Monday, January 28, 2019

Matrix Monday: Action Comics #678 Review

With last week being a 'no new comic to review' week, I thought I'd continue my Matrix Monday theme.  And I thought that Matrix's early stories are still important in laying down the foundation of the 'new' Supergirl who was going to stick around in the Superman books.

Action Comics #678 carries the cover blurb 'They Saved Luthor's Brain!' and is a wonderful issue in setting up major changes for the landscape of the Superman family. Seriously, when I reread this issue for this review, I was impressed at how this really is a seed for major upcoming plots.

Action Comics #677, review on this site way back in late 2011 (!), showed just how smitten Matrix was with the son of Lex Luthor. She was so taken with him that she was willing to fight Superman! Here, the mystery of Luthor's son is solved. But further shenanigans with Cadmus, Dabney Donovan, and yes Matrix Supergirl all play into the deep plot. Writer Roger Stern really lays down a ton of plot with threads coming off of the main idea that would spread throughout the titles for the next couple of years. I have come to recognize how great Stern's work was on the Superman books, especially picking up the pieces post Byrne.

Jackson Guice is on art and I have gushed about his art in the past. Here he does a great job with angles and shadows, especially in the second half, to give this book a sort of Film Noir feel.

And there is no denying how fantastic this cover by Art Thibert is. What a great shot of Supergirl, flying in front of bullets aimed at Luthor. She is stunning. But the big win is the white surprint of the central nervous system overlying the young Luthor's body. Hmmm ...

Seriously, how could you pass by that cover on the rack and not want to buy it?

 And you might have missed it but I got this issue signed by Stern at last year's Terrificon. I was happy to thank him for his work on the Super-books.

On to the book!

'Talking Heads' opens in the aftermath of a battle between Superman and Metallo. This was the 'new' Metallo, the giant robot version who could change/inhabit tech.

But this is also a relatively early look at Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. And while Maggie Sawyer had been introduced as far back as Superman #4 (Byrne numbering), Stern really built up the character into the leader that she would ultimately become.

Think about how important Sawyer and Dan Turpin would become during this time. Stern was really filling out the supporting cast.

And that included the Daily Planet.

It is in this issue that Ron Troupe gets married to the city beat in the Daily Planet. Loving the gruff Perry White welcoming the latest reporter to the stable!

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor II, the manly strapping hunk of an Australian, is out on the town with a raven-haired beauty. They are enjoying a nice meal at a place called 'Down Under', a restaurant specializing in Australian cuisine.

On the way out, Luthor is attacked by gunmen.

It turns out the woman is a shape-shifted Matrix. Once the attack is on, she transforms into Supergirl and protects her man. The bullets flying off her strike one of the attackers himself.

With a teensy weensy bit of help from Team Luthor, she saves the young Luthor.

She picks up her man and flies off.

Knowing how obsessed this Matrix can get, there is something delicious about her asking Lex if she is going too fast. Is she talking about her flight speed? Or her devotion to him? As we saw in Action Comics #677, she already is in his sexual clutches.

But a bigger piece of the puzzle is dropped. The wounded assassin, the one hurt by the bullets bounced off Supergirl, looked like Dabney Donovan. Remember, Donovan was the geneticist with no morals at Cadmus. More importantly, he is supposed to be dead.

Back at the Metropolis PD, Superman enjoys a coffee and chat with Sawyer and Turpin. The conversation moves from Metallo to the Luthor attack.

Remember, this is early in the relationship between Superman and Supergirl since she returned from space. Things are so new that the police force doesn't know who she is. They ask if she is related. Wouldn't it have been great if Maggie said 'is she related? A cousin?' Maybe that was still too hot for DC.

But how cold that Superman calls Supergirl 'an acquaintance'. She isn't part of the family ... yet.

Finally we get to the true bulk of the issue.

Dabney Donovan, his eyes bandaged from the bullet injury, is being interrogated by a trench-coated man claiming to be Inspector Henderson.

Donovan begins a long rolling testimony about his interaction with Lex Luthor ... both Luthors.

We are reminded of Luthor's fatal radiation poisoning, a medical issue which cost him his right hand and would soon cost him his life.

To try and stave off that fate, Luthor employed Dr. Teng (of Man of Steel #5 / Bizarro fame) and  Donovan to come up with cure.

The two came up with a desperate gamble. Clone a new body for Luthor.

First they would need to 'dispatch' of the old Luthor.

Luthor would try to break the speed record for circumnavigating the globe in an experimental Lexwing. A planned crash would occur, a nameless homeless person also missing a right hand placed in the plane so a charred unrecognizable body could be recovered as Luthor.

Meanwhile the real Luthor would bail out. In an underground lab, his central nervous system was removed and kept alive.

And then a burly mountain of a man would be created, cloned, to house the mind of Lex Luthor. This new Luthor would be dubbed Lex Luthor II. Luthor would become his own son!

I do have to love Luthor's narcissism as well as his hang-up on his bald head. He not only wants his new body to be taller and stronger but to also have a thick, lush head of hair.

The new Luthor was created and dropped in the Austalian son to come forward as Lex's long lost son. Brilliant.

I don't think it fooled me at the time but the person claiming to be Henderson was in fact Luthor. He needed to know how Donovan survived and how much he knew.

But then it turns out that this Donovan is himself a clone. Dabney made an army of Dabney's to do his nefarious work of seeking out and killing Luthor. Heck, they have even been made weapons themselves. This one self-immolates with the pyrogranulate he impregnated his body with.

There is no honor among thieves ... ever.

Perhaps my favorite page of the book is the last.

There are a lot of plot threads arising out of this reveal that Lex Luthor II is actually a cloned Lex Luthor I. And Stern shows us these story streams by showing us 4 divergent groups and how they are reacting.

We get the public perception of the Lex/Supergirl couple as well as the reveal that it was Dabney Donovan at the scene.

Then we get the reaction from Cadmus. After all, Donovan was at one point one of their own. The Guardian is interested in figuring all this out, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, Donovan Prime is angered at his third clone's hotheaded reaction (both literal and figurative).

And finally, Luthor's mulling over the fact that someone out there knows his secret. He thought he had tied up all the loose ends. Now he is in danger. And a cornered Lex is never a good things.

Whew! Great issue, great reveal, great seeds for the future.
And boy, Jackson Guice is so solid on art. I love his take on Supergirl! Plus that cover!
Definitely worth a buck box purchase!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

First of all... Anj, the post's title is wrong. It tells "Action Comics #674 review" instead of 678.

"But how cold that Superman calls Supergirl 'an acquaintance'. She isn't part of the family... yet."

I've heard some Matrix fan who hates Kara say that Matrix was in fact Superman's step-sister... and still in this issue he calls her "acquaintance".

Shaking my head.

It's sad to see poor Matrix behave as a lovesick pawn who is unable or unwilling to see "her" man is playing her for a fool and talking her into anything. And considering the dialogue between Superman and other characters, she was barely known in Metropolis, four years after her debut (real time, but yet...) Even back then Mae was truly unimportant in the Supermanverse.

On the one hand, this issue is clearly packed with content, featuring several running subplots and pushing them forward. On the another hand, these storylines haven't aged well, in my opinion.

Art is good, though, especially the panels showing Lex's brain and eyes. Creepy.

Martin Gray said...

I'm OK with Matrix being described as an 'acquaintance', that's pretty much all she was at the point... she had neither the powers, personality nor background of Supergirl. She grew into the part, earned the name, but wasn't there yet.

Anonymous said...

The "Ick Factor" started up early in this storyline and clung to the character right up to the moment she merged with the Earth Angel...Its an amazing comeback for the allegedly dead Lex Luthor, but in the process Matrix got jobbed out and never really recovered her mojo. I criticize Peter David now and again, but if he hadn't pitched the whole "Earth Angel-Supergirl" book likely the character would have been killed off by some subsequent writer who needed some fast cheap heat.



Anonymous said...

"I'm OK with Matrix being described as an 'acquaintance', that's pretty much all she was at the point"

...At the point and afterwards. They were never close.

I don't mind Matrix being described as an acquaintance, but I have issue with Kara haters claiming Mae was Superman's sister when she was barely a friend.