Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #605

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 fifth of those reviews. 
Now that's a cover!
I loved the parts of the Green Lantern story where Hal Jordan was trapped on Golgotha, but was less crazy about the bits where Star Sapphire got attacked by a mysterious alien. Golgotha is, in Hal's own words, "a barren planetoid that exists outside of the time continuum," and thus a pretty brutal place to be stuck. Hal has no real sense of how long he's been there, and he gets frequently zapped by lightning, making any real focus or escape planning near-impossible. It's a shitty situation, and Gil Kane superbly captures the devastating toll it takes on Hal. He looks equal parts crazed, hopeless, hurt, and furious, which is just the right mix to convince the reader how bad things are but also make it believable when Hal finally rallies and manages to break free with his power ring. That's an important moment, and it works on all fronts, which is especially impressive considering there's only four pages worth of Hal between first seeing him on Golgotha and watching him free himself. For Kane and James Owsley to express in full the horribleness of Hal's torture so quickly is awesome, and totally makes up for the more boring other half of this story. That plot involves Star Sapphire emerging from her own grave after faking her death last issue, only to be ambushed by a random, pretty great-looking alien creature. It steals the gemstone that gives Sapphire her power, and zaps her with it but good. We next see her when Hal finds her unconscious in the graveyard, but no sooner does she wake than something (presumably the alien) hits Hal from behind and, when he comes to, Sapphire is gone. I don't like having the hero's nemesis be beaten and then stolen away by a new, unknown threat. Hal and John Stewart both deserve their shots at Star Sapphire for what she's done to them, and while she may come back eventually, Hal's closing line ("And yet, why do I have the sneaking suspicion...the war is over...?") indicates otherwise, and either way this seems like we're being robbed of a satisfying climax to the Lanterns' struggle with Sapphire. She gets away with all her messed up schemes, and as soon as Hal manages to do something unexpected, to get some small victory`, some other force shows up to take care of Sapphire first. That's a drag, but the alien is another visual triumph for Kane, so some good comes of the less-good sections, and the Golgotha stuff is pure gold.
This Deadman story just cannot stick to an idea for long. Starting off as a prisoner of the CIA, which is where we left him last time, Deadman discovers over the course of this chapter that there's another entity being kept in the same building. He then breaks free, locates the other entity, and gets trapped by it, learning at the very end that it is apparently the Devil. While I guess technically the CIA still has him, Deadman's got a whole new problem on his hands now, and he's trapped in a whole new way. There's been a lot of jumping from problem to problem already, and I was sort of looking forward to seeing Deadman deal with just the CIA for a while. As it is, I didn't like his solution to getting out—he scares a dimwitted guard and gets him to bump into some random button that releases the glass tube containing Deadman, causing it to shatter. That's too convenient an answer, and the chances that the guard would hit exactly the right thing with his elbow to set Deadman free must be slim at best. It just feels like a hand-waving way to get Deadman out and about again so he can be in the same room as the jar holding the Devil (or whoever it really is in there). That's sort of been the problem with Mike Baron's writing all along. It meanders, leap-frogs, and stumbles from concept to concept without ever getting to build up any real momentum. Each installment has interesting stuff in it, but none of that is followed for very long before the narrative gets diverted again. Dan Jurgens and Tony DeZuniga draw a mean Deadman, so I enjoy watching his adventures every week, but I couldn't really explain to you what it's about, even five weeks in. The best summary I can offer is that Deadman gets involved with the CIA, and it leads to various troubles and battles for him. I suppose that should be enough, but I'd rather there was a bit more by now, a clearer direction. I'm not totally invested yet because the few times I've come close, the story has turned too quickly for me to hang on.
The first panel of the second page of this story is Wild Dog's response to the last panel of the page seen above, where one of the villains says, "Burning flesh smells bad..." Wild Dog, who is pretending to be unconscious, suddenly comes to and says, "I like it!" with a frightening enthusiasm displayed in both the deeply crazed look in his eyes and the thick, jagged lines of the speech bubble. It's a one-two punch from artist Terry Beatty and letterer Gaspar that, in a single panel, speaks volumes about why I'm not into this character.'s one thing to think killing bad guys is acceptable or necessary, but to relish in your own madness and bloodlust is just going a step or two too far. Maybe it's a tactical choice, scaring his enemies so they'll be easier to gun down, but it comes across as more something Wild Dog does for himself, a little moment of fun before getting back to business. That's unsettling at best, to have a hero who enjoys being a murderous lunatic, and it turns me off. After that burst of violence, this story mellows out considerably, with both the good guys and villains dealing with the aftermath of Wild Dog killing three Legionnaires of Morality. While the baddies hide the bodies, Lt. Flint and Wild Dog make some progress toward determining how the Legion recruits its muscle, a minor but important step in the effort to bring them down. Then, at the end, with way too much ease and not nearly enough proving himself, Wild Dog's secret identity, Jack Wheeler, is welcomed into the Legion by its leader, B. Lyle Layman. Basically they let Wheeler in because he is rich and a former marine, but for a shadowy bunch of violent militants, the Legion sure is trusting of strangers who suddenly show and interest in joining up. Maybe they can't afford to turn people away, but it seems more likely that Max Collins simply wanted to get Wild Dog inserted into the heart of the enemy as quickly as possible, so he came up with an unconvincing reason for that to happen and threw it into the script. As is now typical of the Wild Dog sections, it makes for an unexciting conclusion.
I can understand why, when telling a story two pages at a time, you might want to take a beat now and then to recap what's happened so far before moving onto the next phase of plot development. This story is forced to advance rapidly because of it's limited space each week, so ensuring that everyone is on the same page before introducing something new makes sense. That said, for someone who totally remembers what has gone down thus far, this felt mostly like wasted space to me. The cop is an obvious and easy excuse to have Superman deliver exposition, and that exposition was overly simple and direct. It fits Superman's voice, which is good, but it had no narrative flair, which is bad. The meat of this story is all in the final two panels, where the guy Superman saved back in issue #601 bows down to Supes like he's a god. The man's dialogue also seems to be deifying Superman, which the Man of Steel is obviously not comfortable with at all. I can't wait to see where that goes, so it's a nice cliffhanger hook like Roger Stern has delivered every time, but literally everything leading up to it is a boring retread I could've done without, though I recognize its purpose and practicality.
While the new Secret Six successfully finish their first assignment, the plane crash that caused the deaths of the former Secret Six starts to move to the foreground of the narrative. Rafael di Rienzi was the son of one of the original Secret Six, and his father, Carlos, told him all about what they did for the mysterious Mockingbird. Soon after Rafael learns his father has died, he is contacted by Mockingbird, which immediately makes him suspicious since it has always been believed that Mockingbird must be one of the old Secret Six. The fact that Mockingbird still lives makes Rafael think the crash might not have been an accident, and he vows to uncover Mockingbird's identity and kill him if he is indeed responsible for the rest of the team's demise. At the very end, Rafael takes a package out of a safe that his father left for him "in the event of my death." Whatever that package holds will no doubt inform the direction this story goes next, and Rafael seems like he's going to make a compelling additon to the cast, even if only temporarily. He's entirely sympathetic, and his motivations are good, but he is an enemy of Mockingbird's and may therefore find himself working against the new Secret Six, who are the protagonists of this tale. It could make for some nicely complicated drama. For now, we see the Secret Six finish ruining the evil corporation that killed a bunch of people with acid rain. Two of them first have to fight their way out of being captured and killed, which is an awesome action sequence from Dan Spiegle and colorist Carl Gafford. The helicopter falling out of the sky and into other panels before finally crashing was a highlight not just of this story but of the entire issue, and I can't get enough of the panel on the preceding page where one of the villains grabs onto the helicopter in a desperate final attempt to stop the Secret Six from getting away. The ferocity on his face and dark, suffocating lighting of that panel make it a strangely stirring moment, full of intensity and foreboding. After the fighting is over, all that's left is for the Secret Six to reveal to the world the video confession about the acid rain they got out of child CEO Elvis Brockman last issue, and their work is complete. It's satisfying to see them get a job done after overcoming the appropriate amount of difficulty and resistance, and Martin Pasko intelligently weaves in Rafael's plotline along the way, so there's still a reason to come back to this story despite the titular team's definitive victory. Tight storytelling all the way.
Another bit of a snoozer for Blackhawk. The main function of the story here is to introduce the Red Dragon, the primary villain. She's an alright character but not particularly original or interesting. Half-Irish, half-Asian (she doesn't specify the country), she had a hard time being accepted as a child, and this hardened her and made her hungry for power. "If you have enough power," she says, "people no longer care who or what you are." That's a classic attitude for a bad guy to have, and while her origins aren't exactly cliché, they're not entirely new, either. I do always enjoy a hospitable captor, so Red Dragon treating Blackhawk and Cynthia to fresh clothes and a decent meal is pleasantly, humorously tense. And Cynthia's genuine horror at the situation, her fear and overall out-of-her-depth-ness, is all played quite well by both Mike Grell and Rick Burchett. She's reasonably terrified for someone so new at this, but never loses her core strength and self-assuredness. Meanwhile, Blackhawk is so completely in his element, he seems to be having a blast, and that works nicely, too. He and Cynthia are still a good balance, but for different reasons than before, and their opposite reactions to Red Dragon's behavior help show her range, too. So all the character work is strong, but that's pretty much all there is here: we meet Red Dragon and see how both our heroes initially deal with her, end of story. It holds my attention but never demands it. I did rather enjoy the one page of André and his lover, which I know I complained about last week, but when it's not in the middle of a bunch of other sexually charged scenes, André's excessively suave seduction methods are entertaining to watch. Plus, as a last stray thought, the pale-blue-and-black coloring used by Tom Ziuko really puts that André page over the edge.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Five: Sleeping Dogs Lie..."
5. Superman/"Aftermath"
4. Deadman/"Deadman Goes to Hell"
3. Blackhawk/"Enter...Red Dragon!"
2. Green Lantern/"Golgotha"
1. Secret Six/"If that Mockingbird Don't Sing..."

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