the words. 

I have been reading comics for nearly 50 years. I consider myself an experienced reader of the medium having read every genre and style out there. This was a rough one. On to the book.

I said that the issue takes place in two realms - the real world and Superman's mind. 

Here, Superman is 'meditating' so he can scour his mind looking for Bizarro's presence there. The landscape of Superman's head is basically a map of Earth. 

I am not sure why he is doing this. I think he is hoping to confront Bizarro to try and figure out a way to undo this. But how? And how does he know he can do it this way? A small amount of exposition in this conversation between Superman (in his head) and the sane Joker (in the real world) could have helped. 

I also think that making Superman's mind be a carbon copy of Earth adds to the confusion of the issue as I had to carefully start each page to decide if this was real world or mind world. 

We then do get a little explanation.

When Bizarro ripped himself apart with the magic spell that started this a 'piece' of Bizarro flew into Superman like mental shrapnel. And now Superman must fight it.

For no good reason, the mental representation of Bizarro is small but powerful, growing ever larger as he batters the man of steel. Again, there is no good reason for this (although it lets Timms stretch out as an artist). 

And how does the sane Joker know that Bizarro will be small?

At last we hear that Superman is able to be in his mind-world via Kryptonian meditation techniques. 

But Superman gets stomped in the recesses of his own mind. 

Now in the real world (visual clues of a five o'clock shadow and a torn super-suit help), the Bizarro possession leads to pages of Superman literally punching himself in the face.

But then we flip back into Superman's mind where a now extremely powerful Bizarro kills Superman over and over again. 

Unfortunately, in those death battles, the Super-suit gets torn meaning the visual clue I used to determine real from mental world is gone. Meaning I had to reread the pages again to make sure I knew what was happening. And honestly, I don't know if I do.

Finally, Superman relents and Bizarro fully possesses his body in the real world.

And then, the absolute worst moment in the book.

First off, the Joker basically saves the day. He is able to mentally weaken Bizarro with sympathy, sensitivity, and sanity. This allows Superman to regain control.

So the Joker is really the hero in this arc.

Second, and this is the part that irks me, why didn't Aaron actually write the Joker's speech? If these words are so touching that they pierce the veil of Bizarro's madness, I'd like to hear them. 

Instead, he uses an out when he knows he probably couldn't pull of such a speech, instead telling us it was a great speech. 

Show ... don't tell. 

In that moment of mental weakness, somehow Superman was able to probe Bizarro's mind and find a way to counter the spell that Bizarro cast. So he undoes the damage.

In one word bubble, the solution to the devastation is done. No look at the internal mindscape when he finds this information. How does that look? How does Superman know how to cast counter-magic? 

This moment, in which Superman saves the day is told to us. I mean, seriously, wouldn't this be a great moment to put us back into Superman's head and see him face off against Bizarro? See him figure out how to save the world?

Instead, we are told.

Show ... don't tell. 

With the spell undone, the world returns to normal and no one remembers these weeks of carnage.

Did time reverse? The world is pristine. The dead are back alive. Everything is fine. 

I mean I knew that Aaron couldn't leave the world destroyed. But this is silly, like the whole story was a dream.

Of course, we get this panel where we see a remnant of Bizarro remains in Superman and now and then tells him to become imperfect.

Please ret-con this.

This story was supposed to be the opening volley of the 'Superman Superstars' run on Action Comics. But this is about as inauspicious beginning as you can get. This story made little sense. Our hero was a defeated fool throughout most of it. The Joker is the hero. We are not told things we need to know. We are told things that should be shown to us in the story.  And in the end, it didn't matter. 

Timms' art is very pretty though.

Overall grade: D-


PT Dilloway said...

It's really strange this was wrapped up in 3 issues. Most story arcs these days go 5-6 issues to later be put in a trade paperback. Plus a story this big really needed more than 3 issues for anything close to a satisfactory conclusion. When something like that happens it seems more like an editorial/publisher decision than something an experienced writer would choose to do.

Martin Gray said...

On the evidence of this, and other Aaron superhero work I’ve read, I don’t think three more issues would’ve given us a satisfactory solution, he’d have just filled it with more headscratching nonsense.

Why do so many writers want to make the villains the star of the show? Are we truly to believe a sane, sympathetic Joker is more worth listening to than Superman on any given day. Yep, let’s Mopee this one.

Great review, Anj

William Ashley Vaughan said...

This past year, I decided not to get Jason Aaron's run on Action Comics as well as Power Girl and Kneel Before Zod. That's roughly fifty bucks saved and counting that I can now spend on good comic books.

Anonymous said...

The scale of the storyline suggests a company wide multi-issue "event", and this incoherent mishaugas is what you get when you try to reduce it down to a three issue arc in a single comic book...
And why does Superman keep a neurological copy of Earth inside his brain? Because the writer ran out of ideas, thats why....
However, I did find "Bizarro Joker" interesting, fat least more interesting than our host didn, funny how The Joker sounded like a therapist in some panels, which makes a warped degree of sense since when he isn't cavorting Gotham intent of homicidal anarchy The Joker is remanded to the care of psychiatrists etc...he's picked up some of their argot I guess.

But it was a mishaugas all the same.


Allen Francis said...

I am shocked how uneven Aaron has been in recent years, I got through 75% of his Avengers run before giving up, just waiting for something good to happen (art was great though, great ideas, loved Avengers Mountain, but execution always fail) Making the JOKER the hero here is insulting, DC just don't know what to do with Superman....