Saturday, November 8, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #604

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 fourth of those reviews.
Overall, I'd say this was probably the strongest issue yet. With all the stories now fully up and running, there was more room for action and advancement across the board.
In eight pages, the Green Lantern story managed to go in two directions I wasn't expecting. Though the idea of John Stewart being blamed for something Hal Jordan was involved in was set up last issue, I wasn't prepared for it to be the focus of this issue. That was a sudden turn, and it worked wonderfully, building the tension of Hal's own thread by leaving his whereabouts and status a mystery, and introducing a whole new can of worms by making John a public enemy and the new target of Star Sapphire's vengeance. I am a little hazy on exactly what she does here, though I assume we'll find out more in later chapters. She shows up in court as Carol Ferris, her former or true identity, depending on who you ask, and when John sees her he freaks out and attacks. She then fakes her death in some mysterious way, making him look like a murderer. How she pulled that off is unclear, and even less clear is what happens when he goes to see her body in the morgue later. She wakes up and taunts him, but then he just walks away, which seems like the wrong reaction to something as intense as a formerly fake-dead enemy revealing themselves to be totally alive. That part irked me a bit, but it led right into the second surprise, which I loved. Turns out Hal is chained to a distant planetoid, barely clothed and all alone in a hostile environment. The details of his new location and seeing how he ultimately escapes it are both things I'm looking forward to, so it was a strong final beat. Basically I loved the opening and closing but had some trouble with the middle of this story.
Wild Dog continues to be the character I'm least interested in, but there's a lot more doing and less talking this time, which makes for a more entertaining issue than Wild Dog has had before. For one thing, he actually gets to be in costume, and even engages with villains directly, something he hasn't done the past couple weeks. I'm not wild about a hero who throws a Molotov cocktail back at the bad guys just because they throw one first, though Terry Beatty does draw a pretty good guy on fire. Wild Dog has always been down with killing his enemies, and I suppose gas and fire aren't any more fatal than bullets, but it still seems especially harsh. Though I'm not sure what else I excepted him to do with a lit Molotov cocktail, either. That speaks to my whole problem with Wild Dog, or one of my biggest problems, anyway. I can't decide exactly how I feel about him and the way he operates. It's like, yes, obviously anyone who thinks that automatic weapons and serious explosives are appropriate tools for fighting smut is an extremist and a legitimate threat that needs to be squashed immediately. Any censorship is rotten, but condoning violence in the name of it is despicable. So the Legion of Morality are a terrible group, and because they're mostly nameless and faceless, wearing blank white masks, it's not hard to watch them die since I feel no particular attachment to them. They're barely people. At the same time, Wild Dog is such a guns-blazing maniac, I have a hard time being in his corner. Is all-out warfare any better or more fitting a tactic against crime than blowing up comicbook shops is against porn? Isn't Wild Dog just a different kind of menace, a potentially more dangerous one because he has cops and the media and the public on his side? If these questions were asked by anyone in the comic, that'd be interesting, but the most we get is Lt. Flint's slight unease at the thought of Wild Dog existing, which goes right out the door in this issue because Flint likes the idea of an easy fix to the problem of the Legion. Within the world of Wild Dog, the character of Wild Dog is portrayed as a 100% good guy, fighting the good fight in the most/only effective way. I don't buy that, and that makes it impossible to get fully invested.
Dan Spiegle can draw some excellent horror material. This was a good Secret Six chapter tip to tail, with the team in the field and making moves the entire time, but without a doubt the highlight was the horror movie special effects they used to scare a confession out of Elvis Brockman, the child CEO of the evil corporation they're working to bring down. It's only a couple pages worth of stuff, and really it's just one fake monster, but it does things like change the look of its face and pull its head off to spray out its innards, all of which looks convincingly terrifying, especially considering Elvis' age. It helps the story's believability, and it's gripping imagery for the reader, hard to look away from or forget. Most of the story centers on setting up and then deploying the monster, with the rest focused on two of the Six looking for hard evidence that the recent acid rain was not an accident but an intentional move made by Elvis' company to help push sales of their new protective substance. Those two get caught at the end, and then there's the obligatory minimal progression of the subplot about the original Secret Six being killed in a plane crash. That subplot gets only a few panels each issue, but they are always the final panels, indicating that it's going to be important eventually even though it can't be given too much attention now. It's not all the interesting yet, since it is so disconnected from the main story, so I'm glad that Martin Pasko isn't spending a lot of time on it. I also appreciate his commitment to including it every time so it's never completely forgotten. We'll see where that ends up later, but for now it's been nice to see the team in action, and they've hit their first major snag, so I'm excited to watch that unfold, too.
Man I love these Superman two-pagers. They are so fast-paced, and they make Superman look freaking awesome without things ever being too easy for him. He has to use the full range of his powers to handle these random gunmen, and in this issue, one of them manages to get the drop on Superman even after being caught. That villain's self-sacrificial attack also hints at a larger plot, a strong hook delivered at just the right moment. For all the awesome action and plot development, though, the best part was the panel of Superman flying toward the rearview mirror, with "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" underneath. I don't know if that was something Roger Stern included in his script or if it was a Curt Swan gag entirely, but whoever's idea it was, Swan's the one who sells it. Superman's pose and size are both perfect, and the furiousness in his face underscores the humor of the moment, and just how fucked the bad guy is about to be. I'd love to have that panel as a poster or something, because it's probably the most I have ever liked Superman, a character who I've never had any particular affection for historically. I love him in this series so far, and this was the most fun he's been yet, and probably the most progress his narrative has made in any issue. Supes has got a genuine mystery on his hands now, springing out of what seemed at first like a pretty standard street crime, and considering that transition was made naturally and interestingly in only eight pages, the future of this story has pretty tremendous promise.
I'm sort of torn on this one. There are a few ideas that really interest me here, and being able to fit so many into so few pages is impressive. However, it also means none of them get explored very deeply, and a few are abandoned outright almost as soon as they're introduced, and that's a drag. Talaoc's temple is destroyed, and as such he fades out of existence, and as he does so he tells Deadman that he's the lucky one for no longer being stuck in the insane world of the living. This seems to bother Deadman, who is himself still very much stuck here, but he doesn't have time to react to it with any more than a one-panel frown (rendered expertly and hilariously by Dan Jurgens) before moving onto the rest of the story. Even before that, there's a more interesting concept that gets dropped in a hurry, when one of the C.I.A. agents accidentally flies the alien spaceship hidden in Talaoc's temple out into space. Deadman jumps into the man's body to try and help steer the ship back to Earth, but he can't figure it out, so he puts the guy in a trance state and leaves him to drift through the stars indefinitely. I want so badly so see where he ends up, but I can't imagine I ever will, since it seems that the end of his tale is never going to be more than, "He drifts through the stars indefinitely." Instead of following him, or thoroughly discussing Deadman's turmoil over being trapped among the living, we move ontp the C.I.A. accidentally capturing Deadman through the use of other alien technology. That's where things end, and it's a compelling situation for Deadman to be in, so I like it a lot. But it's not as interesting as either of the concepts that won't get to continue next week, and I like that less.
This was the horniest installment of Blackhawk, and I wasn't into that aspect of it. First Blackhawk hits on Cynthia super aggressively, which she of course shoots down in no uncertain terms. No sooner are they friends again than he makes mention of a friend in Saigon, and we cut to that friend, André, in the middle of his own over-eager seduction. Finally, Blackhawk and Cynthia make it to where they think the gold they're after is being kept, only to be promptly imprisoned. One of their captors, Massie, shows up and proceeds to grope Cynthia, claiming to recognize her and saying, "I never forget a breast." It's pretty much non-stop men hyper-actively chasing women, and even though, to be fair, Mike Grell always gives the women power to say yes or no—even bound, Cynthia does all she can to pull away from Massie—it's still annoying behavior to watch back-to-back-to-back like that. Besides which, this is a boring chapter anyway. Blackhawk and Hastings travel for five pages, we see one page of André and his unnamed lover, and then there's one page of the capture and groping followed by the final a full-page splash reveal of the Red Dragon. Or, I am assuming that's who she is, since she is clearly in charge of the operation, and the Red Dragon is supposed to be that person, according to earlier issues. Also she has red hair, which seems like an obvious clue. However, it never gets said explicitly that that's who she is, we just see her whip Massie and then strike an I'm-the-boss pose with her pet tiger. It's a fine enough image on its own, but not the best conclusion, a silent dud at the end of an already not-so-interesting story. Now that our heroes are in the belly of the beast, maybe next week will have more zip. This week was dry and uncomfortably sexually charged, so I did not care for it.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Part 4"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Four: Unleashed!"
4. Deadman/"Genie in a Bottle"
3. Green Lantern/"I, the Jury"
2. Secret Six/"Haunts of the Very Rich"
1. Superman/"Final Escape?"

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