Sunday, January 4, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #612

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 twelfth of those reviews.
Both Deadman and Secret Six concluded this week, and I wasn't expecting either of them to do so. I looked back at last week's issue and it did say at the end of the Deadman story that it would conclude next time, but somehow I missed that. Secret Six, however, gave no such indication, and considering what a non-ending we get this issue, I have to assume that maybe the original plan was to have it run longer, but for some reason that changed. The Paul Gulacy cover above is pretty awesome, though, a nice way to highlight the team and the tone of their narrative before putting it on pause.
So Mind Games is short, like bizarrely short, and has a super passionate Napoleon complex. It's not the best motivation for a villain, and it gets written by Peter David without an ounce of subtlety. I think that's because it's meant to be funny, and Green Latnern definitely finds it amusing, unapologetically pointing and laughing his tiny new foe, but the comedy doesn't connect. So he's short and mad about it, so what? I mean, yeah, he takes it to a crazy level, turning people into raging murderers just to get revenge on the entire world for failing to take his small self seriously. But him being maniacally self-conscious about his size isn't automatically humorous. It's sadder than it is silly, and it means Mind Games is terrifyingly unhinged, even crazier than his scheme made him seem at first. So I was not wild about the last couple pages where Green Lantern and Mind Games were face-to-face. Before that, we got to see Lt. Rensaleer be a total badass when confronted with an enraged Green Lantern, and Arisia commit to being a model, both of which were much more to my liking. I did not like the gag where the stray dog stole the letter Mind Games sent in and ran off with it, because why would a dog be interested in a random piece of paper? That's nonsense. I guess I liked everything here that wasn't supposed to be funny, which makes me wish David didn't bother with the jokey stuff at all. I did chuckle a little at the opening splash page (above), but that was all Tod Smith. The contrast between Hal Jordan's uncontrollable fury and Rensaleer's childlike joy is wonderful, a fantastic opening image to pull the reader in.
As I mentioned above, this is a jarring final chapter. While it does pretty much tie a ribbon on the tainted meat mission, it also opens up a whole new can of worms by revealing that both that and the first mission were connected to the same company, Technodyne. We also see Rafael's friend/employee, whose name I completely forget right now, break into the Secret Six's HQ just like Raf did before. At first he and the team fight it out, but ultimately he explains himself and they agree to work together to try and investigate Mockingbird, find Rafael, and solve the mystery of what happened to the original Secret Six. These are all good, intriguing developments, connected to the general mystique of Mockingbird, which is one of the biggest draws this Secret Six story has. Meanwhile, Mockingbird himself seems to know what's going to happen already, and is even anticipating and counting on the Secret Six and Raf's friend to try and free Raf, so that adds another layer of tension I enjoy. Martin Pasko has been letting this slowly come to a boil for twelve issues, and it's really starting to froth now, but then WHAM! The final panel has a caption reading, "So ends the opening story of the new Secret Six." Does it? Ok, if you say so, caption, but it really seemed like we were just getting going on an awesome third act, and it's a bummer that we don't get to see it yet. The team is supposed to be back in issue #619, so it's not a painfully long wait, but this is the first time a story has ended in Action Comics Weekly without reaching it's natural stopping point, even in a wedged-in way. And it was such a solid story, too, along with some of the best, strangest, creepiest art in the whole book. Dan Spiegle's presence will be a more notable absence than Pasko's, I think, and really the whole project is going to be dearly missed. For seven weeks, anyway.
The ending of this story is as rushed and disjointed as the rest of it has been, despite Mike Baron bringing back Talaoc, one of the earliest enemies Deadman faced in this tale. Somehow, without explanation or any hints at all, Deadman figures out that the character who claimed to be the Devil last week is in truth the leader of the alien visitors of whom Talaoc is also a member. This doesn't quite add up, because the Devil character has displayed some pretty impressive power, and he had that demon follower who he sent away last week, and also I am assuming he created the "Hell" that Deadman was trapped in, so...can all the aliens do those things? Is he also the Devil, like an alien came to Earth ages ago, went crazy, turned himself into the Devil, and then became a part of Judeo-Christian mythology? That'd be sort of cool, actually, but nobody ever makes it clear how this all is supposed to make sense, which makes me feel like it just doesn't. There's some other highly flawed logic, like Major Kasaba deciding to sue the CIA for slipping her hallucinogens. Does she honestly believe that's what happened, because if so, she's an idiot, which does not fit with what we've seen of her in the past. However, if the hallucinogen thing is a lie, how could she possible expect to win the lawsuit? It's a garbage, hand-wavy way of wrapping up the story in a hurry. Dan Jurgens and Liz Bérubé both absolutely crush it on the page of Deadman shooting the Devil-possessed Kasaba and trapping the Devil in one of the glass tubes. That's a blast of dazzlement that the story desperately needed more of, and it was the one bright spot in the conclusion of this Deadman story, other than the simple fact that it concluded at all. He'll be back in just six issues, which I'm not thrilled for right now, but maybe round 2 will be a bit more focused or well put together.
At long last, the part of the story where Bob Galt explains his past to Clark Kent is over, and Superman can once again actively work on solving this mystery. Don't get me wrong, I've liked getting Galt's background, and it's more exciting and comicbooky than I anticipated, with his group of Superman worshippers being attacked by some sort of large evil organization, the scope of which is starting to look pretty damn impressive. We get a glimpse of their leadership at the end of this installment, some of whom I think we've seen before, and they are just as interested in Superman's search for them as he is. Their intention to to take him out before he can uncover them, so it's a bit o a race now between Supes and the baddies—who can find and stop the other first? It'll be fun to see that play out, and I'm also very excited to seeing Superman beat up some of the goons in the red space suits, so there's a lot of good-vs.-evil action to look forward to. Basically, as the final beat of a section of exposition, this is mostly set-up for future events, but it's quite effective in that role.
This I liked a lot, and it made me like the Catwoman debut from last week more than I thought I did when I read it. I complained then that Mindy Newell might have crammed too much into her first chapter, introducing Selina, Holly, and Detective Flannery all at the same time. However, this week, Flannery saves Selina's life, only to immediately try and arrest her for still being Catwoman, and you get the feeling that he's more upset about her lying to him than he is about her actual criminal activities. That's a nice dynamic for them to have, both of them essentially good people, and therefore friends, but still on opposite sides of the law, and thus forced to also be enemies. Plus their actual fight, which only takes four panels, looks great, Barry Kitson showing Selina's grace, strength, and skill quickly and in tight spaces. With things starting to get out of hand, Selina regrets that she gave Holly the stolen brooch, and breaks into Holly's house to retrieve it. Turns out Holly already opened it and gave it to her husband, news that distresses the complete hell out of Selina, at least for the few moments between her hearing it and Holly's house exploding. The downward spiral Selina's on is fast-moving, but I appreciate how the rapidity doesn't make the story hard to follow. Newell and Kitson do a good job of creating a sense of urgency rather than mere hurriedness. The opening beat was good but failed to grab me; this week, everything got much better, and I am now fully (and happily) grabbed.
I've just about given up on trying to follow along with the Black Canary narrative. Take the opening page scanned above; I see that it's a homeless woman finding a gun, but I'm not sure whose gun it is or what the significance of the scene is meant to be. It's followed by Black Canary waking up in a dumpster, and the random cowboy who offered to help her last week saying he got left in another dumpster across the street. So evidently whatever happened at the end of last issue involved both of them getting knocked out, but the details are still hazy, even after the cowboy character provided a bit of an info dump here. He and Dinah part ways suddenly and awkwardly, and he gives her a card identifying him as Doug Vallines. Then we see Vincent Scales, who must be a villain, based on the dark lighting and menacing cigar, talking on the phone to someone named Gary in semi-cryptic language. The implication is that Scales is responsible for killing Rita's father, but I'm not sure that's what's going on, and even if it is, I still have no clue why. Anyway, there is then an entire page of Dinah in the shower, and for a minute it looks like someone is going to attack her but then, surprise surprise, it's just Oliver Queen coming in for a little romance. Dinah gets a call from Rita saying something happened to Rita's father, and then the final page is a short bald man in Hollywood running as fast as he can to a pay phone, calling someone named Barry, and naming himself as Doug Vallines. I imagine we're supposed to understand that this means the cowboy was lying about his identity, but again, that's not clear, nor are his reasons. Also...I don't care. There are so many half-introduced characters running around, and such a thing, sloppy story tying them together, I'm having a hard time feeling invested. I do continue to enjoy Randy DuBurke's realistic art style, and he did an especially nice job for the scene of Scales on the phone, but Sharon Wright's narrative is a big mess.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Take us to Our Leader"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 4"
4. Green Lantern/"Mind Over Matter"
3. Secret Six/"Out of the Frying Pan...Into the Fire"
2. Superman/"Where Lurks the Evil?"
1. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part Two"

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