Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #609

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 ninth of those reviews.
Brian Bolland has got to be one of my top 3 cover artists ever, and this cover is easily the best Action Comics Weekly has had yet, so...score another one for ol' BB. Also, some of the scans of this issue are super crooked, which, once again, has to do with the misshapenness of my beat up old copy.
I liked this opening chapter of the new Black Canary storyline, even though it didn't really offer much of a story hook. Instead, it introduced the very beginnings of several threads: Dinah Lance burning her Black Canary costume in favor of going old school, and also becoming more practical; Rita, a friend of Dinah's, getting into some kind of violent trouble, the details of which are still vague—someone named Luis gets chased, caught, and pummeled by three other men, and Rita comes to his aid with a baseball bat, but we don't know any more than that; a cop named William B. MacDonald is trying to round up immigrants who are known criminals in their home countries; and finally, there's a news story about a man suing a chemical company, claiming they caused him to fail his physical and thus lose his job as a pilot. Other than Rita and Dinah being friends, none of these ideas are connected yet in any apparent way, but they all have potential, and I definitely want to know more about each of them. There are a lot of questions raised by these brief, cursory glances at the various stories being set up by Sharon Wright, and I am excited for the answers to start rolling in. In the meantime, Randy Duburke produced very grounded, lifelike art, and made some interesting choices in terms of angles and flow. The momentum of the story was jerky yet smooth, every panel placed and constructed with obvious care, but not always leading super naturally from one moment to the next. It made the action very bold, what little there was of it. None of that action involved the title character, but she was drawn exceptionally, both herself and Oliver Queen being the most detailed in their design and emotion. Once that in-depth physicality is combined with Duburke's flair for unpredictable action, there should be some stellar fights involving Black Canary herself, so that's one more thing to look forward to. Basically, this whole section is about giving the reader stuff to look forward to, and while it borders on throwing too many balls into the air too early, it's effective as a whole, and I am sincerely looking forward to seeing where the story goes.
Deadman and Satan jump into the bodies of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, respectively, and after some badly-written, dull arguing that goes nowhere, they switch to Nancy and Raisa, also swapping countries during the transition, so Deadman ends up in Raisa's body. At that point, Satan explains his hyper-inane evil scheme: he's going to make Nancy Reagan into a TV star, and use her fame to encourage American women to starve themselves. Not only is that convoluted as shit, it's surprisingly low-stakes and narrow in scope for a villain like the Devil. This Deadman narrative has never done a great job of holding my interest because of its lack of focus, but this installment lost me because it was fundamentally boring on a conceptual level. Also, the first two pages were Deadman as the CIA director having an argument with the director's mistress, Lynn, before realizing that it was completely pointless to stay in the director's body any longer and bailing. So Lynn, who was the center of the conclusion last week and takes up the first 25% of this week is a totally unnecessary character, a distraction that the story and its protagonist abandon in an incredibly awkward fashion. I'm beyond tired of Deadman in Action Comics Weekly by now, with this being my least favorite chapter to date, trying to force tension and excitement into a drawn-out conversation about an unimpressive threat.
Secret Six seems to be in a pretty good groove right now, one it slipped into a few weeks ago, around the time Rafael first infiltrated the Six's HQ. His storyline, the mission with the meat-packing plant, and Vic's personal drama have all been developed pretty steadily since then, and all three are compelling in their own ways. Vic's story has had the best art from Dan Spiegle, the fistfight between Vic and his ex-wife's new husband having a few new great moments this issue (see above for more than one example). That thread is also the most in-depth individual character development Martin Pasko has done, and all of the Secret Six seem like interesting people, so it's been a nice little arc to follow for that reason as well. It seems to be resolved now, with Vic returning to the team in San Francisco, but it was fun while it lasted. Rafael's story is basically the central plot, all tied up in the tangled web of Mockingbird's hidden identity and motives. This issue, the Secret Six gets close to finding where Rafael ran off to, but not in time to get to him before some other, previously unseen agents of Mockingbird's do. Those men kidnap Rafael, but also say something about Mockingbird not wanting him hurt, so it's still tough to say just how Mockingbird views Rafael, or what he wants from the whole situation. We also still don't know if he was responsible for killing the original Secret Six, or which one of them he is (if they were right about him being one of the team). Pasko has successfully stretched out the mystery surrounding Mockingbird all this time, keeping much about the character unknown without it slowing things down or getting frustrating. I feel very close to gaining some insight now, since it seems Rafael may get to meet Mockingbird in person at last. The meat-packing stuff continues to be the least interesting, but the end of this chapter has the Secret Six ambushing two reporters in their car, and I liked the style and teamwork employed in that scene. It was a nice moment of excitement at the end, in a chapter full of exciting bursts, in a story that's reliably solid nowadays. As I said, it's in a groove.
Superman slightly deceives a citizen in the name of tracking down the people who tried to have said citizen murdered. That works for me, especially since Roger Stern makes sure to have Superman think to himself how uncomfortable he is taking advantage of Bob Galt's belief in Superman as a god/savior. Supes is on the edges of his typical boy scout morality, and I always prefer to see him sticking to that straight-laced attitude. I'm not big on the character overall, but when I see him, I want him to be the Superman I know, the supreme do-gooder, the lawful good paladin of the DC Universe. This is that version, but with just the right pinch of flexibility, willing to lie a little if it can lead to helping a lot. Not much else goes on this week; Superman (as Clark Kent) accompanies Galt out of police custody, then uses his heat vision to send Galt a message from Superman saying, "Trust Kent." That way, he figures, he can get the info he needs from Galt about the people who were after him without needing to expose that Kent and Superman are one and the same. It's a smart plan, easy to execute quickly, cutting right through Galt's hesitation and getting to the point. That directness is another thing I expect and enjoy in Superman. It's been true from the very first issue of Action Comics Weekly, where Curt Swan drew the best Superman hair curl I've ever seen—this Superman is the ideal Superman, a take on the character that's classic without being dated or stiff. The story is also a lot of fun, maybe it's best quality.
Wild Dog finally concludes, and it mostly sucks for all the usual reasons, but the very, very end got a giggle out of me. Wild Dog, as he's wont to do, reveals that he is only pretending to be down, getting the jump on the guy guarding him. He then demands to know where the Legion of Morality is headed, but the guard insists he doesn't have that information. One page later, Wild Dog shows up at the museum which the Legion had just finished attacking, saying that he "gathered" that it would be the target location, but there's zero explanation beyond that, so it's a weak-at-best plot point. Six men then unload automatic weapons at Wild Dog, who slides under the bullets. I wish I were kidding, but he seriously just drops to the ground and slips beneath the shots, before gunning down all of his attackers in one motion. Wild Dog has always been one of those inexplicably bullet-proof heroes, but this was a new level of insanity and unbelievability. Continuing to defy logic, he then decides he cannot trust a confession from antagonist B. Lyle Layman at gunpoint, but he can believe Layman if he's strapped to explosives. Seems crazy to me, because threatening a person's life is threatening their life, no matter the method you choose, but I guess we needed one final example of how insane and extreme Wild Dog likes to be. Ultimately, there's not enough evidence for the police to hold Layman, but one of the victims of the museum attack turns out to be the son of Helen Scournt, the woman Laymen recently started sleeping with, and the very last panel of this story is Helen, with a crazed look in her eye, sneaking up on Layman in bed and wielding a knife. So we can pretty safely assume she kills him, and as dark as that is, I liked it better as an ending than Wild Dog being the one to do Layman in. Helen as Layman's executioner is considerably less expected, and indeed was something I would never have anticipated at all, so I give the story credit for surprising me in it's closing beat. Otherwise, though, it was pretty awful stuff, okay-looking violence that I neither supported nor believed, all in the context of an uninteresting story with a fairly flimsy cast.
I loved this. The Oprah audience challenges Hal Jordan's assertion that he has no fear, and the points they make are well thought-out and convincing. It's human nature to be fearful, they say, and a truly fearless person would have trouble surviving into adulthood, because children are already more reckless as it is. There's also a woman who challenges the idea that a hero can really be fearless, because heroism necessitates doing something in spite of the fact that it's scary, real bravery requires facing fears, not lacking them. I buy that as a valid definition of "hero," even if I don't entirely agree, and it shakes up Hal for sure. He doesn't have much to say in response to any of the audience's ideas, and after the show is over, we see him actively doubt himself. Even during the show, actually, there's a moment where he's asked if his fearlessness also means he's mentally unstable, and though he denies his own insanity, he has to (internally) admit that Guy Gardner, another Green Lantern, is frighteningly crazy. Hal's post-show self-doubt gets interrupted by a madman attacking a café full of people with a sword, but when Hal swoops in to save the day, his ring leaves him. I'm guessing this is because all the questioning of his fear has made Hal fearful, suddenly afraid that he does feel fear or that he should feel fear, and this new fear of fear makes him no longer worthy of being a Green Lantern. If that's the case, I'm in. If not...I'm still interested to see what is going on. Peter David is clearly quite interested in the whole fearless thing that has long been a part of the Green Lantern mythos, and based on this issue, I'm happy to be along for the ride as David examines the ins and outs of it. Hal feels like the best Lantern to do this with, too, because he's always been the most eager to prove himself, the most determined to do the job right, do it better than anyone. Now he's ringless and fearful for the first time, so it should make for some entertaining comics.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Faux Pas"
5. Wild Dog/"Moral Stand Chapter Nine: Red Pencil"
4. Secret Six/"Canned in Boston"
3. Superman/"And There Will be a Sign!"
2. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 1"
1. Green Lantern/"Cutting Remarks"

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