Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #606

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 sixth of those reviews.
Sorry if all my scans are extra crooked this time. My copy of this issue is kinda warped. It also has a weird, long black splotch on a handful of pages that obscured small parts of the panels, which was annoying. Not enough to impede any comprehension, but an ugly distraction nonetheless.
The premise of this Green Lantern chapter is super simple, and I totally love it. Hal Jordan, having the briefest respite in the midst of all the crap he's been going through lately, decides he needs some support. With his whole life coming to pieces around him, he wants a friend, if not to help directly then at least to prop him up emotionally for a minute so he can get back to Green Lantern-ing properly. John Stewart has been furious with Hal since the end of the first issue of Action Comics Weekly, and things have only gotten worse for John since then, so he's angrier than ever. So Hal makes a list of his other allies in the superhero community, and reaches out to them one by one. He's extremely open and honest about how bad things have gotten and about his need for help, but despite his vulnerability, he cannot find anyone who's willing to lend a hand or even a sympathetic ear. Bruce Wayne gives Hal a harsh colder shoulder, Clark Kent scolds him for letting things get so out of hand, and Oliver Queen, Hal's oldest and most trusted friend and former crimefighting partner, no longer seems interested in having anything to do with Hal. Ollie's got his own life in Seattle with Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and would rather not let any outside superheroics rock the boat. Ultimately, Hal crumples his list of names and throws it into the street despondently, feeling more alone and hopeless at the end of the story than he did at the beginning. The reason I like this so much is that, in a shared reality like the DC universe, the question of why all the heroes don't help each other more often gets frequently ignored. When it is addressed, the solution is typically to explain why one or more other good guys are unavailable/otherwise occupied, rather than to give them an in-character, emotional reason not to get involved in another hero's business. In this Green Lantern tale, though, there is no imminent threat that Hal needs assistance with, just the general collapse of his world. So no explanation was even called for as far as why he's all alone. Yet James Owsley took the time to explicitly point out how unsupported Hal is right now, anyway, an unexpected and especially brutal new trial to put him through.
This is a transitional chapter for the Secret Six, officially putting the lid on the Technodyne mission they completed last time, and more fully launching the plotline of Rafael di Renzi going after Mockingbird to figure out what caused the plane crash that seemingly killed the original Secret Six. It's a necessary beat, I think, with Martin Pasko taking his time letting the story unfold, and also taking a minute to remind us that Mockingbird can disable the special equipment he provided the Secret Six that allows them to operate as an efficient team. The scene (which you can see most of in the page scanned above) where all their stuff turns off and they have a minute of group panic is the most exciting part of the story, including the ending when the Secret Six gets attacked by a masked intruder. I'm guessing we are meant to assume the intruder is Rafael, but I'm not placing any bets yet. We do see Rafael find his father's old communication watch, which allows him to listen in when Mockingbird contacts the current Six. So at the very least, Rafael knows the team is in San Francisco, meaning even if he's not the guy who attacks them at the end, he will undoubtedly cross paths with them sooner than later. In the meantime, Mockingbird has promised a second mission, two federal agents have been introduced to the story, taking over the investigation of the plane crash, with the indication being they know something about Mockingbird and/or the Secret Six. So things are getting more tangled and fresh players are being brought onto the stage, but it's all part of developing the existing threads, which I like. This has been a reliably good story to follow, and the more details that get stirred into the mix, the more captivating it becomes.
I've grown rather tired of this Deadman story. I've mentioned a few times now how it jumps from one thread to the next too quickly, and that happens again here, though to a slightly lesser degree. The entire story is technically about Deadman being trapped in Hell, but it starts off with him being given a tour of the place by the Devil, then suddenly shifts gears and has him approached by D.B. Cooper who wants help with an escape plan. Choosing Cooper seems random, especially since the plan to get out has nothing to with planes. It's a pretty standard "get to the summit of a mystical mountain" set-up, which could've been introduced by literally any character at all, so the significance of it being Cooper is thus far lost on me. An interesting guy, no doubt, and I'm sort of into the notion that his mysterious disappearance had to do with a deal he made with Satan, but that's only mentioned off-hand, not actually explored, and otherwise he's a generic white guy whose only narrative purpose is to know more than Deadman about how to exit Hell. I loved Dan Jurgens' art when Deadman challenges the Devil's gender ("Why are you male? What if women had written the Bible?) and the Devil responds by first becoming a sultry nude human woman, then a terrifying nude demon woman. It was a funny and pseudo-psychedelic moment, and Jurgens did a good job with the other inhabitants  of Hell as well, cutting a little loose with his designs for the demons and imps and such that populated the backgrounds. Other than that, though, there wasn't much going on that I cared about, and once D.B. Cooper showed up, it was three full pages of boredom leading to a less-than-stellar final beat.
I'm very into the story of Superman being worshipped as a god. I know this kind of thing has been done by others, and I don't know enough about Superman history to accurately place this particular take on Superman as a deity in relation to any others. What I'm saying is, I don't have a strong sense of whether or not Roger Stern was one of the first writers to tackle this concept or not, but I like his (so far) simple approach. Certainly some of that has to do with the fact that he's telling the tale two pages at a time, but whatever Stern's motivation for keeping things straightforward, the character who sees Superman as his savior in-story has fairly obvious reasons for doing so. Superman's origins, falling from the sky as he did, and his incredible powers and squeaky-clean personality, make for a pretty compelling messiah story. It's easy to imagine that if a Superman-like figure emerged in the real world, some group would crop up to worship him/her. That's all we have so far in the comic, a logical extension of the whole Superman idea, and the directness is nice, especially in such a tight space. All that praise aside, it is sort of a drag that this issue's cover more or less covers the same ground in a single image. It's not exactly the same, narratively speaking—the cover has a whole Superman cult, whereas the actual Superman pages have just one guy, but the basic idea of people deifying Superman and him being surprised and extremely uncomfortable with that is summed up perfectly in the cover by Kerry Gammill and John Nyberg. That's about as far as Stern and Curt Swan get in their two pages this week, and it's also basically something they already established in the final panels of last week's issue, so...not a ton of progress, and maybe not the most efficient use of the space, but still an enjoyable if slight advancement of what continues to be an interesting story.
Oh Wild Dog...I just have very little new to say about you. This continues to be a weirdly low-stakes conflict, moving at an uneven pace, with the conclusion of each chapter being awkward and abrupt. This was the worst ending yet, because it was confusing on top of everything else, and it ended right at the beginning of a fight that hadn't gotten good yet. Wild Dog shows up to stop the Legion of Morality from blowing up the local newspaper. For some reason, there are buckets of something (paint? ink? water?) in the room. It looks like paint, but that makes the least sense, because why would a newspaper have a stack of paint buckets lying around? Whatever it is, Wild Dog opens up one can and pours it out onto the floor, and apparently it spills and spreads so fast that three different Legionnaires of Morality are caught off-guard and slip in it, falling on their asses. Maybe it's oil? I can't figure it out for the life of me, and it seems some laws of physics get disobeyed or at least stretched beyond belief when Wild Dog uses the strange dark liquid as a weapon. Something you pour onto the floor doesn't aggressively spread out and knock your opponents over, does it? It reads like nonsense. Also, the more I look at those pages, the more I'm convinced it's supposed to be ink, because the next weapon Wild Dog improvises from the environment is a giant roll of paper, and those are the two key ingredients in a newspaper. But ink would flow even more slowly out of its container than something like water or oil, right? And it'd be sticky, rather than slippery. So what the hell? Anyway, that final fight confused me, and ended way too quickly, and everything else in this issue was painstakingly slow build-up to that scene, so...another big whiff for Wild Dog.
That's an excellent title page, no? The page that follows features some pretty great-looking brawling, too. That fight between Blackhawk and Massie was the highlight of this Blackhawk section, which was a pretty strong installment overall, complicating everyone's relationship with everyone else. Blackhawk impresses the Red Dragon and the two of them go to bed together, all a part of his manipulations to try and steal her gold. We can see that she's genuinely impressed by and attracted to him, so his plan works to a degree, but in the end she states out loud that she still doesn't trust him, and proves herself to be one step ahead of his scheming. He offers to fly her and her goods out of the jungle so she can have a better life in the civilized world, and she agrees, but adds the stipulation that Cynthia will have to be left behind to keep Blackhawk honest. She makes him think he's successfully tricking her right up until the final bit of negotiation, then twists the knife by revealing she's smarter and more cautious than he gives her credit for. Meanwhile, Massie comes to Cynthia to warn her that Blackhawk and Red Dragon getting together is bad news. Massie says that he and Cynthia are now expendable, and that the Red Dragon has a history of using people up and then ruthlessly casting them aside when they stop being useful. Massie wants to form an alliance with Cynthia (and probably to sleep with her, too, though she seems disgusted/terrified at that thought) but she's a little hesitant, still wanting to trust her original partner but aware that she's somewhat out of her depth. It's a tense situation full of dishonesty and mistrust, and Mike Grell has done a good job of constructing such fraught circumstances. Rick Burchett's art has been essential, too, because there are a lot of subtle and secret facial expressions from all four of the major players that inform the hell out of this story and provide a great deal of subtext to the dialogue. I feel like Blackhawk is the most hit-or-miss story in this book, but when it hits, it hits hard.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Six: Stop the Presses!"
5. Deadman/"This is Hell"
4. Superman/"The True Believer"
3. Secret Six/"The Sins of the Father..."
2. Blackhawk/"Another Fine War Part 6"
1. Green Lantern/"The List"

No comments:

Post a Comment