Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: Action Comics #35

Superman Doomed is over! Or is it ...

Action Comics #35 came out this week, labeled as a Superman Doomed Aftermath and is such and up and down issue that I feel completely torn about the story it tells. Settle in. This is a long review.

Greg Pak has been a welcome change to the Superman creative teams and his earliest issues with artist Aaron Kuder simply crackled. Back then it felt like Pak walked on to Action, removed all the gunk and tarnish that had been heaped on Superman since the inception of the New 52, and put this glowing polished character back on a pedestal. He got Superman. Here was a Superman, remembering lessons from Pa, battling to save all life, and enjoying his pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way.

And Pak also got points from me for bringing back Lana Lang as a strong, independent, highly intelligent character. Lana was inspired by Clark to go out, explore the world, and do good as best she could ... an everyday hero electrical engineer.

Then Doomed happened and suddenly the Super-books entered the maelstrom of Doomed. Suddenly the unique feeling of the title sort of slipped away. With the crossover finished, I thought we would get back to Action. And in some ways we did.

We get a great Supergirl. We get a fantastic Lois. We even get some good Superman. On top of that, Pak begins excising some of the metastases of Lobdell's run. Hurrah.

We also get a bitter, disillusioned Lana. And a snarky Batman. And some bad Superman too. All of these feel like steps backwards. 

The art is split by Scot Kolins and Vicente Cifuentes. Kolins art here looks much more fine and sleek than I am used to seeing from him recently. And Cifuentes has an Eddy Barrows feel to him. So the book looks beautiful.

The book starts with a bearded Clark, sitting in his apartment in the dark, typing away at a piece called 'Who needs Superman, anyway?'

You can tell the tone of the issue just from this. Clark, bearded as if in mourning, wallowing in the darkness, steeped in self-pity and hatred.

So Pak throws us a curveball. After months of Superman fighting endlessly, tirelessly we see him suddenly beaten down. And this after saving the universe!

We skip back in the recent past. Superman, battered, bearded, returns from deep space where he (as Super-Brainiac-Doom) threw Brainiac into a black hole. It has taken some time to fly back to an Earth that he is unsure even survived. 

As he enters the atmosphere, a WayneTech satellite blasts him with Kryptonite energy. 

Finally, falling to the planet, he is met by our first bright spot of the book. Supergirl!

She streaks up to him, carries him to the ground and comforts him. And she sounds downright heroic. Yes, 13 thousand died. But billions ... heck the universe ... was saved. She flies him around the planet, showing that everything is basically intact.

But there is bad news, some of which was welcomed by me as it cleans things up a bit.

The phantom zone projector, an overused device in recent storylines, imploded during the action. It took a chunk of the Fortress with it including the intergalactic zoo, Non, Mongul, and Xa-Du. It also got Kandor. And it got Shay Veritas.

So let's go down the list.

Kandor going missing seems premature as we hadn't really seen much of it outside of Morrison's run. That said, Lobdell had the Kandorians awaken from their suspended animation. (Remember that plot point ... never addressed in Doomed??) Maybe Pak just wanted to remove that remnant of Lobdell completely.

Xa-Du had escaped in Doomed (remember that dropped plot point?). So don't know why he went back to the Zone (although Supergirl says he is 'missing'). Mongul and Non getting trapped isn't a big deal.

But ... wasn't Wonder Woman IN the zone? Weren't Batman, Steel, and Lana IN the Fortress? How did they escape.

And ... this is my big gripe ... isn't Shay Veritas stuck in The Block, in the center of the Earth? Her presence in the Fortress was just a hologram ... right? So how did she get grabbed.

I liked Veritas and thought she was growing a bit as a character. Sad to see her go and hope it isn't for too long.

Less than 100% in power given how much it took to get home, Clark decides to investigate the aftermath of the Doomsday/Brainiac attack. He reboots the Fortress AI, knowing that will 'heal' the place and decides to see if any danger still lingers. He tells Kara to meet him back at the Fortress in 40 days (a very biblical number).

And he decides Smallville, the first city to go comatose, is a good place to start his investigation.

One thing I have enjoyed about Pak's run is his revisiting a key moment in Clark's childhood. When Clark's heat vision first fired, Pa actually ran to him, hug him, love him. He didn't run in fear. We have seen Pak revisit this moment a few times, again here.

The bottom line is Pa thought Clark's presence was a gift. Not a curse.

It is a lesson I thought Clark had learned.

Just when sweet nostalgia is about to overwhelm Clark, he runs into Lana. Initially it seems like a nice reunion. But then Lana drops this bomb.

She is upset at Clark for not being able to save her parents, one of the 13 thousand who perished. He shouldn't have missed them in his efforts.

Lana seems downright bitter about the whole thing. How could Superman not save her family?

It seems so odd given everything we have learned about this Lana. She is the one who has traveled the world, into the stars, trying to save people. She has used Clark as a role model to reach out herself. It just seems beneath her to blame him. Maybe it is transference since she herself wasn't home to save them?

And it comes on the heels of her telling Clark to kill Brainiac last issue.

Where did the Lana from the early Pak issues go?

Picking up on the vibes from the Doomed issues, we learn that Lana and John Henry Irons are now romantically involved. And they are in Smallville helping the community pick up the pieces.

Suddenly, Clark doesn't feel needed in Smallville. Other heroes are here. So he leaves.

Then he goes visit Batman.

And Bruce is completely a jerk. He K-scanned Superman before entering the world to make sure there was no Doomsday spores. And Bruce feels that the world (and it is implied by the stern look in the second panel that he also) blames Superman for the badness that happened in the world.


Why does Bruce and the world feel that way?

Superman was almost a non-factor in Doomed, controlling the infection, leaving the planet, attacking Brainiac's ship when out of control. And ... let's not forget ... SUPERMAN SAVED THE DAY!

Bruce was right there! In Doomed he talked about being inspired by Superman! He was the one who knew Superman was the only one who could save the day! Why the reversal?


At last ... AT LAST ... there is a voice of reason.

Clark actually posts his 'Who needs Superman' article on his blog and Lois comes to confront him.

And this is pure Lois. I love that she is the only one who has the nerve to tell Clark that his beard is ridiculous (everyone else compliments it).

And she tells Clark flat out he is wrong about Superman. That Clark doesn't understand Superman. And that if Clark is going to 'click-bait' then Lois is going to battle him. She calls it a war.

"I feel like I've lost and found my best friend in the same instant." Great line.

Of course, the memory of Clark's secret identity is gone, another erasure from Doomed. 

And then we read Lois' response. Yes, she could easily point out that other super-heroes ... inspired by Superman ... have picked up the slack while he was gone. (She includes Supergirl! With a nice shot of Kara saving a child!)

But really she wants Superman to come back and see how humanity has pulled together.

This reminds me ... and should remind Clark ... that his feelings, his ethics, his need to help people were lessons learned from his Earth father, from his human roots. Superman inspires humanity. But it is humanity (like Pa) that inspired him to be a hero.

I am thrilled to see Lois back in a Superman comics acting like Lois, without psionics, kicking butt. And it is a great response. Hey Superman, how about shaking off the ennui, self-pity, and emotional doldrums and be a hero?

We don't see Clark's response to Lois' words because instead we see Lana's response.

And frankly, her response sounds completely out of character from everything we have seen from Lana since her return to the book.

"And if you keep saving us, we're going to get weak."

Does that sound like the woman in the sinking oil tanker who ran into the flooded engine room? Does it sound like the woman who cobbled together an electricity gun to fight subterranean monsters? Does it sound like someone who took off into the stars? Has she acted like someone who passively waits to be saved? Who would tell Clark to stop being heroic?

I can only hope that this is a play off of her first lines here. Maybe this is self-loathing transferred to Superman. We'll see. Because this doesn't sound at all like the Lana I have loved this last year.

We end with a zombie-like cliffhanger. 

This was really an up and down issue.
We have a number of Doomed elements cleared from the decks, some in odd ways.
I love Kara, Lois, and Superman.
And I don't love Lana and Superman.

Overall grade: B-


Nobile said...

I'm not reading the present course of Superman comics (just waiting for it to show worthy, and maybe catch up later), but your recap makes me wonder, a bit.
I actually may like where Lana character is going. Look back at what Lana and Lois have been in Superman's universe, at least since they weren't treated as silly dolls anymore, Lois loves Superman and what it stands for, Lana loves Clark as the person he is. Lana has always been a bit more "selfish", because she's family, she thinks Clark should get back to his roots (earthly roots), Lois has endorsed Superman's mission and accepts the fact he can't be just hers: Superman belongs to the world. And this acknowledgement is what, finally, always made Clark choose Lois, notwithstanding his deep love for Lana. This has nothing to do with Lana being weaker, she's not, she's a hell of a woman, but she's angry. All throughout her history and changes of her depiction, she's been the one who knew Clark from the start, who loved him first, who -in some cases- protected his secret. And lost him to the world and to another woman. Actually, the way Pak depicts Lana here is very bronze age. I remember a Pasko's story where Superman directly accuses Lana of being selfish, and Pasko subtly suggests that Superman just doesn't get WHY Lana is doing that (the final sequence where she bangs on the window while Supes flies away, then she gives up and weeps). I've always thought that bronze age Lana perfectly knew Clark was Superboy/man (c'mon, they've been knowing each other from kindergarten!), but she disperately hoped to be proven wrong. She just could not accept her best friend was not trusting her. And that makes you angry. This aspect was also the only one they got right in that awful, irritating depiction of TV Smallville's Lana Lang.

So, I find perfectly fitting for new DCU Lana find a hook for her anger and concealed bitterness in the fact taht Clark saved billions but could not save her parents. She knows it's not his fault, but she has to release her anger somehow. And this puts her on the opposite side of Lois: she wants Clark back.
Just my two cents.

Besides that, the whole "must there be a Superman?" concept is a great hommage to the bronze age and I think that some acknoledgments to E.S! Maggin should be in order in the story's credits :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anj. Great review! I have to agree with the comment above. This actually feels much more in line with the Lana that I've known for a long time now and I mean that not as a critique towards her bc I do like Lana.

As a woman, I've been really unable to connect at all with anything Pak has done with Lana since he started his run---until now. It just felt like he was trying too hard. I didn't feel like he had created a real character as much as a generic "strong female character" without any real depth. I just couldn't connect at all. The things you list above as strengths were just too much to me and didn't resonate. This resonates to me and feels much more in line with the Lana that I grew up with and cared about who was a true, loving friend but just couldn't fully understand Superman as much as she cared about her best friend, first love, Clark.

I also agree with comment above that this was one of the things Smallville nailed about Lana even though it was frustrating. At some point, I will subject you to my defense for SV's Lana bc I truly think she's very misunderstood and has a lot more value than people give her. She was not the right life partner for Clark nor he for her but a lot of her motivation does make sense to me and I have a soft spot for her as an individual even though I agreed that she just didn't understand Clark fully.

This is the first time that Pak has written a Lana that I recognize and who feels like a real person to me. I liked the issue. Lana does love Clark Kent. Lois loves Clark Kent too...but she also loves and understands Superman. The dual identity--the future---is found in Lois. And it's here where we often see why Lana Lang eventually loses Clark to another woman. Of course, the other side to this is Diana. Diana loves Superman. She doesn't really understand what drives Clark Kent in the same way Lana doesn't understand Superman. The dual identity is key and there is one place it has always met in the middle -----Lois. ---Shades

Bartiemus said...

One thing that bothered me about this issue is Lex has already worked out Clark is Superman the same time who worked out that Bruce was Batman in Justice Leauge 30 I think it was. So him liking the article about Clark made no sense.

Overall really enjoyed how Kara was portrayed being there for Clark when he need her nice to her being the strong compassionate one for once. I'm all for more guest appearances if this is how Greg Pak and Geoff John's plan to use her going forward. They actually felt like they where a family that's a first in The New 52 I think.

Maya said...

I'm really really hoping that Lois didn't forget the duality but is letting Clark think she did so he won't worry about his secret because I'm sick of this particular plot point in that she knows for a moment to drive whatever story line and then when it's over, she forgets.

Lana? I'm not a fan and I really didn't like Smallville's Lana at all. I agree with Nobile, thiw aspect of her was the only thing they got right.

Honestly? I just bored with the direction. I feel like the Superman titles are just plodding along with nothing interesting to say that hasn't already been said before in a more compelling way.

I've said this before but I have more fun reading yours and Martin's reviews than I do the actually issue.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I find these Lana comments intriguing!

I know exactly the bronze Lana scene you mean and read those books. In that story I thought Superman was telling Lana that she wanted to be Mrs. Superman, not that she loved him. She seemed pretty superficial.

And I did have lots of issues with Smallville Lana.

Everyone explains their points well so I can understand where you are coming from (even if I don't necessarily agree).

This Lana, so fierce up to this point, blaming Superman and asking him to stop heroing ... that sounds completely foreign to me.

It will be very interesting to see where Pak takes this. I hope to hear your thoughts about Lana as the plot moves on!

Thanks again!

Anj said...

Bart - wasn't it great to see this Kara! Holding things together and helping her cousin!!

Just fantastic!

And Maya, it is a tiresome plot point with Lois. I would love for her to know.

Jay said...

For the record, my interpretation was that Lois wasn't telling Clark anything he didn't already know. His feelings about Superman are exactly hers. His article on the blog was bait. He wanted Lois to ensure the people that the Earth still needs Superman, Clark didn't want to essentially talk himself up, or he felt she could best illustrate it. Either way though his blog article was NOT his true feelings. You could see this by his reaction to both her railing at him, and his reaction when reading her article. He clearly expected, banked on, and welcomed it.

Jay said...

Woops, hit send too soon...I meant to close with that the entire point of the issue from the Clark standpoint was that his apparent doldrums attitude about Superman in the opening pages when he's in the dark, seemingly brooding, it was just misdirection. There was no crisis of self. Clark just did a little bit of trolling so the best reporter he knows would write the story the people needed to hear. I'm guessing he doesn't care that much about sullying Clark's name in regards to feelings about Superman because if anything all it does is help protect his secret all the more.

Anj said...

It never hit me that the article might be a feint by Clark.

The 'you're almost there Lois' comment as he was reading Lois' rebuttal seemed odd. I read it that he was happy she almost about to say Superman should quit only to have the next page be a left hand turn by Lois. Since we never see his response to that page (because we transition to Lana) I didn't know if he was happy or sad.

Certainly, rereading it thinking it is a feint makes the whole book read differently, as if Clark is more upset that Lana and Bruce feel the way they do.

Thanks for the comment!