Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #610

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 tenth of those reviews.
I like this cover but it has nothing to do with anything that happens inside. That's fine, I guess, but unusual for this book. Also, I forgot to mention this last week, but Action Comics Weekly #609 was the first time ever the Green Lantern story didn't come first. It started with Black Canary, presumably because it was her debut in the series, and then Green Lantern went last, typically a slot reserved for Blackhawk, the character Black Canary replaced. This week, Green Lantern was up top again with Black Canary coming last as expected. Weirdly, though, Phantom Stranger debuted here, too, but came second. I'm guessing this is because it was a done-in-one story, so it's less of a big deal. Black Canary also got the cover of her first issue, but Phantom Stranger not, so he's treated with less fanfare front to back.
After a few weeks of self-reflection, Green Lantern goes classic superhero, and I love it. Hal Jordan dukes it out with the crazed swordsman, and then works with a local wise-cracking cop, Lt. Rensaleer, to figure out what caused the man's rampage. Turns out, it was the work of some new villain calling him/herself Mind Games, who sends a letter to the police taking credit for the crime demanding money to prevent it from happening again. Rensaleer refuses to take this threat seriously, but at the end of the issue, we see a hotel employee who's about to deliver food to Hal and Arisia go suddenly insane, preparing to stab Arisia with a steak knife as she opens the door. So Mind Games is obviously legitimate, and even though it's not the most original of evil schemes, I am interested to see how this plays out, and how it might end up tying to Hal's recent worries over his own lack of fear. After a rocky start, Peter David seems to be in full swing now, writing a smart, entertaining, and often funny superhero comic. Tod Smith is on point, too, particularly during the opening fight scene. I also loved the panel of Hal ordering room service, holding both the base and handle of the phone with ring energy in the shape of hands while his human hands held a book. Or maybe it was the menu? Seemed like too many pages for that, but it hardly matters, anyway. This wasn't an astounding chapter, but I have no real real gripes about it, big or small. The same cannot be said for any of the other stories in this issue of Action Comics Weekly. See below for details.
Without question, Kyle Baker's work on this Phantom Stranger section is the best and most original art Action Comics Weekly has had yet. It was energetic, wild, and deliberately rough, fitting the mania of Paul Kupperberg's story. I did not, however, love the resolution of this story. The plot is that Kenny Bushmiller, vulnerable because of how lonely he is and how sick of being trampled on by the rest of the world, gets tapped by some kind of machine-related demon. Kenny becomes connected through his own computer to other computer networks all over the world, causing all kinds of grand-scale problems in an instant. The Phantom Stranger finds a way to stop Kenny, and while it makes sense within the context of the story, I was not a fan. The Stranger attacks Kenny's memory, since memory is fundamental for any computer to operate, and it works, but with undesirable side effects. Kenny cannot remember his time under the demon's influence, or, as the Stranger describes it, "You recall nothing of what you had become...of the choice given you between good and evil...of the wrong choice made." Someone choosing to give in and commit to their dark side isn't something to be stolen from them, removed from their mind. The idea of taking away anyone's memories of anything without their consent seems cruel and unfair. It crosses a certain line that I'd rather not see my superheroes cross. Then again...what was the Phantom Stranger to do? Kenny's memory is where he was weak, the one spot where he could be hurt, so for the greater good I guess it was the only real option the Stranger had. All the same, having the bad guy be erased like that, and a semi-innocent man left confused and with a piece of his own past undone by someone else, it just didn't quite sit right with me. Again, though, the art was amazing, and the rest of the story clicked, so all told I enjoyed this, I just might've preferred a different, less personally invasive solution to the conflict.
First of all, the title "Catfight" is sexist. Secondly, it makes no sense, because last issue was when Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachova, possessed by Satan and Deadman respectively, actually traded blows. This issue, Raisa challenges Nancy, but before they actually do anything to one another, both Satan and Deadman jump out of their bodies and into new hosts. The title is misleading and offensive, so it's a weak issue for Deadman from the start. With Wild Dog no longer appearing in this series, Deadman takes the role of the narrative I expect the least from, having been so weirdly unfocused and boring up to now. Both of those problems are abundantly present here. Yet again, the threat changes, this time because "Satan" is revealed to be a relatively minor demon, after someone claiming to be his boss shows up, disguised as D.B. Cooper, and takes him off the board. This is the most frustrating sudden change yet, because this supposed Satan character has been Deadman's main enemy for quite a stretch now, longer than any other antagonist, so for someone else to arrive out of nowhere and dispose of Satan so easily is anti-climactic and disappointing. It also means everything else that happens in this issue is pointless, since it all gets undone in an instant when the new villain—or whoever this second not-really-D.B. Cooper person is—arrives. Though Dan Jurgens continues to draw Deadman well, the perfect mix of gaunt and athletic, everything else about the Deadman story has been underwhelming, and gets more so each week.
So Bob Galt has powers of some kind. Did not see that coming. Apparently he can show other people things he has seen, a pretty damn useful ability, which he believes he gained due to his belief in Superman. It's kind of a long walk to get to the point where we learn about Galt's power, with him and Clark Kent first going to the Daily Planet so Galt can meet Perry White for some reason. Why White needs to get involved isn't obvious to me, but I guess if Superman is going to treat this whole case as a legitimate news story and actually cover it as Kent, he'd want his boss to know about it. Still, it feels like kind of a stalling tactic by Roger Stern, filling a few panels to pad out the script so it could end with the reveal of Galt's powers and what seems to be some kind of Superman cult. What's weird is that the panel showing the cult, even though it's already the biggest panel included, feels kind of cramped, so the story might have actually benefitted from giving that ending more room. In a two-page chapter, I can see why they wouldn't want to take up half the space with a single visual, but Galt's powers and the existence of others who worship Superman like he does are both significant developments, so I think the creators could've gotten away with giving that stuff a wider berth. As it stands, the ending is still satisfying, it just shows up after a slight drag in the middle. P.S. Kent's coat still looks crazy comfy, even seen much closer as it is here. I want one. Curt Swan, please tell me who made that coat for Kent, so I can have them whip one up for myself as well.
Now that we're in the thick of it, I'm finding this meat-packing mission pretty blah. For one thing, it's too similar to the first mission the Secret Six had, but without the interesting detail of the child CEO named Elvis. Also, the mission starts to fall apart for lame reasons this issue. One of the people who the Secret Six knocked out and impersonated wakes up sooner than expected, and we don't know why. Maybe an explanation is coming, but for now it comes across as a random fluke, a stroke of bad luck for the team not because of anything they did wrong but just because the story needed a splash of drama and difficulty for the heroes. Other than that, all we see are various members of the Secret Six successfully infiltrating the meat-packing place, but they get no useful info before things go awry. There is also a brief check-in with Rafael, which is probably the strongest scene. He makes a bold move to try and flee his captors, and their response is to drop an electrified metal door in his way. When he collides with it and gets full-body zapped, it's a brutal panel, as is the one that follows with Rafael's body sprawled out on the floor. Very good art from Dan Spiegle all around during Rafael's escape attempt. I also enjoyed the last page, visually, when Vic, grasping a pig carcass, starts falling into the blackness. It was comical and effectively scary at once, a nice, memorable final image. Secret Six always looks good, and Martin Pasko writes the team well, working together efficiently and believably. It's just that I'm not hooked on this meat thing, at least not yet, and I'd much rather see more of Rafael or find out something about Mockingbird than simply watch the Six go from one corporate foe to the next.
Much of this story was baffling. The entire first page, for example (seen above) as well as the entire last page. Neither of them made any sense to me; I had no idea who the characters were or what the hell they were talking about. On the first page, who are Scales and Librado? On the last, what does "My career with fish and game is going nowhere as an animated scarecrow" mean? Is it that his job is to scare of certain animals, so he thinks of himself as an animated scarecrow with a career that's going nowhere? Or is it that his career, whatever it is, is going nowhere the same way an animated scarecrow goes nowhere? And either way, who is he and why do I care about his career? So there was a lot of confusing dialogue on either end, and in the middle we hear Rita's story about her brother Luis being beaten up by well-known local criminals. Hearing this tale, Dinah decides to suit up as Black Canary, and there is one truly amazing panel where Randy Burke draws Black Canary with the new, more practical look she promised last week, looking intense and formidable and ready for action. It's a powerful and intimidating image, and sells me all over again on Black Canary as a hero. Sadly, that single beat isn't enough to save the rest of the story, which is half inscrutable and half a pretty standard, none-too-captivating explanation of Rita's familial issues. Burke does good work all the way through, and I'm really impressed with the acting of all the characters. They have very subtle, soft, realistic expressions and body language, which helps even the most confusing scenes. Sharon Wright's scripts are going to need to get a lot clearer soon, though, or I may end up too lost to ever find my way back to a place of understanding.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Catfight"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 2"
4. Secret Six/"...Another Man's Poison"
3. Superman/"Show & Tell"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Kenny and the Demon!"
1. Green Lantern/"Risky Business"

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