Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #603

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 third of those reviews.
Dull cover, especially if you don't know who Blackhawk is. Not bad, just uninteresting.
It's an intense time for Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and James Owsley writes that intensity well, with Gil Kane illustrating it even better. Star Sapphire finally makes a head-on attack against Hal, and because he cares about protecting civilians and she doesn't, she has a distinct advantage in their fight. Eventually, Hal resorts to slapping her repeatedly, unable to spare any Green Lantern juice because it's all being used to keep a bunch of debris from falling on people. Those slaps are no joke, and neither is the exhausted madness in Hal's eyes in the panel right before, where he decides to fight her "the old-fashioned way." Kane makes the reader feel the emotional and physical pain of both characters, and then Owsley come aboard to drive it home with Hal's internal monologue about whether or not to execute Star Sapphire for the greater good. He decides to go for it, but his ring won't obey, because deep down killing her runs counter to his will. The main focus of this whole Green Lantern arc seems to be pouring as much shit on Hal as possible, and this chapter did the best job of that yet. It also leaves him lying on the ground with Star Sapphire towering over him, seconds away from delivering a fatal strike. Like I said, intense. As a parting bit of praise, Kane uses a bunch of sharply slanted panels this time, which amp up the overall feelings of aggression and insanity quite nicely. The panel borders seem to cut through the images, violence from the comic piled on top of the violence in the comic.
The Secret Six finally get to do something, to be in the field on a mission. First they all have to agree to work for Mockingbird, but that decision doesn't take any of them long. He offers them a chance to use professionally skills they thought they'd lost access to forever, so how could they turn him down? It's awesome to see them in action already, but what stands out most about this story is the weirdly extreme corporation the Secret Six is trying to bring down, Technodyne. This is a company that literally wiped out an entire town with acid rain just to drive up sales of it's new protective substance, Impenetrite. That's a seriously cutthroat marketing plan, almost unbelievably so, and it's made all the stranger by the fact that Technodyne's CEO is a child genius who inherited the company. Not exactly your classic spy story villain, but definitely hard to forget or look away from. Meanwhile, the Secret Six comes together quickly as a unit, falling into their respective roles easily. That may not last long, because things tend to go badly for all heroes at some point, particularly first-timers, but it's still nice to see. They don't get too deep into the mission, because the first half of the story is just the group officially coming together, and then the final three panels return to the original Secret Six's plane crash from last issue. I'm not sure where that's leading, exactly, though the smart money is on revealing Mockingbird's identity somehow. Whatever, all I really want to see if what kinds of trouble Secret Six get themselves into now that they're getting their hands dirty, and I have no idea what to expect because Technodyne is about as unfamiliar and unpredictable as it gets. I'm feeling it.
I can't get a solid foothold in this narrative. The first beat was Deadman vs. the CIA, the second was Deadman vs. Talaoc, and here it shifts to Deadman & Talaoc vs. the CIA & aliens. It's all the same story, but the threat changes every eight pages. Also, Deadman and Talaoc's dialogue is stiff this time, with the wry sensibility Deadman's had up to now suddenly becoming clunky, and Talaoc's voice just coming across as stupid. I think he's supposed to speak more plainly because he's from the distant past, but it doesn't quite connect. Neither of them capture my attention, and most of their conversation is Talaoc telling Deadman about the aliens whose ship and equipment is inside Talaoc's pyramid. The information provided about the alien technology is bound to matter later, but for the time being all we get is backstory, delivered through a boring, awkward-sounding character. CIA section chief Kasaba gets a few panels of being a dark-hearted, overly-ambitious, stubborn government agent, and I look forward to her stepping into the lead antagonist role, which she almost does by end of this issue's installment. She's not there yet, because she and Deadman haven't come in direct conflict, but that's going to happen before long for sure. Unlike Talaoc, I expect Kasaba to remain the bad guy, and be a formidable one, for a decent stretch. The little bit of attention she's paid here makes me look forward to the future, but doesn't, sadly, elevate any of the rest of this issue's Deadman material.
I love that this is the second time Roger Stern has made the title of the Superman story a classic line about Superman's powers, and then demonstrated it in the story. In Action Comics Weekly #601 it was called, "Faster than a Speeding Bullet!" and Superman literally outflew bullets as they were fired, and here we get, "More Powerful than a Locomotive!" where he stops a moving train with his body. I assume he'll leap over a tall building at some point, too. It's fun, and Stern makes it count, having Superman save a life with each of these examples of his power, thus displaying another core part of the character. The best part of this issue's story, though, didn't involve Superman at all. The suddenness and callousness with which one of the bad guys turns on and murders another really shook me, and I give both Curt Swan and Perta Scotese credit for that. They set a grim, tense mood for that moment without spoiling the surprise of it, which is a tough tightrope act to pull off, and they do it in three panels. So far, this Superman narrative hasn't moved very far forward, but that unexpected betrayal within the ranks of the villains added a nice layer of mystery that felt like the beginnings of a hook. That's progress, and considering these are only the fifth and six Superman pages in Action Comics Weekly, the chances seem pretty good that this'll be an excellent story in the long run.
The pacing of Wild Dog has been super odd from the beginning. I feel like Max Collins can't quite figure out how to get the endings right in these eight-pagers. They're always a little too sudden and boring, tacked on where no space was reserved for them. This time, the ending is especially unimpressive, because earlier in the issue Lt. Flint asks Jack Wheeler/Wild Dog to infiltrate the Legion of Morality, and the cliffhanger ending is that he does it. Considering we were told explicitly that it was going to happen, the fact that it happens isn't all that thrilling. I did enjoy the scene of B. Lyle Layman flirting with Helen Scournt, the head of the local chapter of the Legion of Morality. Collins has Layman dance around his obvious intentions, pretending what he really wants is to set up a base of operations for the LoM in the Quad Cities. But Terry Beatty draws Layman as such an obvious lecher that his true desires are obvious. Not that Helen isn't into it; both she and Layman seem to enjoy the game they're playing, going along with the pretense for now but mutually understanding where their professional relationship will ultimately lead. That's my reading, anyway, and if it was the intention then the creators did a stellar job. That the villain's budding romance is the only truly enjoyable aspect of this story may not be the best sign, but at least there's that, and it was very good.
Here's something: last issue the Blackhawk story was titled "Part 2" but this issue it's "Chapter 3" which is silly and even a little annoying. I'd love it if next issue was "Book 4" or something, though. An intentional three-beat joke would be great, but if it's just random inconsistency then I'm not wild about it. In neither case does it matter to the story, which is basically all exposition and set-up here. Necessary stuff and well-delivered, but less entertaining than the first two parts/chapters. Cynthia tells Blackhawk the history of the gold she intends to steal, and though it's an interesting tale with more than one good twist, by the time it's been told there's barely space for Blackhawk to take the job before the story concludes. Although there is a nice bit at the end where Cynthia's wealth and/or influence is highlighted without giving away any details about who she is, with her even playing up the mystery just to mess with Blackhawk. I continue to enjoy them as a duo; there's a lot of natural humor and intelligence in the way they interact. That's this story's biggest strength, so having it present here still makes for a good read, but with several of the pages spent on exposition and the rest on preparation for an adventure to come, this was the least energetic or action-packed Blackhawk installment yet.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Talaoc's Tale!"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Three: Censored"
4. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Chapter 3"
3. Superman/"More Powerful than a Locomotive!"
2. Secret Six/"Spread Your Broken Wings and Learn to Fly"
1. Green Lantern/"Retribution!"

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