Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: Action Comics Annual #2

Action Comics Annual #2 came out this week, the first part of Krypton Returns, Scott Lobdell's sequel to H'El on Earth.

Now my issues with H'El on Earth are well documented on this site. It was muddled, with plot holes and was near incomprehensible in some places. And, of course, Supergirl was treated horribly in that arc. The middle chapter, Superman 23.3 H'El #1, wasn't strong either. It was a jumbled mess of an origin as we are told that cell samples that made their way through the universe gained omnipotence and intelligence. Lobdell has often said that the reader simply needs to go with the flow, ignoring things that make no internal sense or aren't explained and I'm not surprised that he asks for that. Because a lot isn't explained and there is much which makes little sense.

I tried my best to go into this issue with an open mind. But I bought it with some trepidation wondering if this story would be any different. Would it make sense? Would there be holes or leaps in the plot that are hard to comprehend? Would Supergirl be treated better?

Sadly, the truth is there was no difference. The issue seems to stumble along, the plot clunkily pushing forward rather than smoothly rolling out.  It is loud and brash. There is a lot that I have to simply accept as a reader as it doesn't make much sense. And outside of one nice moment between Kara and Kal, Supergirl is treated poorly, cold and bratty and ultimately immature.

On the other hand, the art in places is quite lovely. I know I like Rocafort more than others but his art shines here, the crazy panels and page compositions working with the chaos of the story.  And Dan Jurgens fill in pages are fine.

The story starts with Superman witnessing a Temporal Tsunami destroying an uninhabited galaxy. Planets are destroyed and suns extinguished. A portal appears and he steps through it. He suddenly finds himself standing in front of the Oracle with Supergirl and Superboy.

Immediately we see how Lobdell is going to proceed. Supergirl icily lets it be known she isn't happy Superboy is there. Funny how Superman and Superboy are looking up and she is looking down. I get the feeling that Lobdell doesn't like Supergirl. She seems more interested in shunning Superboy rather than what brought them together.

Remember, Mike Johnson had her beg H'El to spare Superboy's life, realizing life is sacred, in the Supergirl chapter of H'El on Earth.

The Oracle points to a nearby planet and the trio realize that they are suddenly in orbit above ... wait for it ... Krypton. Apparently, the accumulated yellow sun energy allows Superman and Supergirl to survive in space under the red sun.

Of course, Supergirl acts impulsively. She is thrilled that H'El (the guy she loved then hated then tried to kill) was successful in saving the planet. She tries to fly 'home' but is stopped by Superman. She then is angry with him for not letting her be happy about the return of the planet.

It is clear this is a 'new' Krypton with 25-odd years of time having passed. When the three are attacked by a Kryptonian warship, even Supergirl has to agree they can't just fly down. Of course, she does so icily once again.

We are 9 pages in and she already has 2 icy word balloons and has acted bratty and impulsive.

The Oracle teleports the three to a Kryptonian moon where we get several pages of exposition. First, the Oracle 'possesses' Superboy and fills in some of the details of what has happened.

H'El learned that he was nothing but cells on a ship. He decides he will rule Krypton. But Krypton is doomed. So he keeps going back in time, trying to change details. Remember he had killed Jor-El in Superman #23.3. He undoes that until finally one of the many timelines of Jor-El he actually figures out how to stop the planet from exploding.

I already have said that I think H'El's origins are rubbish. So nothing new there.

But there is something mythic about Krypton being doomed to die. The fact that Lobdell has one Jor-El figure out how to save the planet sort of cheapens the life of the 'real' Jor-El. It means that the DCU Jor-El was a failure for not figuring out how to stop the planet blowing up. What is a hero's story for saving Kal-El now becomes an 'honorable mention'. Why wasn't he more like that Jor-El?

During each of these dry runs, H'El murdered anyone who stands in his way. He has corrupted the timestream so much that it is lashing out with the destruction we saw earlier.

You know who doesn't care about all that destruction and death? Supergirl apparently. She doesn't see what the big deal is. After all, she got her world back. She actually says they should be throwing H'El a parade. Remember, the H'El she loved then hated then tried to kill.

 Isn't that supremely immature? Selfish? Un-heroic?

The Oracle's possession almost burns out Superboy. Supergirl has to slap Superboy's body to shock Kon into regaining control.

Then Lobdell has Faora come out of the shadows to finish the story. In this new timeline, the Oracle educated and trained Faora to be his mouthpiece.

So why possess Superboy at all if you teleported the family to the moon to be near your acolyte? It is one of those meaningless plot wrinkles that was probably put in just so Supergirl can smack Superboy. Because Faora picks up right where the Oracle left off.

It turns out that H'El took over Krypton and made it a horrible war-like world. He has made half the population slaves and the other half military troops. The place looks more like Apokolips than Krypton.

Of course, Kara remembers the 'other' Faora and is rude to this one, vowing to make Faora pay for her crimes and questioning the veracity of what she is saying now.

Are you sensing a pattern here? Supergirl isn't very nice in this book.

The Super-family gets to witness this new hostile Krypton first hand. eeking over the bend they see soldiers forcing the weak into manual labor under the threat of violence.

Superboy falls back to the tried-and-true 'I am a living weapon' mode, attacking the soldiers and apparently perforating them with telekinetic bolts. Superboy the killer.

And then the inexplicable and needlessly complex plot twist.

To stop H'El from saving Krypton and ruining the universe by weakening the time stream, the heroes need to split up to three key moments in the past. Supergirl heads to the clone wars. Superboy needs to make sure Supergirl gets to Earth so she can be around for this moment (because that makes perfect sense in a time stream where Krypton doesn't blow up). And Superman needs to stop H'El.

Seems like a sort of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers plot right ... overly complicated and easily thwarted. Why not go back in time and stop H'El from irradiating his cells preventing him from doing anything?

Remember, on this world, the events of Krypton's destruction didn't happen. Why would Zor-El be making a rocket to begin with?? 

Taking Faora at her word, they prepare to dive into the portals.

Okay, it isn't all bad.

This is a scene I think most Supergirl fans have been waiting for and seems apt after the 'find happiness' pledge at the end of the Cyborg Superman story.

She apologizes for being difficult and thanks him for trying to help her.

Okay, great sentiment.

But how do you corroborate this attitude with the 'hooray H'El, hate Superboy, I don't care how many people died as long as Krypton is back' attitude from earlier in this issue?!

I am happy this scene happened. I am shocked that Scott Lobdell wrote it. Why does he write her so awfully everywhere else?

Once we go back in time, Dan Jurgens take over on art. We get to see a couple of pages of each of the members on their side adventures, I did like this scene the most as Kara tries to figure out who Superboy is (he is wearing the family crest) as she sneaks out of the house with a antigrav harness. Looks like she has always had a thing for the kneeless boots.

But there are other things to see in the other side scenes.

Supergirl is basically powerless in the past having been exposed to yellow sunlight for less time that Superman.

And Superman meets Lara Van-El. Not Lara Jor-El. Lara Van-El. In this new timeline, it seems Lara did not marry Jor-El. So maybe Kal doesn't exist here. Yet another time travel story conundrum.

The issue ends with H'El vowing revenge and death on the Superfamily. He looks back in time and sees the family interacting with the Oracle. He still seems to be pining for Kara, loving her but feeling betrayed. Remember, the girl he lied to and hit.

Anyways, if H'El is so obsessed with Kara, why hasn't he used his time bending powers or his planetary clout to woo her or marry her in the new timeline? It, again, is a sort of nonsensical plot thread since H'El has control over reality right now.

Anyways, I tried my best ... I tried ... to see the bright spots in this issue. The Rocafort art is slick. The scene where Supergirl and Superman reconcile is very nice. Lara Van-El is an interesting wrinkle.

But so much of this issue seems strained and worrisome. Supergirl being a selfish brat. Superboy killing. An unnecessary complicated plot. A lot of exposition. It doesn't exactly flow.

And so Krypton Returns begins. I knew I should have been worried after all.

Overall grade: C-


Martin Gray said...

It's an old gag, but thank you for reading this so I didn't have to - I finally managed to resist buying a Superman Family New 52 book. Like you, I had low expectations of this comic, and it sounds as if Scott Lobdell has met them. That comment by Kara as regards millions of people dying had me nigh-choking on my lunch. That's the attitude of a hero?

And the flip flop characterisations and sloppy plotting is an insult to readers - Lobdell is well paid, he should be keeping people consistent and ironing out the story kinks. And when he doesn't, the editors should be pulling him up. The rest of us get sacked for doing half-arsed work, how come DC creators get away with it?

Nope, I'm glad I've not forked out any cash for this book. Will you support the rest of the crossover?

AndNowInStereo said...

I read this last night. As my expectations were low after I finally read H'el on Earth last week, I went in thinking this'd be complete drivel and it actually turned out slightly better than I expected. But that's not really high praise. This sort of works mostly because of Rocafort. Aside from Faora's impossible waist he's on great form here.

I'll tell you why I could tolerate this. You know I'm a very recent convert to comics, right? Well even people who don't read comics have that idea of what cheesy Silver Age schlock read like in their head, and if you'd told me this was a parody of a comic a few months ago I might have believed you because this gives me that exact feel. So to me I spent more time laughing at the dialogue and exposition here than cringing, it's the only way I could handle it.

Lobdell gets a bit of credit around the internet for good ideas, but I'm not gonna be that easy on him, interesting ideas do not a good story make. He's just a terrible scripter. To make good sci-fi, you HAVE to ground your setting in some rules that make sense and progress the plot logically and consistently - if you just make it up as you go along you disengage the audience as they lose track of what is and what isn't possible. I've seen it before in many Star Trek episodes and other low-rent SF, and I recognise the signs all over this script even BEFORE you think about the dialogue.

That dialogue... man. Just too cheesy and leaden to take seriously. That's probably what mitigated my annoyance at Kara's lines here, because the whole thing felt so unreal. He does NOT understand her character at all. He isn't even TRYING to understand. It's just mind-boggling. Like you Anj, I did appreciate Kal and Kara's hug toward the end. But that scene where she says "I don't see what the big deal is" - not only is that not the way she speaks but it's so out of character you'd believe it was her Evil Twin or something. Notice how she's playing with her hair there as she says it too!

I'm going to say it again, if she is about to leave this family of books, I'll welcome it if it gets Kara away from Lobdell and Berganza. I am sort of looking forward to the Superboy and Supergirl issues that follow, as foolish as that may be - I hope Jordan and Nelson scripted them and not Lobdell himself. I wish Mike Johnson had scripted this like the previous Superman and Action issues. He actually knows what he's doing! Put him on Superman instead of Lobdell!

So yeah....

Anonymous said...

Ever felt like he'll is one big Inside joke you want in on? What were they thinking creating such a lame character. His powers is never explain, his origins is a what. I swear He'll is the Pauly Shore of comic book villains. Just waiting until he disappears and is never heard from again.

garyb said...

As for me, I was so disgusted by the first time around with H'el and Lobdell, and I will not follow the story in Action, Superman, or Superboy. I'm still picking up S-Girl, more out of habit than anything else. Frankly, the upcoming run with Bedard will be the last chance I give the Supergirl book.

Snicker; Captcha number for my Turing challenge is 52.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the excellent review. Sorry for the long post.

So, it's nice that Superman and Supergirl have their nice family moment, but what about Superboy?
Where is his heartfelt farewell? He just abruptly leaves before either Kal or Kara says goodbye to him,
even when they just said that they may never see each other again.

But at the very least, Kon's interaction with past-Kara should turn into something positive in their relationship.
I hope. Just like how I hope Superman will be a bigger player in this event than H'El on Earth.
Whatever he's going to do in Krypton Returns it had better be something super, darn it!
And I don't necessarily mean kill off H'El because to me it would feel like a waste of two Superfamily crossovers
and a Villain's Month comic who I still think should've been given to the upcoming Toymaster.

Also, bye new Good-Faora! Wasn't it so nice to see Faora's comic debut/return even though she
was a totally different character who dies and will be replaced by regular Evil-Faora in the end.
Hey, just like how regular Good-Superboy will be replaced by the new Evil-Superboy. How swell.

Lastly, what's with the Oracle? With it "part of a powerful race that can't interfere and having a herald"
wouldn't the Oracle make sense if he was a Monitor or at least somehow related to them?

Jay said...

I thought it was a pretty good read. Only thing that bothered me is that Kon comes out looking so good, as does the Kara/Kon dynamic, and yet well, we apparently know what's going to happen there. Kal and Kara's moment was a long time coming too. I don't see the gloom here, honestly. I don't get why Kara's initial reaction being to praise H'El is any problem whatsoever. This is before she knows the specifics of what he did. Once she does, she's clearly on board with stopping him. I think Supergirl's being judged way too harshly.

Martin Gray said...

@Jay '. I don't get why Kara's initial reaction being to praise H'El is any problem whatsoever.'

Because she's had ample proof by now that H'el is a duplicitous scumbug. She knows his plan to revive Krypton was going to mean the death of Earth, she should have been at least dubious about this supposed miracle resurrection.

And I don't think anyone's judging Kara so much as Lobdell.

Jay said...

But the Earth didn't die, and yet here Krypton is. So Kara's essentially believing the plan worked with no ill side-effects. At that point, I have no qualms with her being happy.

Now, I failed to comment on the other point of contention, how she kinda waxes off the destructive behiavor of multiple alternate timelines deal. THAT I didn't like. That one I indeed agree is one of Lobdell's forced edgy-isms. If one really wants to be apologetic for it you could say she really doesn't grasp how "real" or not these alternate timelines are, but that's grasping. This is indeed a dumb panel by Lobdell, I'm with you all there. Its my only true gripe of the book though (outside my earlier lamentation of Kon's apparent demise.)

Martin Gray said...

Hi Jay, 'but the Earth didn't die, and yet here Krypton is' - my immediate thought was, did some other planet die, then? I'm surprised it wasn't Kara's.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Like Mart, I think Supergirl would be very hesitant about accepting anything H'El did without more info. She knows he is evil. So I would hope she would look at Krypton and say 'how did this get here, what has he done' before saying yippee.

She is, as expected, treated pretty rough in this issue.

And I appreciate the sentiment of the Superboy fans who feel he was simply glossed over in the book. You're right.

But I am sensing that despite some differences in opinions on certain interactions, we all seem to agree this wasn't very good.

Jay said...

The plot has me intrigued. Basically what most people know about Lodbell, good ideas, execution not always so great when someone else isn't scripting his ideas. That seems to be something not many of you here are feeling either though, but I like these kinds of things. Granted I will admit though that time travel is permeating the line too much at this point, and needs a break after this. But I do feel Lobdell has developed a decent voice for Superman, and he was always good with Superboy. He is not that good with Supergirl, I'm with you guys there. It wouldn't be so bad if he wouldn't insist on making her the "hardcore" member of the group. But he does, which suggests he just doesn't get her that well, unfortunately.

AndNowInStereo said...

Doesn't get her that well is an understatement. He doesn't understand her at all. If he's even looked at the actual Supergirl book beyond the publicity blurb, he's doing a bad job of showing it. Not only is she out of character here, she doesn't speak like that. Even though she now knows English she doesn't come across to me in her own book as having such a casual use of words. And having Rocafort get her to play with her hair at that moment where she says "I don't see what the big deal is" as if she's so cool about the whole thing? This makes her out of character personality seem even more blatant to me, where did our thoughtful protagonist go?

Jay said...

I don't find her way of speaking here much different than the voice Nelson was giving her. So while I don't think Lobdell gets her in terms of attitude, I'm not really buying her very vocabularly is staggeringly different.

AndNowInStereo said...

Nelson has changed her a bit, yes - she jokes more than she did before, certainly. Lobdell has just taken too far, it feels very noticeable. To be honest even Nelson kind of lost it in issues 23 and 24 too - she called an image of Superman a poseur(!) in the former and in the latter, well, I never had her pegged as a scenery-chewing destroyer of worlds. I enjoyed that issue but I'd have liked it more with a bit of subtlety, you know?

Anonymous said...

What an awful comic to read, the mere mention of H'el's name and Kara starts squealing like a Justin Bieber fan...appalling. The plotline makes no sense whatsover the book's layout looks like it was run thru a lawnmower and then sent to the printer.

Nowhere to go but down....


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure the "Lara Van-El" means what you think it does. Remember back in Pre-New 52, Lara's maiden name was "Lara Lor-Van" so just maybe in the "New 52" she gets to hyphenate her maiden name with her married name as is now pretty common practice for earth women.

Gerry Beritela

Anj said...

Thanks for the comment Gerry.

Interesting take on Lara's last name and as valid as my guess.

I'd prefer your answer to mine.