Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #618

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 (sort of) for 42 weeks. This is the eighteenth of those reviews.
See? I told you this was just as much a Speedy story (if not more so) as a Nightwing one!
After defeating the Freak Show, Green Lantern makes his way to Hawkes Industries, where he finally gets to see the face of Veronica, the evil mastermind behind all of his recent troubles. Frustratingly, the audience does not get to see her face yet, but the final panel seems to promise that we'll get the full reveal next week, so...hopefully that's really happening. Lantern turning the tables on the Freak Show with his quick thinking and varied tactics was a strong way to open the story, but the rest of it was pretty slow. One whole page is just him fixing his costume and talking about going to Hawkes Industries on the top half, and Arisia getting a new modeling job offer but turning it down and saying she's leaving Chicago on the bottom half. Not unimportant stuff, but not the most exciting, either. I did like Richard Howell's art a lot, and even on the dull-ish page I just mentioned, there's one panel where Hal Jordan looks really strong, well-built, and genuinely heroic. And Lillian Hawkes, Veronica's much more bashful, fragile sister, is used for solid comedic effect, her hands finding a variety of oh-me-oh-my positions and her face in a constant state of strained concern. I'd like to see her get a bigger role in this narrative now that Hawkes Industries is the setting of the main action; Lillian is an interesting and amusing character, but has been little more than a punching bag for Veronica so far, so it'd be nice to see her have more to do. I didn't love this Green Lantern chapter, but it advanced both its A-plot and B-plot in logical and enjoyable ways, and it had a good cliffhanger ending with Veronica making her entrance, so it ended up being the sturdiest, best part of this issue overall.
Blackhawk and his crew finally go on the mission that was set up several issues back, and immediately everything goes to hell and they all get kidnapped. I mean, the fighting starts before they've even gotten off the plane. It's bad news. Yet even with all the added action and excitement this time around, I find myself mostly bored by this story. There's a lot we're not being told, that much has been made abundantly obvious, but instead of being drawn in by the mystery, I'm just irked by it. I think this is because the story has been developing so damn slowly, I don't expect to get answers anytime soon, and the idea of continuing to follow a story with so many obscured details for much longer, without any other particular reason to care about it, just bums me out. Even this week, when shit finally hits fans, there are 4 pages of build-up and then just 3 of action, meaning the most interesting chapter so far is still unbalanced when it comes to the pacing. The good guys are in the thick of it now, so with any luck things will advance more quickly from here on, but this week was only a half-step up from the fully immobile installments that preceded it.
Wild Dog is the most annoying "hero" of all time, it's official. Here, he decides he wants to encourage Susan King to keep saying what she's already been saying, that Wild Dog inspiring a child to act like him is a terrible, dangerous thing. So how does Wild Dog accomplish this? By hiding in King's car with a mask on like a maniac and forcing her to have a weird, tense conversation with him, during which he forcefully grabs and hurts her when she says something pretty innocuous and predictable. It's despicable behavior, not to mention totally unnecessary, since most of what he says is, "Keep doing what you're doing." Then, in the middle of their chat, they happen to be close enough to hear it when local serial killer the Night Slasher takes another victim. Not because Wild Dog solves the case or uncovers an important clue or anything like that. No, he finds the main villain of this story through blind fortune, while in the middle of doing something awful, and then loses the fight against her because of a last-minute nut shot. None of it makes him seem the least bit heroic, impressive, or even competent, and much of it only re-convinces me that he does more harm than good with his crazy brand of self-important crimefighting. I feel like a broken record going after Wild Dog over and over again, but almost every time I read about him, it infuriates me all over again. Here's hoping this arc wraps soon and I can get another break from this character before he returns for his third and I believe final Action Comics Weekly storyline.
Lately these Superman two-pagers haven't done as good a job of moving the story forward as they did in the earlier issues of this series. We found out last time that Bob Galt was missing from Clark Kent's apartment, and this time all that happens is he continues to be missing and then the reader gets to see him destroying some Superman merchandise. It's an incremental bit of progress, and not a very compelling one, either. As I mentioned a week ago, Galt leaving the apartment was easy to see coming as soon as he got left there by himself, so stretching it out like this doesn't really click. Also, Galt is acting like a child here, which isn't out of character, but it doesn't make me care about him much, which makes it less effective when his life gets threatened in the final panel. I always like it when Superman is in his costume for the entire story, instead of being Clark Kent some/all of the time, because Curt Swan draws him so damn well, so at least there's that. Otherwise, though, this was fully meh.
Kelley Jones is the artist Deadman deserves. Deadman is so gaunt and covered in shadow, all of which is made even more awesome and ghastly because of Tony DeZuniga's inks. So visually, I was all about this story, and I eagerly look forward to seeing more of Deadman in action with this stretched, creepy, fantastic look., I don't know. I'm never wild about villains who use Voodoo. I see if too often and it seems lazy, Voodoo being an easy shorthand for something that people fear without understanding, and almost always including some kind of crazy-powerful dark magic that's only loosely tied to any real-world Voodoo beliefs. This is no exception, with Wellman Legros, the self-proclaimed "Voodoo King of New Orleans," raising an army of zombies to do his wicked bidding. Zombies are an awesome choice of threat for Deadman to tackle, because both they and he are humans who died and were returned in a new form, but does it have to be Voodoo? There's no convincing reason for it that I can see, and it's such a trite detail. Then again, this is just the first chapter, so maybe it'll matter more later, or it'll go away completely—Mike Baron is the writer here, just as he was for the last Action Comics Weekly Deadman story, and that one meandered all over the place. So there's no telling where this narrative is heading yet, and it's definitely going to look phenomenal, so fingers crossed I guess.
Though generally this was a logical and emotionally fulfilling ending, its last page-and-a-half made me think that maybe there just wasn't enough story to fill the necessary pages, so Marv Wolfman tacked a bit of complete fluff onto the very end of this tale. In the final scene, Dick/Nightwing flies home and is met at the airport by Kory/Starfire, and they have a romantic reunion that ends with him telling her that being with people you love is what really matters and that he really loves her. The first part of that point is thematically connected to the rest of the narrative, but didn't need to be stated out loud like that, and the bit about how much he loves Kory just comes out of nowhere. I'm not even sure we saw here in the issue where Nightwing called the Teen Titans, and even if she was there, their relationship has never been at all a part of this story. I like them as a couple and everything, but why throw it in at the finish line randomly like that? It got to me. Anyway, before that happens, Dick brings Roy/Speedy's daughter Lian to him in the hospital, they make up, and then Nightwing takes out Jade/Cheshire. Their final confrontation was solid, with her refusing to believe he'd shoot her with a gun, and him doing it, only to reveal it was a tranquilizer gun all along. It was very Nightwing, outsmarting his opponent in several ways, including planting a tracking chip on her and moving all of her targets to a safe location so she wouldn't pull any last-minute drastic moves to try and complete her mission. Chuck Patton has been killing it art-wise, and I think the page above really shows how well he can capture both the feelings of the characters and their super-people physiques. I ended up being a big fan of this narrative, even though it didn't win me over immediately, and I still like a lot in spite of the slight stumble at the very, very end.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Four: Lucky Night"
5. Superman/"Out on the Town"
4. Blackhawk/"Unhappy Landing"
3. Deadman/"Grave Doings"
2. Nightwing/"The Cheshire Contract - Conclusion"
1. Green Lantern/"First Encounter"

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