Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #615

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 (give or take) for 42 weeks. This is the fifteenth of those reviews.
So what started as a typical delay quickly turned into a full week off from this Action Comics Weekly project, but just like Wild Dog and Blackhawk, I'm back!
Green Lantern kicks off what is essentially a whole new arc. Yes, Arisia's new career as a model is a thread that began a few issues back, but here we jump to it being in full swing. Hal Jordan, meanwhile, has left Chicago and all the fear-about-no-fear stuff behind, and is ready for a brand new threat to introduce itself. Which, of course, it promptly does. At a technology expo of some kind where Arisia is working as a spokesmodel, two supervillains named Siphon and Castle show up to steal things and cause mayhem. Hal gets into uniform and engages with the bad guys, but Castle ends up trapping him in a new hi-tech safe of some kind. Castle gets thrown in their first, but his power, which is simple yet impressively powerful and effective, is to switch places with any other person. So he teleports Hal into the safe and himself to freedom, which ends up being a better move than Castle even knew, since the inside of the safe is entirely yellow. So Hal is stuck with limited air in a box nobody can open and that his powers won't work against. That's where the story ends, a strong cliffhanger considering Hal was totally fine and hadn't even met his new foes at the start of the issue. Between the solid ending and Castle's cool superpowers, there's plenty to like in this story, though none of it breaks any ground. It is decent, middle-of-the-line superhero comics through and through.
Most of this Blackhawk story centers on him hiring Natalie, a woman he knows from his past but is new to me, and for all I know is a brand new character. She's a former/failed model/actress with a sweet red eyepatch to go with her Communism. I think that's what she hinted at, anyway...she and Blackhawk have a playful but cryptic patter that, while fun to read, isn't always all that easy to follow. This may be due to Martin Pasko being the writer for Balckhawk now instead of Mike Grell. Pasko originally wrote Secret Six for Action Comics Weekly, a story with a lot more mystery than Grell's Blackhawk had, so perhaps Pasko is trying to infuse some of that into his turn with this character. Whatever the case, Rick Burchett's art is still the main selling point for Blackhawk, as it has been all along. He does such a nice job of making Blackhawk into someone who's lovable despite his crassness. That's what makes Blackhawk's adventures so entertaining, his carefree attitude and constant good humor, and it's not his dialogue that captures that spirit, it's the art. If he looked more serious, the same words might come across as overly aggressive or callous, but with Burchett it works the way it's supposed to, as the simple humor of a warrior who's amusingly wrapped up in his own machismo.
I still don't care for Wild Dog one bit as a hero, but this time Max Collins pulled out a storytelling gimmick that I actually liked. Granted, having Wild Dog keep a "combat log" only highlights what a Punisher rip off he really is, since it's an obvious stand-in for the "war journal." But then at the end of the story, we see a young boy who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers writing about it excitedly in his diary, followed by a page of the Quad City's newest serial killer writing in her own diary about why she's decided to become a murderer. So all together, there are three journal entries from three different characters, all serving similar purposes. Both Wild Dog's log and the young boy's diary show us the underlying craziness and potential danger of a "hero" like Wild Dog, and the woman's diary gives us some insight into the mind of another killer who believes she's acting in the name of justice. It's all about the psychology of those who feel they have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and the influence that kind of thinking can have on other people. As much as that worked for me, the scene where Wild Dog unloads his gun at the legs of three guys holding up a gas station was a perfect example of why I just can't get into this character. His methods are so excessive, especially considering the low-level crime he tends to fight, at least compared to the typical comicbook vigilante. Seeing one maniacal man with a gun shoot up a bunch of arguably less insane men with guns just doesn't connect with me, unless there are going to be actual consequences. So far, there are few-to-none for Wild Dog, so he has no reason to stop the madness, which continues to grate my nerves.
Superman saves a life, but then—gasp!—he may have taken one as well. It's a straightforward one-two narrative punch, and though I'm sure there's more to the man's death that meets the eye, it's nice to end on a beat of doubting Superman's control of his abilities. Up to now, he's pretty consistently played the expected role of the perfect, streamlined do-gooder. Even the suggestion that he might've used excessive, lethal force is something new for this narrative, a nice refreshing splash of negativity. And boy, the dead guy sure does slam his head hard against the wall, so maybe Supes killed him after all. Both Roger Stern's script and Curt Swan's art leave room for doubt, is what I'm saying, and that was a smart new direction to move in, surprising but still fitting easily into the establish flow and momentum of the narrative.
After hinting at it a few times before, and then implying it heavily for a couple more pages this week, it is finally confirmed that Roy Harper is not, as he claimed, working for the C.B.I. He quit two months ago, and this whole mission to stop Cheshire that he's pulled Nightwing into is, in fact, entirely personal. Again, I say, this is a Speedy story more than a Nightwing one, but at least now Nightwing's got some stakes of his own. His best friend got him involved in a very dangerous situation, without allowing any of their other friends to help, all based on lies. Sadly, other than a pretty stellar opening page and then the final-panel reveal of Speedy's deception, the rest of this chapter held little of interest. Cheshire as a loving mother was alright, and so was seeing Speedy coming unhinged, but both of those scenes were truncated so we could get more of Nightwing talking to some British government official and then, later, with the rest of the Teen Titans. Those conversations were both largely dull, as was Nightwing's phone call with Speedy in between, and all told this boring chatter took up around half the page space. I'm hoping now that Speedy's lie has been exposed, the pace can pick up a little, because so far this story has been dragging, and this week was probably the dragging-est of them all.
I have so little to say about Black Canary that I haven't said already. This week, a character I was sure I knew was a villain, the guy with the goatee, behaved in a way that made him seem like he might in fact be fighting for the good guys. To have one of the few things I felt certain about get turned on its head like that only further cemented for me how poorly I have managed to decipher this narrative all along. After it concludes next week, I should really take the time to go back through it from the beginning and see if I can figure out just where/how I got so damned lost. The real headline here, though, is that it's ending next week. I'm looking forward to that.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit Part 7"
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter One: Night Patrol"
4. Nightwing/"Tracks of a Killer!"
3. Green Lantern/"Freaks!"
2. Blackhawk/"That Was no Lady..."
1. Superman/"Fatal Flaw?"

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