Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #601

In 1988-89, DC changed Action Comics from a monthly Superman-focused series to a weekly anthology, also changing its name to Action Comics Weekly. It lasted 42 issues before reverting to a monthly format. I am going to review all 42 of those issues, one per week for 42 weeks. This is the first of those reviews.
I suppose the simplest way to review any given issue of Action Comics Weekly is to just go story by story, since they all have different creators working on them and therefore varying levels of quality. Let's run through 'em in order:
Though other important stuff does happen over the course of the story, like Hal Jordan deciding to raid an abandoned diamond mine in order to make ends meet, the detail that really sticks from the opening Green Lantern tale, "...And the Pain Shall Leave my Heart" is Katma's death at the hands of Star Sapphire. Which is the point of having it be such a jarring event. It happens unexpectedly and takes only half a page, making it powerful but also sort of cheapening it. Katma was a significant character, and it's already weird that she'd be killed off in Action Comic Weekly, let alone in such a brutal fashion, and so hurriedly. Star Sapphire doesn't even really pick Katma specifically; looking for Hal Jordan, Sapphire happens to find Katma instead, and figures what the hell, might as well murder somebody. We'll see what the aftermath ends up looking like in future issues, since this opening installment only gets as far as John Stewart blaming Hal Jordan for Katma's death. Not an entirely unfair accusation, I guess, but hardly the whole truth. James Owsley makes a bold first move here, kicking off the Action Comics Weekly experiment with a bang, and Gil Kane's art is tasteful about the murder scene. We mostly just see Sapphire attacking, but not the actual damage she does, which is only hinted at via a single panel with a bloody, cut up hand. So it's as well-played as fridging John Stewart's wife in an eight-page anthology story could be, but I don't totally approve of it on a conceptual level. Perhaps they'll earn it later on.
I reviewed the original Wild Dog mini-series on the blog a while back, and it was not as good as I wanted it to be. Turns out, in a smaller dose, the character is even less impressive. This whole story is some bad guys using hostages to demand that Wild Dog surrender himself, and Wild Dog just showing up and gunning down the villains instead. He's this unstoppable, untouchable executioner, and that doesn't make for a particularly compelling protagonist. Terry Beatty does a good job of making the violence intense but not exaggerated. It's underplayed, if anything, but Wild Dog's ruthless efficiency and his targets' fearful shock come together to make it effective. It's not enough to make me care, though, because Wild Dog's victims are nameless cyphers, and the man himself has no voice or personality whatsoever, at least not on display here. The only real person is Lt. Flint, and he's a frustrated observer who never acts, there only so other cops can deliver expositional dialogue at him. There's also too much closure to make me interested in next week's story. Wild Dog gets away from the police, and that's meant to be a cliffhanger, but, like...the real threat is neutralized and the "hero" is safe, so, who gives a shit what happens next?
Like the characters themselves, the reader is mostly left in the dark about what the hell is going on in this story until the very end. Even there, a lot is left unanswered. I am aware that this version of the Secret Six spins out of the original, so it's possible that if you were familiar with that, this would be clearer from the start. It's not bad, but it is a bit confusing at first. We know that a bunch of people have been invited somewhere, and meet a few of them as they prepare to leave. They're interesting characters, all a bit older, but having led what seem to be fulfilling lives. Then instead of seeing where those folks end up, we find a group of younger characters gathered together, all of whom appear to be strangers. They don't get along very well, but their fighting is cut short when a mysterious, masked figure reveals himself on a giant monitor. He tells them his name is Mockingbird and that he's recruited them to be his new Secret Six, but what any of that means is only vaguely explained. It is heavily implied that they'll be doing something about an evil corporation that caused acid rain to kill a bunch of people, but the connection doesn't get made directly yet. All told, this is eight pages of pure set-up material, introducing lots of people quickly and getting to the Mockingbird hook just in time. Mostly I just feel like it's too soon to judge this Secret Six story, that I need more of it to form an informed opinion, but for now I'm curious, and that's a fine way to begin. I will say that Dan Spiegle's realistic art seems to be a perfect fit for this considerably more grounded story (compared to everything else in the issue).
I tried several times to get these two pages to be next to each other instead of one on top of the other, but could not make it happen. It might be me, it might be Blogger, but either way this is the best I could do. Just imagine them as a spread.
Superman, formerly the star of Action Comics, gets only two pages per issue of Action Comics Weekly. As such, there's very little to discuss here, especially since, starting with the story's title, "Faster than a Speeding Bullet!" this first little Super-snippet is just recapping a handful of Supe's powers. We watch him scan the city for danger with his super-hearing, and then use his super-speed and indestructibility to save someone from being shot by a gang of criminals. It's not a bad way to kick of a new Superman story, relying on these classic moves, but it's not crazy thrilling, either. Curt Swan, at least, draws an ideal Superman: muscular, confident, a single curl of hair dangling in front of his brow at all times. For that, if nothing else, I liked this, and there wasn't enough for me to strongly dislike anything, though I was less than crazy about the limited story space.
Deadman is a character I've always been into. In spite of that, I haven't actually read too many Deadman comics. Which is silly, because he's hardly the most active or present character in the DC canon, and it probably wouldn't take too much time to catch up on the important parts of his history. Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying that, at the beginning of this story, Deadman talks about stuff that's already happened to him, and I have no idea what he means by any of it. As you can see on the page above, he makes references to Rama, the Entity, and Sensei, and I'm not totally clear on who those people are. They all sound familiar-ish, meaning I've probably encountered them or at least their names in one or more of the handful of Deadman things I have read in the past, but they don't ring any specific bells. Not that it matters for the story here. Deadman's current situation, he explains, is that he's supposed to preserve "the balance between good and evil," which seems to just mean fighting evil, at least in the context of this narrative. He stumbles upon a CIA guns for drugs operation, and sets to work screwing it up right away. The best and funniest part of the story is when Deadman inhabits the body of one of the pilots of the plane full of drugs and redirects the plane to Dade International Airport, while also calling ahead to let them know that a bunch of cocaine is coming in for a landing. It's so much more effective a strategy than the violence of your typical superhero, and that's a big part of what makes Deadman such a cool character. He doesn't have the brute force many of his colleagues do, and has to be more intelligent and strategic with his abilities. The CIA, with its constant lying and manipulation, should make an especially formidable and appropriate opponent.
Blackhawk is a character about whom I've never been all that excited. I just don't dig on war comics, or war stories in general, all that much. I do appreciate how Mike Grell takes the first five pages of this story (more than half) to discuss the endless cycle of wars all over the world, before zeroing in on the title character specifically. Grell neither glorifies nor condemns any of it, merely points out that the fighting never really stops, that soldiers might take vacations from the fighting, but normal life doesn't really suit them, and there's always another war somewhere. After that point's been made, we find Blackhawk in a whorehouse, being bathed by two seemingly identical women, before a man named Zalecki bursts in wielding a knife and demanding money he's apparently owed. Downstairs, another woman is looking for Blackhawk, and though we don't yet know why, based on her tone when inquiring after him it's clearly business rather than something personal that she needs him for. The story ends with Blackhawk shooting Zalecki, and the sound of the gunshot tipping the unnamed woman off as to where Blackhawk can be found. It's a less-than-stellar hook, because Blackhawk comes off as kind of a schmuck, which tends to be the case with that character, at least in my limited experience. So that's probably intentional, and in that case successful, but still not my cup of tea. The woman, meanwhile, is barely a person yet, and the same goes for Zalecki, so this is a flimsy narrative overall so far.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter One: Point of Order"
5. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War"
3-4. Tie between Green Lantern/"...And the Pain Shall Leave my Heart" & Superman/"Faster than a Speeding Bullet!"
2. Secret Six/"Listening to the Mockingbird" 
1. Deadman/"The Section Chief"

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