Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Action Comics #19

Action Comics #19 came out this week and was such a fascinating book to read.

It was the first issue post Grant Morrison lyrical opus.

It was the first and last issue of the Andy Diggle 'era' on the book.

And it was the beginning of Tony Daniel's time on the book, as artist here and as writer/artist for the 2 issues after.

That's a lot of stuff going on with the book making it the most intriguing book in my pull list this week. And that was before I even read a word.

I did have high hopes for the book for a while, since reading Andy Diggle's interviews about Superman and the direction of the book. Not surprisingly, the book delivers on the expectation. This read like a true Superman story. Not the blustering, angry, sneering character in Scott Lobdell's Superman (which I have had issues with). And not like the nostalgic pastiche, 'what timeline is it', metatextual Morrison story (which I loved). This read like Superman ... with a strong Lois, with him defending the oppressed, with a diabolical Luthor, and with big action ... a fitting story for Action Comics.

And that makes this more bittersweet because Diggle felt compelled to leave because of editorial issues. I have sampled his Superman and savored it but won't get any more.

Tony Daniel really shines here. Whether it be a flirty romantic scene in a bar, outrageous splash page action of Superman fighting mecha, or Luthor wringing his hands in glee, it all just pops off the page.

Alas, it is all over.

Diggle starts his story one year in the past and I think it is a brilliant move. Morrison's arc was wonderful, nuanced, and layered. We learned about Clark's Daily Star beginnings, his jeans/t-shirt time, and his journalistic style. But we didn't get a lot of Superman/Clark interacting with his supporting cast. And the Vyndktvx story kind of stormed off on its own in an All-Star Superman sort of way.

So setting the clock back a year would have given Diggle time to set the stage for how Superman is in the DCnU. How we got from a beloved 'worker' style Superman to the distrusted guy who just fought H'El.

It would have given him time to solidify the best supporting cast in comics, a cast mostly ignored in the Super books since the New 52.

For me, the opening scene of Lois flirting with Clark was the best scene of the issue. I got to finally ... finally ... see the Lois I have been wanting to see. Here she is strong investigative journalist, willing to put herself in danger to get the story and use the news to right wrongs, all while embedded in a war zone. And, as someone who liked the Clark/Lois romance, it was great to see the two so openly flirt with each other. Just wonderful.

Despite some pretty obvious romantic banter, Clark is called away and has to literally fly into action.

Most telling is this panel. He clearly has feelings for Lois but feels he needs to walk away because 'it wouldn't work out' but even he doesn't seem to be buying it. And then there is the 'I fear my enemies would lash out at here' rationalization. This is a much more mature look at this relationship than Clark walking in on a shirtless Jon Carroll or peeking at Lois' texts.

I thought the art here works with the words so well. Clark in shadows works well to mirror a sort of sad moment in his life, in blackness.

Unfortunately, it is this moment when Jon Carroll swoops in on Lois at the bar. I guess I have to applaud Diggle for showing us Lois and Clark almost in love as a couple.

The next pages are Superman battling with Quraci warships, the same art pages seen in the Diggle preview pages a couple of weeks ago albeit with text and dialogue. Intermingled in the pages are the phrases we saw in those pages - "I don't like bullies". "I'll throw the last punch", etc.

What a great panel. Superman squares off against these huge mecha war machines. But he offers the pilots a chance to power down and talk. He says he on the Earth to protect, not provoke. And he says he defends the downtrodden. He looks determined.

This is Superman.

I often say that big action deserves big art and the fight against the war machines is big action. As a result, and appropriately, we get a lot of splash pages and near splash pages showing Superman fight these monstrosities.

This is the best shot of the battle. It reminded me of the best japanese animation battle scenes .. screaming missiles, crazy smoke trails, the fighting machine cloaked in the haze so you only have a vague sense of it, a small Superman dwarfed by this thing.

This just sizzles. Big action deserves big art! Daniel delivers.

Of course rail guns, missiles, and even 'infrasonics' can only do so much to Superman. After being battered around a bit, Superman is able to destroy the things, ending the threat.

But things take a chilling turn.

A pilot who ejected from one of the battle units suddenly looks like Jimmy Olsen (explaining the gatefold cover image) and then is killed from afar by a self-destruct mechanism he wasn't even aware he was carrying under his skin.

So why Jimmy? Unless whoever is behind this knows that will carry some psychological impact. And whoever it is, they can't be very nice if they are so cavalier with their hired help.

We learn pretty quickly that the guy behind this attack is Lex Luthor.

Now in Morrison's Action he was a paunchy highly intelligent self-serving coward. In Lobdell's Superman he is a mad scientist who seems to have gone toe to toe with Superman. So where did that change come from. So I am glad he is the main villain here so that we can get a handle on what happened to him.

Diggle does a great job showing us who this Lex is by pulling a bit of a switcheroo on the reader. We first see Luthor talking to a world famous psychiatrist and asking her to help him. It almost softens Luthor to think that he would seek out someone for aid, to seek mental health. Does Luthor have some self-awareness?

After telling her she can tell him anything, the psychiatrist unloads ... calling him a sociopath and the most dangerous man on the planet.

And then the switcheroo. Luthor ignores what she tells him, telling her she is wrong. As we pan back, we see that the psychiatrist is a prisoner of Lex's, forced to do these sessions under threats of death. And he hasn't liked what she has said yet.

So we go from wondering if Lex is seeking help, to hearing he is a sociopath, to being shown he is so deranged he has imprisoned his therapist. It turns the reader on their head as we go from sympathizing with Lex, maybe even admiring him for realizing he has a problem to fearing and loathing him.

The whole unfolding of that scene is simply brilliant.

And then we hear his plot. The missiles that were shot at Superman included a Kryptonite infused nanobot which not only can read Superman's DNA but rewrite it. And the nanobot is so small, Superman doesn't even know he has been effected. Nice malevolent work here by Daniel.

Now part of me wonders how a nanobot could read an alien genome. And wouldn't it have to rewrite DNA on a cellular level? Won't that take a long time? And wouldn't his super-immune system fight this thing?

All right, I am overthinking this.

The book ends with Superman already effected by the nanobot, his hand green and eventually deformed into a claw. Nice hook. I love that when Superman crash lands from the pain that people actually care and ask him if he is okay!

So ends the Andy Diggle experiment. And too bad we won't see more. We saw a great portrayal of Lois - strong, determined, sexy, righteous. We see a good Superman protecting the people and thrashing giant robots. We see a demonic Lex Luthor, a perfect threat for Superman. The scene with the psychiatrist is wonderfully constructed. Tony Daniel shines here, especially in the battle scene. And we got a decent hook for a story.

It was a true Superman story, something we haven't seen in a bit.

And it has already slipped through our fingers.

Thanks DC.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Great review Anj.

I too think this was a great story. But a scene didn't sit well. The one where "Jimmy" self destructs. Superman didn't seem fazed at all.

It was nice to see reporter Lois and the attraction between her and Clark. Although I think Clark and Diana need each other in this faze of their lives.


Anonymous said...

@Eki, disagree completely. Clark and Diana were forced into contrived isolation where they both acted like cowards and totally out of character for this stunt. It's contrived to the fullest and it shows.

What Clark needs is Lois. He needs HIS supporting cast and the triangle for 2 playing out in some form.

The bottom line is that DC has done nothing but trash and marginalized Lois for 18 months in order to push this idea that Clark is so "isolated". And alienated. They have pushed Lois out of her iconic role for this contrived crap.

One panel of Lois and Clark in this issue had more spark than any contrived crap they've done with Clark and Diana all year.

The Clark/Diana stunt has done nothing but drag down both characters and has gutted the supporting cast of Superman. It has brought nothing good to Superman, Lois or Wonder Woman. It's contrived drama.

Anonymous said...

I also think people severely underestimate just how much damage it's going to do to Wonder Woman long term due to this contrived stunt.

DC has played into every offensive stereotype about gender, love and sex imaginable with this stunt. They have given legitimacy to the idea that Diana exists to be a male fantasy through the male lens. The sexy prize for a fanboy in her bathing suit who is Clark's reward for Lois rejecting him. The gender commentary is staggering and it will have long term damage for Wonder Woman. Guaranteed. "Who cares if the love of your life won't be with you? You can just replace her with a "hotter" model. That will show her"!". It's gross.

I loved this issue so much. But mainly now it just reminds me of how contrived I find the entire new 52 Superman and how poorly I think they have handled Superman in so many ways.

What Diggle reminded me is that I would trade anything to return to the old Superman. This new model and new relationship with his supporting cast is nothing but a letdown to me. This was a great issue. And now it's done. And I think I'm done with it. This company doesn't get or respect this character and they treat Lois like dirt on their shoe and Diana like a pawn. I'm just done.

--Audrey ( sorry that was me above too. Forgot to sign it.)

Martin Gray said...

Anj, may I join you in a profound >sigh<?

PRgirl1294 said...
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PRgirl1294 said...
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Jay said...

I still wish the fallout didn't happen and Diggle stayed, but honestly Daniel's art is what shined the most in this issue. Not to say Diggle wasn't good, it just wasn't anything I'd label as irreplaceable. Daniel was off the charts good though here.

valerie21601 said...

Hey Anj,

I read your review and then checked out some other review blogs even the DC facebook page comments section on Action #19 and ALMOST !00% of them AGREED with you on how great it was.

The posters on the DC facebook almost all *itc# BIG time how DC gave them just a taste of how Superman could be and how sad/angry they won't be getting another Andy Diggle Superman issue.

I recommend checking out the DC facebook page comments for yourself.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments!

This was a great issue and I am not surprised so many people have applauded the story-telling here. It is a great shame Diggle can't continue.

I think the Superman/WW relationship is safe and boring. The Superman/Lois relationship says so much about who Superman is, who Lois is, and worked.

And yes Mart ... sigh.

Anonymous said...

@Audrey, sorry if I offended you. I'm so new to Superman comics (new52 new) that Lois and Clark have almost no meaning to me as a couple other then that they were one in a few other universes of the DC multiverse, but so were Diana and Clark. Those just weren't mainstream.

I still think that Diana and Clark need each other in this faze of their lives. However I also think that they won't make it in the long term as they are now. Warrior and idealist is how I see them. He can soften her edges, teach her to trust again. She can sharpen his, show him the resolve needed to step out of his comfort zone when the situation calls for it (like when she decapitated Pegasus). And before anyone skins me I don't want Superman to kill anyone (he would have probably found some magic spring to heal Pegasus or a way to put him to sleep until he heals).

That first kiss was believable. Steve got hurt, Diana was upset, Clark worries someone could get hurt because of him, they're in the same boat and feel they don't need to protect the other, one thing leads to another and they kiss. As I said I don't think they can really last as they are now but I hope they learn from each other.

And again I'm sorry if I offend long term fans.


Jay said...

Big fan of the Superman/WW pairing personally; I don't need Lois and Clark to necessarily be together romantically to have a fun and meaningful dynamic. I had that for 20 years anyway, I'm more than fine with some different directions.

Anj said...

No need to apologize Eki.

The Clark/Lois/Diana triangle is a hot button issue. I fall in the Lois camp but I like open conversation and hearing why folks like the Diana side of things.

PRgirl1294 said...

For those of you who are shipping Lois and Superman in these comments, I recommend that you check out the Superboy #19 WTF gatefold cover on this site (, 'cause what it says on this cover is probably make you really happy, if not cause you to be rolling on the floor in laughter.

Martin Gray said...

@PRgirl1294 Cheers for the link! Mind, I'm not keen on that term 'shippers' in connection with a Lois and Clark thing, as if they weren't created to be together ;) They're complementary, with a sparky Lois and Clark relationship utterly fundamental to the world of Superman.

Anonymous said...

@Eki, I'm a long term fan and you don't offend me. I just don't agree with you.

I think the problem you have to understand here is that everything you have described...the situation that was put into motion to put Superman in a position where he was so desperately lonely and afraid....was contrived through DC doing some pretty awful things to Lois Lane.

It's not just that they ended the Supermarriage. It's more than that.

The heart of the Superman mythos isn't just about Lois and's also Lois and SUPERMAN.

Superman often ::does:: feel alone. But part of the history is taht even before Lois KNOWS he is Clark Kent....she forms a bond with SUPERMAN. They share things. Intimate things. They have a special connection. He can talk to her in ways he can't talk to others. This is the other half of the triangle. Lois and clark is only half the piece of the pie.

So when DC made the decision to pursue this route with Wonder Woman, it didn't just require them to get rid of the relationship (including the WORKING relationship between Lois and Clark) it also required them to get rid of the relationship between Lois and Superman. Because if Superman could confide in Lois then he wouldn't be so desperately lonely and need to turn to someone else.

Do you understand?

In terms of Wonder Woman, there are many fans (myself included) who really take offense to this idea that she needs Superman to "teach" her things or "help soften her edges." i don't think that should ever be Superman's job. If a "man" is going to teach Diana about "man's world" then it should be a HUMAN who will challenge her from a true human perspective without the privilege of superpowers.

And if someone is going to encourage Superman to "step out of his comfort zone" should be Lois Lane doing that. It's her JOB to do that. That's what she's there for. It's part of the reason why she was created.

I understand that you may have been familiar with some elseworlds in which Diana and Clark were together but surely you understand that those AUS had very SPECIFIC circumstances and were almost always predicated on the idea that something in the world had gone horribly WRONG and that Lois was DEAD. Those relationships were never on the same level nor of the same importance as the 75 year back and forth of Lois and Clark/Superman which was and is utterly fundamental to the world of Superman.

You say you are a "new" Superman reader. The problem is...what you are reading right's not Superman. It's just not a true Superman story. And that's why people don't like it.

The Superman/Wonder Woman/Lois thing is a hotbutton issue because it encompasses some really SEVERE gender problems on the part of DC Comics. That's why.

@Jay, The problem though is what Martin Gray said is very true.

A sparky Lois and Clark relationship is utterly fundamental to the world of Superman. They don't need to be married but the tension should always be there simmering in the background. I think that's what diggle was trying to establish here. If the tension isn't playing out in the background your story isn't complete. Writing Lois and Clark/Superman without that simmering underneath is a betrayal of the narrative. It doesn't belong in the narrative and it's reasonable that people would be upset about it. New is not always better. Not when it destroys characters.

Valeria said...

This is cool!