Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #613

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 thirteenth of those reviews.
Woo, boy, I am sure starting to let that "one per week" promise slip, huh? But as my parents recently pointed out to me while visiting this weekend, if I miss a self-imposed deadline once in a while, who's going to punish me? I will try to get back to posting these reviews on Sundays more regularly again, but obviously this one is coming in a few days late. Forgive me.
This might've been my favorite Green Lantern chapter yet. The art hasn't done a lot of cutting loose in the Green Lantern story so far, but Tod Smith goes big here, getting to be the star of the first five of the eight pages. Hal Jordan spends those pages in a nightmare world of his own imagination, as influenced by Mind Games' mental superpowers. Up to now, we've only seen him turn people into homicidal maniacs, but apparently he can also influence other emotions as well, at least when he mind-blasts someone directly instead of through his machine. So he puts Jordan through a bunch of intense, negative feelings, things like hate and guilt, which manifest as crazy hallucinations, meaning Smith gets to play around a little. He also gets to draw a Hal who's on the brink, sporting some awesomely exaggerated expressions of anger and contempt. Eventually Mind Games tries to make Hal experience fear, which backfires since of course Hal has no fear. I liked this for a couple reasons, primarily that it tied together what had seemed up to now to be two concurrently running but non-intersecting threads: Hal's questioning of his fearlessness and the Mind Games threat. Also, it speaks to a larger issue, which Hal himself recognizes. For Mind Games' attack to fail, Hal would have to literally possess no fear, not even the kind that's buried deep or wholly ignored. Does this indicate damage, a flaw in Hal's personality? Acting fearlessly is heroic, but a legitimate absence of fear, an inability to feel it even when being controlled by another person, that may be symptomatic of deep dysfunction. It's definitely worth exploring, and as that seems to be Hal's intention, I'm still on very much on board. Mind Games seems to be taken care of for now, an appropriately quick defeat for such a lame villain, and one which moved the narrative in an interesting direction.
This is not a Nightwing story; it's a Speedy story in which Nightwing features prominently. At least, that's the only conclusion I can draw based on this first part. The story centers on Speedy's mission for the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation, which I guess was a thing in the DCU at this time) and revolves around Cheshire, who is Speedy's ex and the mother of his child. Remove the part where he asks Nightwing for help and this is a nice, clean, Speedy story with solid stakes. On the other hand, if it weren't for Speedy showing up in need of a partner, Nightwing wouldn't even know anything about what happens in this story. So why is he the title character? I assume it has mostly to do with him being a more popular (and, admittedly, better) character, plus maybe some as-yet-unrevealed plot detail that makes this narrative a better fit for him. Whatever, the fact that it's really a Speedy story doesn't make it bad. Nightwing is an amusing narrator, he and Speedy have a nice friendship, and the conversation between them about how they are both former wards of millionaire superheroes is interesting if a little obvious. Do I care about Cheshire trying to assassinate random ambassadors? Not really, but her villainous monologuing was fun. I also liked the looks of all three main characters. They were extra 80's, but it suited them, and everyone's outfits looked practical even if they didn't age all that well. I found this an entertaining but not quite exciting read, unremarkable save to say that it was actually a Speedy story.
Even though Tom Grindberg's art is not as standout as Kyle Baker's was in the first Phantom Stranger story back in Action Comics Weekly #610, this ended up being the best story, visually, in this whole issue. Grindberg is inked by Dennis Janke and colored by Petra Scotese, and all three of them really bring it when it comes to the horror elements. The opening page's final panel of the young woman who aged so suddenly it killed her, lying on the floor of the bus like the world's most terrifying ragdoll...I got chills. And Ah Puch is gloriously grotesque and enormous, believable as a god and a viable foe for the Stranger. Part of me feels like I've seen the concept of a book that kills the people who read it before, but I can't place it, and the added touch of having them grow old while having their faces sucked by magical leeches makes it compelling even if it's not original (which, again, it might actually be). I don't have a ton of experience with the Phantom Stranger, but this seemed a pretty good beginner story, with an obvious threat presenting itself, one that can and no doubt will serve as a perfect opportunity for the Stranger to show off the full breadth of his power. I am anxious to see that, especially with this particular opponent and in the hands of this artistic team.
This was the first time reading Superman in Action Comics Weekly felt like a slog, which was hugely disappointing. Recap, followed by super-dull housecleaning-type stuff, followed by the hint of a start of something dramatic and worthwhile, which came right at the end. There's reason to be hopeful about next week's installment, I suppose, but that doesn't make this week's any better. The five panels of info-dumping at the start already felt like a waste, or at the very least an inefficient way to remind readers of what's happened so far. But to follow them with two sizable panels of Clark Kent hiding Bob Galt in his apartment was just plain boring. The panel that came right after those, where Superman thinks to himself that Galt will probably be safe in the apartment, was really all that was needed to establish where Galt would be while Supes continued the investigation, but instead we had to spend time seeing Galt get dropped off, possibly the dullest scene ever. Clark Kent wasn't even wearing the amazing jacket he's had on in every other issue, and when we finally saw Superman in costume, it was small and action-less. I felt a little let down by this, because Superman has been so impressive up to this point, but everyone is allowed one off week, and it took three months worth of weekly chapters for Superman to have a real stinker.
Holly dies suddenly, and Selina mourns in her way, first getting drunk and then trying to get revenge. Selina knows that Holly's house didn't just blow up randomly; Arthur, Holly's husband, must have been responsible, trying to take his wife out so that the brooch Selina gave her could be all his. It's a simple enough hook, and it works well, bolstered considerably by Barry Kitson, Bruce Patterson, and Adrienne Roy's art. The explosion itself is bright and huge and devastating, and the page which follows, in which Holly slowly dies in Selina's arms, is done mostly in tight shots and lit only by the fire, making it intimate and pale and oh so sad. The real standout panel is two pages later when Selina confronts Arthur, and we see her standing over him on his bed, brandishing her whip, obscured by shadow but still terrifying and intimidating with her glowing eyes and fierce-looking cat ears. These are all good-looking pages, and the scene between Selina and George is tightly written, doing what it needs to do for her character and the plot without dragging its heels or taking up too much space. I'm starting to get into the groove of this Catwoman story now for real, and with Holly's death amping things up considerably, it's bound to get better from here.
I could've sworn that last week, in the scene where the mysterious Mr. Scales was talking on the phone, there was some dialogue about Hector Librado being terminated or some similar word. Apparently I misunderstood, though, as Librado is still alive, having survived the attempt on his life when another patient in the hospital happened to wake up and see him being strangled. Just one more detail I either missed, misinterpreted, or never understood. This Black Canary story has become a chore to get through, because I am so far from being invested in it at this point. It has never been clear to me what the stakes really are or why I am meant to care, there are still major players I know next to nothing about, and on top of everything else, it's slow-moving, with none of the hard-hitting street-level action I was hoping to see from this character. While I still enjoy Randy DuBurke's art and find his down-to-Earth style to be pretty perfect for this reality, it doesn't do anything original or interesting ever, really, save for that one panel a few weeks back where we first saw Black Canary in costume. Since then, it's been a by-the-books story art-wise, and Sharon Wright's narrative has never been totally accessible or even moderately interesting to me. I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I don't have anything new to say, because my problems with this story are the same every week. I'll stop for now, and try to find a new angle from which to approach my criticism next time.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"Wicked Business!"
5. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 5"
4. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract!"
3. Catwoman/"The Tin Roof Club Part 3"
2. Phantom Stranger/"Can't Judge a Book..."
1. Green Lantern/"Head Trip"

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