Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: Action Comics #32

Action Comics #32 came out this week, another chapter in Superman:Doomed and the first part of this chapter titled 'Enemy of the State'. Writer Greg Pak moves the story along very well in this chapter, bringing us closer and closer to 'Superman as monster', an inevitable part of this story.

For the last several issues we have seen Superman struggling to keep the physical manifestations and rage of the 'Doomsday Virus' under control. With each successive issue, Superman has had a more difficult time keeping things reined in. Now things come to a full boil.

I don't envy comic book creators because folks like me can sit at a keyboard and dissect things. And I know I am often of two minds, making little sense. For example, in my head I have wondered if I really want to read 4 months of Doomed. We know it runs through August. And yet, here I thought that the transformation to full Doom-mode by Superman happened too fast. I don't know if I grasped quite enough how hard Superman was struggling. I wonder if there is just a bit too much going on here with the Smallville/Kandor/Brainiac/Lois stuff all happening simultaneously. I am sure things will overlap. And we are now 2 issues out from Xa-Du being released from the Zone without sight of him. Where is he? Who is watching him? Is he cooperating?

Pak writes a great Superman, flying into danger to save a villain, staying as pure as he can while he can. And, as usual, Lana shines in her brief moment. I will say that the more I read this, the more I am bemoaning Lois' lack of presence in the New 52 (outside of being a cloaked villain).

The art on the issue is done by Scott Kolins. Kolins has a rougher feel than usual Action artist Aaron Kuder. But this issue's over the top action and insane explosions melds nicely with Kolins style.

And I would be remiss if I didn't show the Supergirl 'Bombshell' cover. This is very pretty in a 1940s Glamour sort of way. But I am very very happy this isn't Supergirl's costume. And I certainly am not buying the statue this is based on.

The issue starts with the US military declaring Superman an enemy of the state, hence the title of this chapter. I have to say, Superman in this state could be considered an enemy of the world. It would have been nice to see other countries also declaring him a danger. This simply is another example ... feels like the millionth in the last decade ... that Superman is fighting our troops.

Even better would have been the US and the countries of the world saying he is a danger but they want to help!

The main thing about this is how much I am saddened by what Lois has become in the New 52. Yes, I know she is possessed by Brainiac. Yes, I know that Superman is now a walking death field. And yes, I know he told her to warn people.

But how sad is it to see a stern-faced Lois telling people to fear Superman. She really has been marginalized away from Superman in this new universe.

Now I absolutely applaud this moment between Lana and Diana. But it also showcased how far away Lois is from the core of the Superman universe right now.

With Superman on the loose or in hiding, Diana tries to reach him with a special phone Clark gave her. Diana's phone calls Lana's phone, a special phone Clark gave her. So Superman, at some point, gave these two women in his life a way they can communicate to each other in crisis.

And when Lana asks Diana if she trusts Superman, Wonder Woman answers emphatically 'Always.'  And Lana gives her a fist bump. It is a nice show of how much these two women love Clark. It is my favorite moment of the book.

That said, how sad that these two characters are the ones who will always believe in Superman while Lois is looking into the cameras and saying 'don't trust him'. How sad that Lois was not given a special phone. How sad Lois hasn't been respected by the current DC leaders.

Despite the enemy of the state tag, Superman is actually still in control of himself ... but it is wavering. He flies to the desert, the most desolate place on earth, to minimize the damage done by his death-field.

Much like the issue where Pak had Superman upset over the death of butterflies, here Superman talks about how he is killing even the smallest, most insignificant life forms ... down to the bacteria.

I like how Pak has slowly shown that his Superman has an appreciation for the sanctity of life.

But I wonder why Superman hasn't simply left the Earth completely. I know Superman wants to help. But this seems like a no-brainer.

Steel shows up to try to help and actually voices my thoughts. Why not head to the moon? Try some stuff to slow things down?

I am old enough to remember the first time Superman gave Batman a Kryptonite ring as a failsafe plan. So I liked this sort of homage/rethinking of that interaction. Superman gives Steel a key to the Phantom Zone projector, a way to shunt Superman away. I wonder if that will come into play later on.

But now Superman is so nearly out of control that he can't control his strength, crushing Steel's hand.

The US military, of course, doesn't try to talk to Superman or try to persuade him to leave. They attack. I suppose I should be used to this by now.

And to make matters worse, they spring Metal-Zero (the Metallo of the new 52) and the Atomic Skull to also attack Superman. Poor John Corben. He didn't want to be this sort of Metal Zero. He didn't want to be a dupe of The Collector. And now he is simply a dupe for the Brainiac-powered Lois. She plays on his love of her psionically, being in his head and pushing him on.

So while Lana and Diana talk about their love of Clark, Lois is actively assisting a mission to kill him.

And, in a move that stunned me, even Lex voices my opinion. I am agreeing with Lex Luthor.

Superman simply needs to leave.

I know, he could simply return from wherever he went. And he might attack another world. But he could sit on the moon, or Venus.

I still don't like this 'Lex as hero'. But it is interesting that he is actually against the military strike and tries to help Steel from a distance so Superman can escape.

The Army must have been preparing for this moment. While Steel engages the Atomic Skull, Metal Zero flies his copter to Superman with a Kryptonite bomb filled with K-gas.

Heroically, Superman realizes that Corben is on a suicide mission and rushes to save him! Thank you Greg Pak!

But Clark is too late and Corben is too controlled by Lois. Corben talks of the visions Lois has put in his head, how by killing Superman Lois will be free. He detonates the bomb, killing himself at the same time.

So now Lois has led a man to his death.

I also wonder if this death allows DC to bring back a more classic Metallo. I bet DC wants to completely expunge anything lasting from Morrison's run.

The bomb spreads a K-cloud over the area.

Steel goes to see if Superman has survived. But Senator Lane communicates that the K-bomb only 'killed' the Superman side. Only Doom remains.

Did they know this would be the outcome? Because it seems foolish to kill the rational side of Superman letting the monster be unleashed? It certainly looks like Superman is way more Doomsday now.

So how do I grade this book.

I love the Diana/Lana moment. I love how Superman worries about his killing microbes and tried to save Corben. And I like how both Steel and Luthor (!!) tried to help.

But I don't like where this Lois thing is going. And I miss Lois being a good part of the Superman universe. And I am sick to death of Superman fighting the US army.

And what about Kandor? And Xa-Du?

I suppose overall the good evens out the bad. The story is certainly moved forward.

We basically have three more months of Doomed. Three months.

Overall grade: B-


Martin Gray said...

Hi Anj, great review, as ever. I share your confusion as to what happened with the Phantom King, but I'll give them a bit of leeway on this one, see what happens when he does show up.

As for Lois, I refuse to pessimistic. This is Lois Lane, she's in a rubbish place right now, but I have to believe she'll be at the top of the tree again soon. How could DC possibly be so dumb to sideline her over a long period? The Diana business will inevitably wind up and Greg Pak will get to write Lois as well as he does Lana.

One definite dropped ball, though, is Lois' fella, Jon. He's no idiot, we've seen how much he loves Lois - so where the heck is he? He HAS to be investigating her strange behaviour; he may not know she's been zapping him mentally, but he knows enough to know something is up. I wasn't keen on his introduction but he's grown on me, and I'd like to see him kept around as a member of the supporting cast. Meanwhile, he should be putting his investigative reporting skills to the test.

But basically, yeah, I cannot wait for Lois to be cleansed of the Brainiac influence - of all the Scott Lobdell 'winging it' script developments in the world, this is the Scott Lobdelliest. It really does seem he had no idea what to do with the Brianiac-washing business, and now he's left the mess for Pak and co to clean up.

I suspect Geoff Johns will give us Lois Classic. We shall see soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Even a great writer like Greg Pak can't really make this event that good. And by the standards of New 52 Superman events, this is still the best one which is disappointing to say the least.

I like the sound of Superman trying to do the right thing but him turning into a monster and becoming distrusted is poorly executed here and not done as well as it is in Unchained by Snyder. I'd rather see Superman contemplate the philosophy of his presence on Earth than become a raging monster that flips out and threatens everyone. I want to read Superman, not SuperDoom.

And poor Lois, mistreated so badly. Lobdell's dumb idea to keep her possessed by Brainiac is beyond stupid and disrespectful. Hopefully Johns writes her as well as Snyder does.

Went a little off topic there, excellent review btw Anj! I agree with a lot of your points on Lois, on Doomed itself and on the pacing of the story needing work.

Jay said...

I definitely don't think DC wants to expunge all elements of Morrison's run, but I DO think they want to give this particular idea--Metallo's garishly hulking look--an overhaul. Its definitely leading to a new design. And I dont' think it was ever designed to last anyway. Lots of looks right down to Superman's t-shirt and jeans I think purposely had a prototype feel to them. Superman, Steel, Metallo...they were all "in-progress" character designs in my view.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Mart - Nice pickup on John. He has simply disappeared. And he is a reporter! He should be checking things out unless he is mind-wiped.

And I also wonder if we will get Classic Lois when Johns comes on board.

Anon - I know I need to go to Unchained and Adventures to see the Lois I want.

And Jay - great point about the t-shirt Supes and Steel. I guess it was Corben's death that bugged me. A new Metallo - not just a new streamlined Corben. Anyways, great point! Maybe Corben survived.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anj. Great review. I really respect not wanting to be "pessimistic" but I also think that it's ok for women in comics to be able to talk openly about why this is wrong.

The fact that "one day" some writer might come along and restore Lois again doesn't change the damage that is being done to her now nor does it address the long term impact that this could potentially have on the character, the relationship with Superman and her legacy.

If all this stuff with Lois was happening in a vacumn it would be one thing....but it's not. It's part of a larger problem at DC where women are continually undervalued and used as props for men. There is a larger problem here playing out with Lois Lane. DC totally underestimated and disrespected how much she meant and what she was worth.

Greg Pak is a nice man and he's a good writer but he has demonstrated some serious gender blind spots in his discussions about Lois on tumblr. I'm not sure how self-aware he is about the way he continues to contribute to this problem and why what was done to her was wrong and continues to be wrong.

This isn't about pessimism. It's about being able to acknowledge that this company continues to have problems with how they treat and handle women. That's not being pessimistic, that's talking about the reality and critiquing the problem.

Thanks for the review Anj.