Monday, December 29, 2014

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #611

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 eleventh of those reviews.
This cover is pretty good, but it seems an odd choice. I feel like this and the last Superman cover, for issue #606, should maybe have been switched, even though the above image would've been a bit of a late arrival even for issue #606. It's been several weeks since Superman has done any chasing of gunmen in cars, so showing that on this issue's cover, along with the phrase, "...The never-ending battle!" is a tad misleading. The battle depicted has very much ended, even if the story around it continues to move forward. It's not a bad cover on its own—I don't know if this series has ever had a cover that was straight-up ugly or poorly drawn—but it's not the best call for this specific issue.

In other news, I am sick and this is already a day late, so it's going to be a short one.
I'm digging this Mind Games story. It's simple enough for the eight-page chapters in which it has to be told, and high-stakes enough to hold my interest. I did find it weird that Arisia started out calling for Hal to help her, but then once he finally got out of the shower and asked her why she didn't scream for help, she says she enjoyed the thrill of fighting for her life because she's a former Green Lantern. Her perspective changed mid-combat for no real reason, so that wasn't great, but the fight itself was well-done by Tod Smith, and the rest of Peter David's script was solid. I particularly liked the super-brief scene where Arisia was approached by a modeling agent at the police station. That's a nice storyline for Arisia as a character, a chance for her to interact with the culture (and pop culture) of Earth in a fun new way. I also still like the police lieutenant Hal is working with (Renesslear, I think his name is). He's entertainingly gruff, and comes across as a decent, well-intentioned, genuine guy. Mind Games has yet to truly come into his/her own as an antagonist, but turning random innocents into savage murderers is an effectively scary tactic, a classic brand of supervillainy, so it hums for me. I look forward to seeing where it leads, and finding out what motivates Mind Games to do this at all.
Most of the Deadman story bothered me for all the usual reasons; it's unfocused, it introduces a new threat after getting rid of the last one unsatisfactorily, the content is generally dull, etc. There were two things, though, that I liked a lot: 1. the full-page splash of the Devil displaying his true power, and 2. the final two panels which, at long last, brought some elements of this story full circle. The splash page was mostly impressive because of Liz Berubé's glaring reds and oranges, as well as the simple fact that is was a splash page, a very rare treat in this anthology comic. The closing panels saw the re-arrival of two characters I'd thought were removed from the board for good, and because actually referring to and pulling from its past is so extremely uncommon for this Deadman tale, I was excited when to see this kind of connection be made at last. Maybe there has been a plan and a point to this narrative all along, and even if not, it seems Mike Baron is taking a stab at coming up with one now. Better late than never.
This is a pretty middle-of-the-line installment, devoted entirely to the Secret Six's mission instead of splitting up that action with some Rafael Di Renzi material like we normally see. It was good espionage action, and a lot got accomplished in a small space, so I don't have any complaints, per se. But the main draw of this Secret Six story from the beginning has been the bigger Mockingbird mystery, and that part was put on hold for this week, making Secret Six a little less enticing than I've come to expect. I do love the top right panel in the page scanned above—there's a perfect mix of fear, powerlessness, and hopefulness, captured entirely in the character's eyes and the shape of her mouth (somehow, incredibly, I still have not learned the names of anyone on the team except for Vic). Dan Spiegle has been awesome at nuanced facial expressions from the beginning, and that was just one more, especially strong example. Not much else leaps out as noteworthy, but it was plenty enjoyable, and it's always nice when this team is firing on all cylinders.
Seeing the "non-believers" in full uniform, looking like weird space invaders from the 60's, really reinvigorated my interest in this narrative. Not that it ever lost me, but it has slowed down the past few weeks, and now it seems to be gearing up for more excitement, even if this time all we got was a glimpse. I'm also hoping the huge bald guy from Bob Galt's group of Superman worshippers comes back, because he was the best part of both the panels in which he was featured. We pretty much already had enough clues to figure out the bulk of the info provided here, but having Curt Swan's depictions of everything made it a fun read, and it's important for Superman to understand the stakes, too, so this didn't feel at all like a waste. It may not have moved anything very far forward, but it looked great and was a necessary step. I've said it a lot but it bears repeating: Roger Stern is crushing these two-page story beats. They almost all count, and I've got to believe that's a rare talent for a comicbook writer to have, especially these days.
Why was Black Canary's debut given the opening slot and Catwoman's placed second-to-last? I asked a similar question last week about Phantom Stranger, but the more obvious answer in that case was that the Phantom Stranger story was a one-off, told top-to-bottom in eight pages. Catwoman is going to be a multi-part thing, so why no big introduction? She's not the cover, and he story is tucked away near the end. I don't necessarily mind, because the ordering of these stories has always felt largely arbitrary, but it is curious. Was it a specific editorial decision to make a bigger deal out of Black Canary than other new characters? Did they just happen to have that dope Brian Bolland cover for issue #609 so they went with it? Seems unlikely, since the cover image refers directly to stuff from within the issue. I'm not here to say Black Canary is any more or less deserving of attention than Catwoman, but whoever you prefer, it's baffling that they would be treated so differently by this series. The Catwoman story itself is fine but unremarkable. It's a clean, clear explanation of Selina Kyle, who she is and what makes her tick. We also meet the delightful Holly, some random criminals, and a detective who's name I forget and who seems to suspect that Selina is Catwoman but likes her too much to do anything about it. The whole cast is interesting, and Mindy Newell writes each scene well, but it did feel like maybe one too many details got crammed in by the end. The detective character, for example, might've waited one week for the sake of seeing more Holly or adding more drama in the big fight scene. That fight, by the way, was the highlight of Barry Kitson's art, a perfect showcase of Selina's talents. I'm happy to see more of this narrative, because this opening had far more good than bad, but I wouldn't say I'm exactly hooked yet.
I'm still having a hard time understanding this Black Canary story, though this week the confusion came more from Randy Duburke's art than Sharon Wright's writing. There were several unclear panels, but the last panel of the second-to-last page was the most frustrating, because it's Dinah Lance's last panel this week, and I think it's supposed to be shocking and dramatic. It looks like Dinah gets knocked out or at least attacked by the strange man who she had only just agreed to work with, but I can't be sure. The panel is too small, the angle too strange, and image too static for me to be positive what, if any, movement it's meant to be showing. Is Dinah falling over? Getting hit? Being pulled down? Is the other guy her attacker, or is the attacker unseen? The man who's visible doesn't look surprised or upset, but then again, I can barely see his face, so who knows? That's just a single moment, but it's the final moment for the main character, so it ought to at least be apparent what's happening. I guess I'll find out next time. I did at least learn one of the names that threw me off last week—Librado is the last name of Rita's family. I still don't know who the guy is who said it last issue, or why he said it, although he may be the same guy who kills Rita's father this time (I'd have to compare the two issues to confirm, since neither character left that strong an impression on me). The main problem I have with Black Canary so far is I just don't know what it's about, and this week did nothing significant to help that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed form worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 3"
5. Deadman/"Will the Real Devil Please Stand Up?"
4. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club"
3. Secret Six/"Bringing Home the Bacon"
2. Superman/"...Beyond Mortal Men!"
1. Green Lantern/"Room Service"

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