Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Action Comics #900 Part 2

Action Comics #900 certainly got a lot of public notice, almost all because of David Goyer's story 'The Incident'. But the bulk of the issue was the end of Paul Cornell's Lex Luthor story arc. Was this ending going to satisfy?

The thing about this arc is that the earliest issues were interesting and engaging looks at the Luthor character. By comparing Lex to a wide variety of other super-villains, by showing his inner most thoughts, by seeing him interact with his workers and LoisBot, Cornell really showed us who Luthor was. And throughout all those issues there was an undercurrent of sly humor. And that sort of dissection of Luthor won me over. I wasn't expecting to like this run, let alone accept it in Action Comics. But I did.

Unfortunately, while that characterization was really fabulous, it meant that much of the ending felt a little bit rushed. We are simply told things about the Zone Child, its powers, how it manipulated Lex, how Lex possesses it and we just have to roll with. And while I know I need to suspend disbelief in comics (heck two of the most important characters in this book have been a nanobot Lois and a tiny talking telepathic worm), these revelations without explanations just stood out in contrast to the carefully constructed issues that preceded it.

On top of the Lex story, Reign of Doomsday also is brought into the fold here, with Lex being revealed as the mastermind behind that plot. By bringing in that plot line, the story has a sort of back and forth feeling jumping from Lex in space to the super-family fighting Doomsday. And the art is split between Pete Woods' (and others) slick art for the Luthor pieces and the murkier look of Jesus Merino for the Doomsday action. That felt jarring.

The issue opens with Superman apparently abandoning the end of his Grounded walk to return to Metropolis and investigate Doomsday's rampage against Steel. Man, the Steel one-shot feels like forever ago. But given the rubble in the street, it must have happened recently. That was important for me to see. I am glad that Superman would check on his good friend's disappearance quickly.

But most importantly ... and really the panel that should be publicized from this issue as opposed to the citizenship one ... Superman declares that he is back and he will win his fight with Doomsday. The declaration works on a literal and metatextual way. He is back from his walk, back in Metropolis, and back in Action Comics.

And that calm presence as he declares he will be victorious over the monster that 'killed' him in the past is just what Superman is all about. He won't give up. He will do what's right.

In the meantime, the Super family awakens inside a sort of satellite labyrinth, a metallic maze which seems to go on forever as well on turn in on itself. Trapped and waiting to engage with Doomsday, the family wonders just why Cyborg Superman was brought there with them. Steel has the best answer, to keep things chaotic. Whoever captured wants them dead, so why not throw a monkey wrench into the works to make things unsettled. The inclusion of Cyborg Superman (outside of keeping this a consistent reflection of Reign of the Supermen) has always confused me especially when it was revealed that Lex was behind it. This answer makes sense and was appreciated.

In the meantime, Lex has ascended, become omnipotent, and brings Superman to him. You can really get a sense of Lex' hatred here as he calls Superman a 'paternal safety net' and a hypocrite. That hatred is so deeply ingrained that Lex can't even see that he is off base here. His view is sort of a circus mirror view of Superman's actions, a reflection but warped.

One thing that confused me here is how angry Lex is that Superman was heading to investigate Doomsday rather than him. Lex feels it is another slight by Superman, putting Lex second ... but didn't Luthor set up that plot to confuse and delay Superman? Didn't it work as he planned?

In an effort to show Superman just how alien he is, Lex decides to show him tragedies in his past, things that should make him more human. So Superman is forced to relive the destruction of Krypton, his death at the hands of Doomsday (Lex shows this to show the grief humans feel for Superman's passing ... especially Lois), and the destruction of New Krypton.

I had to include this splash page by Jamal Igle as he get to recreate his classic 'destroyed New Krypton' shot from War of the Supermen #1.

As he fights the psychological torment, Superman demands that Lex look into his mind so he can see that Superman is 'human', with human feelings and frailties. When Lex does, he sees Superman mourning Pa Kent's death at the end of the Brainiac storyline. This grieving Superman is at his most vulnerable, his most human.

Of course, it also means that Superman is Clark Kent. Lex knows now.

And Lex thinks it is just another smoke screen, another way Superman tries to be human ... and for that he will make Superman suffer. A nice little line here makes the suggestion that Lex is actually jealous of Clark's family life, something he did not have as a boy.

But Superman is defiant, and not worried about Lex' planned torture. Superman knows he won't break because he was raised by the Kents. He is Clark, and nothing can shake him.

Ummmm .... while I agree 100% that the Kents made Superman strong, giving him incredible resolve and a rock hard moral core ... doesn't that shatter the whole concept of Grounded? That Superman was so shaken by events that he lost his moral compass?

And not to pick the Goyer scab, would someone so proud of his upbringing want to revoke his national citizenship?

I agree with Cornell here, completely. But shouldn't there be a uniform approach to Superman within DC?

Regardless, it was great to see Gary Frank on art for these pages.

In the meantime, the Supers are in a sort of stalemate with Doomsday in this maze. As they work together, they each talk about how Doomsday seems to have mimicked their powers and wondering why they haven't seen Doomsday use all their powers at once. They wonder if he can only manifest one at a time.

I did like this shot of Supergirl planting a sweet right upper cut to Doomsday's jaw sending him into a 'never-ending' tube. I especially liked the panel composition shown from reverse angles, Supergirl flying 'down' in the first panel ... flying 'up' in the second. It added to the 'topsy turvy' Escher feeling this trap was supposed to have and was very visually grabbing.

And then we are sort of thrown for a bit of a loop, that sense of too much to swallow too fast.

The Zone Child fights off Lex's control for a brief time and changes the make-up of his power. Mr. Mind says that the Child came into this universe to end 'negative feelings'. The Zone monster's last act was to alter Lex's abilities. Now Lex can only bring bliss and happiness to the universe, ending all negativity. With that change, a wave of bliss runs over the universe and we see a number of characters suddenly happy ... including Vandal Savage (explaining the happiness prophecy) and the Joker (explaining his 'horrible vision' ... I liked that wrinkle).

But if Lex decides to do evil, the power will leave him. Superman begs Lex to suddenly become a benevolent god, to let go of the evil of his past and move forward. Even the LoisBot, faceless but active, begs him to do what's right.

So this 'eternal bliss' sudden alteration of powers just seemed a bit forced, a bit quick.

But Lex cannot let go ... and I wouldn't want him to. It isn't in his nature. Instead he fights Superman who is able to defeat him. As Lex battles, he loses his powers. Superman finally calls out Lex as a coward. And then, suddenly, Lex disappears. I don't know exactly what happened there. It might be that he was drawn into the black spheres.

While the background of Luthor's powers seemed a bit sketchy, there was no denying that this was a very nice study of the differences between Lex and Clark. Good stuff.

I have talked about how much I have come to love the LoisBot character. Here, sporting a face like GI Robot, she decides to find her own destiny. She is free of Brainiac and Lex's influences. She is going to find her way in the universe, find her own 'face'.

Kudos to Cornell for bringing such depth to this character. That is impressive.

Jumping into a ship, Superman travels to the site of New Krypton and enters the Doomsday trap.

Meeting up with the other Superman family members, they discover the original Doomsday strung up to machines. And then ... suddenly ... they are attacked by multiple Doomsdays! Hey! I guessed that was going to happen!

It is hard to know just whose side Cyborg Superman is on. I guess that's the chaos factor.

So, overall this was a good issue. I liked the way that Cornell showcased the tragedy in Superman's life and used that to break down the core of Superman. And then to compare it to Lex and his selfishness, Luthor's inability to change and be helpful, was powerful stuff. Lex is always saying how he could have helped humanity if it weren't for Superman. Here he could have helped the universe ... but his hatred of Superman trumped that.

And the Superman family pieces were good and Supergirl was shown a very good light.

But the way we get to that Lex/Clark exploration ... the Zone Child revelation, the way that entity interacted with our reality, ascended, gets possessed by Lex, changes the powers of Lex emitting a wave of bliss, and then makes Luthor lose those powers ... seemed just a bit too fuzzy for this to work neatly. I know I need to sometimes just roll with comic book craziness and I often can do that. It's just that the earlier issues in this Cornell run were so tight that this just felt out of place.

I am sad to see Pete Woods leave the Superman team. His art is just so beautiful.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Anj, thanks for an excellent review, full of insight. I do hope we meet Loisbot again.

JPH said...

My God. I haven't yet had the chance to pick this, I was seriously considering boycotting for Goyer's story, but now I might have to. Cornell might have written one of the greatest Superman stories of all time. It had everything, Lex vs Clark (in what may be their biggest battle in current continuity), the promise of a big Doomsday story, and most importantly, what exactly Superman stands for, and why he IS the Greatest Super Hero on earth.

My closing thoughts:
1a.) Screw Goyer, Paul Cornell should be writing the script for the "Man of Steel" reboot (with some assistance from the Geoff Johns.
1b.) Screw "Grounded." But not Roberson, he actually has done an excellent job making this trainwreak readable.

2.) This issue makes me wish that Cornell, Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates were the ones helming the "New Krypton" saga. It could have surpassed "Blackest Night"