Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Action Comics #23.4 Metallo

My coverage of Villains' Month comes to an end with this review of Action Comics #23.4 Metallo.

I have to say I was looking forward to this issue a lot as it brought together a couple of my favorite creators. Sholly Fisch shined in the Action Comics back-up stories during Morrison's run and picked up where he left off with the Bizarro one-shot earlier this month. And artist Steve Pugh's murky style was dazzling years ago in the Jamie Delano Animal Man and continued to shine in the New 52 Animal Man.

Now this is a fine story, a look into the mind of John Corben and how it became twisted into the cyborg Metallo. There some great character moments that helped make this character more three-dimensional, even faintly sympathetic (faintly faintly). And the art is very solid.

But maybe these guys are victims of their own success. I read the book and thought 'nice little story'. Unfortunately, I am used to being wowed by Fisch and so even though I was entertained I felt a little let down. I just didn't feel the energy, the small extraordinary stuff, that usually elevates the issues into 'great' rather than 'good'.

Let me reiterate this. I was entertained by this book. And that means something.

The book opens up with a Metallo walking in darkness, closing in on some destination (we see a distance counting down in panels). He has been alone for months and he hasn't 'cracked'. We soon see that isn't exactly true.

And Pugh works his magic here with Metallo slowly emerging from the inky blackness. He certainly looks more machine than man here.

Even though it isn't explained here, I had a feeling he was at the bottom of the ocean, plodding on the sea floor towards some revenge. 

How did I know that?

Well, it was eerily evocative of the end of Metallo's first appearance on Superman:The Animated Series.

In that episode, Luthor has made Corben into Metallo. And Metallo, thought dead is slowly making his way to revenge. 

Knowing the background of this made me wonder if Metallo's 'destination' was to battle Superman ... or someone else.

We then flash back to eighteen months earlier where Corben is still comatose in a military base.

One thing I do appreciate with Fisch is that he links his stories to the Morrison run. For me, the Morrison run was sort of magical and the best Superman stuff since the reboot. So I am happy when creators build off some of those elements.

Another thing that I liked was how Fisch makes the moniker Metallo to be synonymous with villainy. Here, General Lane, Corben's superior officer, the man responsible for the Metal Zero test, is trying to save his soldier. Part of that means keeping him human. He calls him Corben.

After years of maintenance, Lane decides that maybe Corben needs a stronger energy source to snap him out of his coma. Putting in the 'Kryptonite heart' works, shocking Corben awake.

I liked these panels as I think they convey a slow erosion of Corben's humanity. Yes, he feels a rush from the K-charge. But that top panel makes it feel like he is lost in the Matrix, and the green eyes, and the monster on the ocean floor image all make us realize that 'Corben' is slipping away. Great montage by Pugh.

But just in case we missed it, Fisch makes sure we get it. Metallo feels like nothing can touch him while putting his hand on his heart. Does he mean physically? Or emotionally?

Still, a good soldier is a good soldier and Metal Zero is one powerful being.

But the army psychiatrists are worried about Corben's repressed emotions and excessive force.

Lane's response is perfect for him. How can you be worried about excessive force in a war zone. Lane is looking for a powerful soldier/weapon who will demolish everything put in front of him.

Lane unfortunately learns what that means. Sent into Qurac to stop insurgents, Corben handles it easily. He levels the building that the terrorists were hiding in killing them and the 110 innocent human shields they had with them. Now that is excessive force.

The lower panel is so perfect by Pugh, Corben smiling thinking 'job well done' while citizens grieve in the background.

With such a PR nightmare caught on tape, Lane is ordered to eliminate his own weapon. So over the ocean, the unmanned drone bringing Metal Zero home self-destructs dropping Metal Zero into the sea.

And so we catch up to the earliest pages. Metallo walks out of the ocean, terrorizing a beach, in a panel reminiscent of 50s monster movies when creatures from black lagoons did the same. We are slowly building an image of a monster.

The army and Lane arrive to put Corben down. The General talks about how out of control Corben has become despite everything Lane has done for him.

And then all humanity seems to drain from Corben. He threatens not only General Lane but Lois who he feels spurned him. Nice middle panel showing how monstrous Corben is towering over Lane. But it also shows just how brave Lane is to confront like this.

I do wonder why none of the infantry tried a head shot.

Lane then unleashes his secret weapon: Metal 2.0. This is Lane's new toady Sgt. Brizuela, a wide-eyed soldier who agreed to be changed. Brizuela is up front with Corben - he doesn't want to kill him. And that limitation is something Corben can take advantage of.

Corben skewers Brizuela, killing him. But before he dies, Brizuela self-destructs hoping to destroy Metallo in the process.

Lane knows the scoop though. Metallo isn't a Superman villain right now. Metallo is a Lane villain now.

Before the explosion, the Secret Society teleported Metallo away.

With no other place to turn, Corben understands that his old life is completely over. In a nice bit of pathos we see a withdrawn Corben realize that he now and forever more will be Metallo. The use of multiple sized panels, all askew, add to the feeling that order is lost in his life.

So overall a decent origin story with some nice flourishes. But I can't explain it. This felt like an 'ordinary' comic book story when I am used to extraordinary stuff by Fisch. And the art by Steve Pugh is very good. I would still love to see Fisch on some Superman book regularly.

This issue was still entertaining ... still worth buying and reading (as opposed to other Villains' month issues).

But just not dazzling.

Overall grade: B


Count Drunkula said...

Uh… double check paragraph three, Anj. Metallo is "John" Corben. A look "into the mind of Roger Corben" would be a different book altogether! ;)

I agree with everything you said except I really enjoyed this story. I think Pugh's art was great, and Fisch's story was solid. This was maybe the most I've ever liked General Lane, so props to the team for that. One of the better villain spotlights I read last month.

Martin Gray said...

What the Count said! I preferred this to the Luthor issue by Fisch ... not that any Fisch comic has ever failed to please me.