Sunday, February 8, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #616

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 sixteenth of those reviews.
For what I think is the first time ever, the order of the stories this week was exactly the same as last week. Weird.
I really liked seeing Hal Jordan use his powers in innovative ways to escape the safe, but I was not such a big fan of the scenes with the villains. The as-yet-unseen head villain is annoying with her arrogance and lack of a face, and the rest of the bunch are gratingly childlike. They also look terrible, just bizarre character designs that seem to neither have a function nor make any real statement about who they are. They look strange for the sake of it. So these characters don't do it for me, but that's alright, because all the better for Jordan to ultimately stomp them into the ground. The highlight this week was his escape, though, as I said. He chips the yellow paint away with his ring, using it as a physical tool rather than an energy conductor/manipulator/whatever the right word is, which I thought was a clever little detail from Peter David. Just because Jordan's powers are negated doesn't mean his ring is useless, and that's nice. He then creates a green drill to make a hole in the un-yellowed part of the safe, through which he shoots a beam out and makes a Hulk knock-off construct that frees him. It's a series of smart, quick-thinking moves by Jordan, making me like him and believe in him as a hero in a way I don't know I ever have in this series before. Of course, he then verbally beats the crap out of Arisia, and even though he feels bad afterwards, he doesn't really do enough to try and make up for it because he's in such a hurry to track down the baddies. That was disappointing behavior, an soured me on him only moments after I'd been so staunchly in his corner. Between the Arisia business and the 3 pages worth of obnoxious villains, this story ended up being mostly a letdown, but it opened with a very interesting and entertaining use of its main character.
Blackhawk is boring this time around. Martin Pasko doesn't have the same zippiness or humor in his writing as Mike Grell did, which makes the narrative move much more slowly. Also, this story is not nearly as intriguing—it's a conspiracy/murder investigation rather than a treasure hunt, and the man hiring Blackhawk here (Leslie Richardson) doesn't have any of the mystery of the nun from the first story. Leslie lays it all on the table right away, which makes me care less about what happens, because he's just a talking plot hook instead of a real character. On top of the actual mission being dull, the opening three pages have pretty much nothing to do with it. They're just sort of check-in scenes where we see what the rest of Blachawk's crew is up to right now, which mainly consists of them talking about what they're up to amongst themselves, so that's a decent amount of wasted space. Especially considering Blackhawk later repeats to Leslie almost all of the info those first few pages provide. This is not unclear or even badly written, it's just progressing at a crawl and not capturing my interest. Hopefully there will be some action next week, and things will pick up from there.
It sounds insane when I say it in my head, but Wild Dog may have been my favorite story in this issue. It did squander its first 2 pages, spending more than 25% of its total space—for some reason this was only 7 pages instead of 8—on inefficiently recapping last week's events. But the heart of the narrative was what came next, when Daniel Crown, the kid who witnessed Wild Dog shooting some robbers, got in an argument with his friends at the comicbook store about whether or nor Wild Dog is a "real" superhero. It's a debate I imagine took place in real comicbook stores at the time, and certainly several of my problems with the character were brought up by Daniel's opposers. It was good to see these complaints addressed in the actual comic; that display of self-awareness made me more forgiving of Wild Dog's bad points. He may be flawed and not fit into everyone's definition of "hero," but he knows that and so do his creators, and they're doing their thing anyway, which is admirable in its way. The rest of the story sees Daniel equipping himself with his own mini version of Wild Dog's battle gear, getting cash from his neglectful, alcoholic mother and buying his weapons from pawn shops. This naturally leads to him going out on his own patrol (he has a moped) and finding Wild Dog in the middle of a hostage situation. Daniel decides his hero needs back-up, so chances are he's about to involve himself directly in the violence, which can't possibly go well for anyone. I look forward to seeing Wild Dog being he's forced to face the negative influence of his methods and message. I don't expect him to change his mind, but it might, at least, add some much-needed depth to his character.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Superman didn't kill the man he threw against a wall last week. There was, evidently, some sort of transceiver implanted in his brain that allowed someone to remotely listen in on him and also kill him from a distance. No sooner do Superman and the doctors figure all that out then the transceiver is used to blow the dead man up, which Curt Swan, inker Murphy Anderson, and colorist Petra Scotese draw like the Sun firing confetti. Everything that happens here feels important to the unfolding mystery of the obscure evil organization who supposedly killed Bob Galt's fellow Superman worshippers. That said, this isn't a very compelling chapter, since it's mostly just information being delivered to Superman by two random doctor characters, who could easily have been only one person, instead. Supes no doubt needs to know these details, and both of these pages were needed in order to properly explain them to the audience, but even so, just learning about the transceiver and what it does without anything else happening was not all that thrilling a read.
There's a whole lot of fighting in this installment of Nightwing, and Chuck Patton makes it all look great. Speedy fights Wen Cheng, and then Nightwing fights Cheshire, and in both cases, the good guys don't do so well. The villains get the drop on them, and Speedy ends up knocked out, while the last panel of the whole thing is Nightwing's face only inches away from Cheshire's poisoned fingernails. Even though this narrative hasn't totally grabbed me so far, I liked this beat because it was brisk, action-packed, good-looking, and tense. Things are heating up all over now that Nightwing knows Speedy lied to him and they have both finally come face-to-face with their foes. I can't imagine there are too many chapters left in this arc, actually, because this felt like the beginning of the end, with little left to do but have Nightwing somehow best Cheshire, and then save and simultaneously confront Speedy. These might be wild assumptions on my part, but it seems like the only logical development, though I guess Nightwing might get beaten and then he and Speedy would find themselves captured together. Then they could deal with their personal shit, rally, and win the day together. Either way, a final battle in which one or both good guys get free from the bad guys' clutches can't be too far off, and based on this, I'm rather looking forward to it.
So I'm still not positive I understand what the hell happened in this Black Canary story, but I am positive of this: Vincent Scales was the main bad guy, and he basically gets to win, because by the time Dinah figures out what he's up to, she also learns that he has terminal cancer and will die within months. That may not sound like a victory for Scales, but he never has to pay in any direct way for the wrong he's done, and as vague as that wrongdoing may be from my vantage point, it would've been nice to see some kind of consequences. This story wasn't strong or well-built enough to pull off an ending this morally ambivalent; if nothing else, it needed to land on a solid beat of Black Canary winning, so we could've had some meager payoff despite the befuddling lead-up. Without even offering that, this narrative concludes just as unsatisfactorily as it moved all along, and thought I'm not sure of all the details, I definitely know I was never convinced to care.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Black Canary/"Bitter Fruit - Conclusion"
5. Blackhawk/"Mission: Implausible"
4. Green Lantern/"Safe at Home"
3. Superman"Dead Men Tell no Tales"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract Chapter Four: Counterpoint"
1. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Two: Battle Gear"

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