Friday, December 1, 2023

Review: Action Comics #1059

Action Comics #1059 came out this week and was another fascinating chapter in Phillip Kennedy Johnson's last storyline. The secret of Norah Stone is revealed and alas, this time I was wrong. My guess that Norah Stone was a Warworld refugee and relative of Otho-Ra was incorrect.

Stone and her now super-powered Blue Earth are starting a smear campaign against the Super-family as well as bringing a new brand of vigilante justice to Metropolis. While that is happening, the plot to recruit Otho-Ra to the dark side goes into full swing. For me, Otho is the most interesting character of the issue as we see her struggling to decide which road she will go down in life. In a wonderfully subtle moment, you see how she looks to Kara as a role model. But we are heading to a showdown. Which side will Otho be on?

I also think that Johnson must realize his time on Action Comics is indeed coming to a close. So why not put in all the cool things he has dreamed about in the past. Johnson has talked about his love of Superman Annual #10, so why not have Superman wield a sword during his run!

Rafa Sandoval has the month off but Eddy Barrows comes in and brings a very slick issue. Some very powerful moments here. I usually think of Barrows as the artist I'd want for a super-powered brawl. Here, the moments of Otho-Ra battling on a mental landscape really stand out. Strong stuff. 

As for the back-ups, the New Super-Man story by Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic really crackles. It explains why Kenan is on the team now and not in China. It includes a moment which, I think, is a reference to the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport. Big win. The Jon Kent story, written by Dan Parent with art by Marguerite Sauvage, is a little too precious and too light on action for me to like. Someone along the way must have felt we needed a romance comic story here.

I don't quite know why Johnson is leaving Action Comics. He will be missed. On to the book.

We start with, of all things, a bank robbery in Metropolis. The crooks think they are being stopped by the super-family but instead we see a super-powered Blue Earther goon squad. And the Blue Earthers have no problem meting out the death penalty.

Then the entire super-family arrives, including the depowered Kal, clothed in armor and wielding a sword. That time in Warworld paid off.

I really liked this moment when Superman tries to defuse the situation. The Blue Earthers must have some sense of duty. But they can't be super-powered enemies. And if they are enemies, they should be ready to tussle. How great is it that Superman always tries to find a non-violent way to end a tense confrontation.

Great last panel with the super-clan standing behind their leader!

The Blue Earthers aren't ready to change their ways and so a fight ensues ... off-panel.

Because we instead see Otho-Ra being recruited on the mental plane. 

Stone knows that Otho has seen a lot on Warworld. Otho still dreams of the chains she wore on Warworld, tying her hands at night (something we saw and I loved way back in Action Comics #1052).

I loved ... I mean LOVED ... this moment. I think it shows, subtly, that Otho regards Kara as a role model and a hero. She denies Norah's claims stating she is "a ... a Supergirl from the house of El". Maybe I am reading too much into it but that stammer, that pause, makes me think she is invoking the name of her hero, unsure if she is worthy of it.  She could have said 'I am a Super from the House of El.' But saying Supergirl, no hyphen, makes me think she is bringing up Kara.

To the rest of the clan, it looked like Otho was in a trance. She leaves that plane with a trinket, a sort of arrowhead charm, clearly passed to her from Stone.

Interestingly enough, she doesn't tell the rest of the Supers about that visit. 

That necklace must have some power-draining ability because Kara (called Aunt Kara by Otho ... so cool) feel pretty weakened.

While Superman takes a sun-bath to try and repower, Norah Stone and her media operation goes to work on a smear campaign.

The video has been doctored to make it look like the Supers went mad, destroying the town, as opposed to protecting it from the Blue Earth super-squad.

What's worse, people seem to be believing it. 

In this polarized real world, where 'news' can be filtered and shown in two different lights, where deep fake videos and editing can make the same event like two very different things, this felt almost too real. 

I suppose that is what good comic stories can do. They can entertain and make me think about real world issues without suffocating me.

Then the reveal. Norah Stone is Janan Al Ghul from the Batman/Superman Authority special from 2 years ago.

It was fascinating for me to go back and read my review of that. In my opening discussion, I say it is probably a prologue for a big story. In that issue, Janan tells her mother about the existence of another universe for them to conquer. 

And now, knowing this and hearing her words, it makes sense. But I'll also admit that so much time had passed since this special that I had forgotten the specifics.

Sigh ... this time I was wrong.

For some reason though, Otho is a linchpin to the invasion. Al Ghul spirits Otho away to try and convince her to join the dark side.

Great reveal. Great ending.

In the end, this is going to be a story about Otho's soul and whether or not the love shown to her by her new family, if the ethics and morals they preach, can defeat years of abuse and a deep need for revenge.

I wonder if Osul will play a big role in what she does.

Following that is the conclusion of the New Super-Man story from last issue. Using his Qi, Kenan is able to heal himself from the mind-bomb that exploded when he realized Clark Kent was Superman. 

While that was happening The Bat-Man of China was squaring off against Conner. 

I include this panel just because the Bat-Man says 'you broke my robot, now I'm going to break you'.

It's written so specifically I wonder if writer Gene Luen Yang is a fan of Bloodsport and this famous line spoken in that film!

Kenan learns about Luthor's mind-death gambit should people learn Superman is Clark Kent. Now he knows. But others who do learn it will die.

The only way to save his friend Bat-Man is to stop Bat-Man from investigating the death of the Chinese reporter which started this whole thing. And the only way to stop his friend is to leave him. Quite a difficult choice.

I love how Kenan sort of walks this fine line between goofball young adult and mature, Zen-motivated hero. 

And not much to say about the Parent/Sauvage story other than it is 10 pages of Jon and Jay swooning over each other. This includes a text heavy page of them sending selfies to each other from bed and tub.

10 pages.

I don't care who the characters are - Con and Cassie, Clark and Lois, Arthur and Mera, Midnighter and Apollo, Harley and Ivy - no swooning, 'look at how much they love each other' story deserves 10 pages. This felt like a waste here. Seriously, there is no plot here other than showing how crazy they are for each other.

Or, put this in a romance comic! This would be perfectly at home in a Valentine's Day special!

So two out of three stories being good ain't bad. 

And again, I'll miss Johnson on Action.

Overall grade: B


agigu said...

I liked this issue, and the continuation of the PKJ and Yang stories, both of which are strong. I'm gonna be honest, the third story was fine by me while also being a problem one. The story felt like a teenager melodramatizing how into his boyfriend he is and blah blah, but is also the 8th or 18 possible backups dedicated to Jon over, which means almost half of the backups prioritized Jon over every other Super. Kara and Nat haven't had backups, Kenan took ten months to get any kind of meaningful spotlight (and it was incredible, Kon's backup was something...

Martin Gray said...

Top review. And so you were wrong about Norah, I doubt anyone was right, there were no clues.

How did you feel about the Supers failing to stop the Blue Earthers? Killer villains get away and no one gives chase?

Otho doesn’t seem to be leaning towards Norah’s side, and yes, she’s naming Supergirl as her idol. I’m surprised she’s hiding that arrowhead.

The Kenan story was fab, the Jon story was not… is being bi (functionally, gay) his only story now?

Dick McGee said...

FWIW, that "break my record" line isn't original to Bloodsport and never was. In my youth (so Seventies) I saw at least two Hong Kong martial arts movies that used it long before Hollywood did, and of course it's been ripped off many times since. Gene Luen Yang might simply be a fan of old martial arts films in general rather than that particular Hollywood effort.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Mart, I wonder if the Blue Earther were allowed to leave so the supers could help the injured?

As for the line, I suppose Bloodsport is where I first heard it. Interesting to hear it has a longer history. Now I'll keep my ears open.

Crazy to think that PKJ only has one more issue and an Annual to go.