Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #619

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 nineteenth of those reviews.
Whoops! Missed a week! That will most likely continue to happen here and there. As formulaic as these posts are, they can be time-consuming since I gotta write six separate reviews for each one. Anyway...
So we finally see Veronica's face, and it signifies nothing. Also, it's kind of hard to pay attention to her face when her body is so bizarrely shaped. Could a person with a waist that small even hold their torso up straight? It's crazy. Veronica offers Green Lantern a tour of her facilities in order to convince him she's not the power behind the Freak Show, but of course, since she really is that power, the whole thing is actually a trap. Lantern gets ambushed by the Freak Show and this time they are a bit more coordinated in their attack, so they seem to very quickly get a strong upper hand. That's where the story ends this week, with Lantern being burned alive and held in place by the Freak Show, our hero seemingly stuck in a deadly situation with no obvious way out. It's a good cliffhanger, but the trip there isn't all that interesting, with half of these pages being spent on Lantern's dull argument with Victoria and/or his even duller tour of Hawkes Industries. And even once the fight with the Freak Show begins, it's not particularly thrilling, a few quick shots from either side before Lantern gets his ass handed to him. I did love that the closing line was just Castle saying, "Bitchin'." Other than that, though, this neither impressed nor frustrated me all that powerfully. It was a logical next beat in terms of plot, but the Victoria reveal was anti-climatic, her character design was laughable, and the action sequence at the end was less than exciting.
I'm tired of making the same complaints as always about Wild Dog. Assume they all still stand. Instead of repeating them again, this week I wanted to talk about how all the Wild Dog stories have been only seven pages long rather than eight, at least since the character showed up for this second storyline. I think the same is true of Blackhawk, but I have other things to say about Blackhawk in this issue (see below). I'm sure the decision to shorten these sections was editorial as opposed to creative, but whatever the reason, it seems a very bad call. Eight pages is already a challenge when it comes to telling a complete, satisfying story, even if it's just one part of a larger narrative. And Wild Dog in particular suffers frequently from endings that are too abrupt and boring, almost never offering a real hook to make the reader want to know more. For me, having a little less Wild Dog in my life is kind of nice, but I also have to wonder if the additional page every issue might not help beef up these stories, even just a little. Space is such a valuable commodity in comics, so it's a shame that some of it had to be usurped by...I don't even know what. Additional ads? Probably, since the total page count of each Action Comics Weekly hasn't changed. It was 48 in the beginning and it's 48 now, but the stories themselves have gotten shorter, so I suppose it has to be the commercials that get to occupy those pages. Yuck.
After Kelley Jones showing up and blowing up as the ideal Deadman artist last week, this week the title character appears in only two panels, including the credits page above. The rest of the time, he's either in the body of the resurrected cop he got trapped in last time or the schoolteacher he moves into once the cop is re-killed this time. It's a tremendous drag to get so little of Deadman, even though Jones' other contributions are pretty fantastic. Madame Waxahachie is a fittingly bold, terrifying force of humanity, and there are a handful of really interesting perspectives in these panels. Lots of dramatic close-ups and moody shading, and best of all is the panel where Deadman, in the cop's body, looks down at the knife in his belly with an unphased stare. It's a nice, darkly quirky moment, and it comes right before the second (and last) appearance of Deadman in his natural form, so it's for sure the best sequence in the story. I did like the narrative itself more this issue than last, if only because Deadman was more active, and also a little bit because the ending genuinely surprised me. After Deadman and Waxahachie seemingly thwart Legros' plan to steal the Brogden twins, having the twins get immediately kidnapped worked as a final twist. There was an assumption of temporary safety for the kids, because Legros had only so recently failed to get them, and whether or not he is their kidnapper now, having somebody nab them so soon after they avoided that same fate was genuinely unexpected. All the Voodoo stuff still seems offensively clichéd, but there's a bit less of it here, and it's a bit more reserved, so overall this is a step up. Not amazing, and disappointing because of little we get to see Jones draw Deadman, but there's hope.
Even though Superman is effectively not in this, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's so rare, in fiction or reality, that someone in an argument listens to reason and then admits they were wrong, and I especially wouldn't have expected it from somebody as passionate as Bob Galt. It was a pleasant, quiet resolution to the problem introduced at the end of last week's Superman story, and I liked the shot at California that the cop took as Galt left the store, most of all because it's accurate. Admittedly, the events of this chapter are pretty fluffy, and it's not even clear if they matter at all to the larger story yet. It's sort of hard to imagine how they even would. Maybe Galt wearing a Superman t-shirt is going to lead to extra trouble for him in some way, but if not, then the whole altercation in the store was essentially pointless, a quick, meaningless diversion just to get Galt out of Clark Kent's apartment. Even so, I had a good time reading this, and at the very least it reestablished Galt as a guy who's as honest and decent as the hero he worships, even if he's not quite as thoughtful or controlled. Also, big credit to Curt Swan, because while Superman is only in one of these nine panels, his S symbol is at least partially visible in eight. That's a smart way to keep his presence in the foreground without needing to insert the man himself into a part of the story where he doesn't belong.
The Secret Six are back, and it's as if they never missed a beat. A lot goes on here, with different members of the team working on different missions, advancing several plots at once. While most of them make a move against Sunnydale Farms and their infected pigs, there are others out there trying to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. One goes undercover at Jefferson University, and another dons a disguise and interviews one of the cops who initially investigated the crash that killed the original Secret Six. It's all an effort to figure out Mockingbird's identity and/or motives, and as the Secret Six themselves mention, it seems strange that they'd be able to do so much of their own investigating without Mockingbird interfering or outright shutting them down. In the past, he has seemingly been able to monitor them all the time, but recently they've been operating fairly independently, and everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's possible that it does here, with one of the Secret Six getting jumped, knocked out, and shoved into a van on the closing page. It's a bit of mysterious excitement for the finale, a solid, near-silent conclusion that brings back  all the intrigue and anything-can-happen awesomeness of the Secret Six's original run in this title. The exposition gets wrapped up efficiently, the danger ramps right back up to its previous level, and the Secret Six are buzzing along as a well-oiled machine just like they were before. It's a perfect return, delivering all the goods and meeting all the expectations.
I kind of barely remember what even happens for the first five pages of this story, because the last two stand out so strongly as such a shitty, stupid, infuriating ending. Blackhawk and the man who claims to be Leslie Richardson get trapped in a cave after a rockslide, and Leslie is knocked unconscious, so Blackhawk heads off to find a way out. What he finds instead is the pilot he cam here looking for, Alice Richardson, chained to a wall in stereotypically tattered clothing. The way Alice is presented alone feels sexist and gross, but then in the final three panels, we see her notice Blackhawk with a relieved smile, which then immediately turns into a look of sheer horror, and then, finally, we see the reason for her terror: Blackhawk is removing his belt. Look...I understand that he's not going to rape her. Next issue, there'll be some kind of explanation as to why he needed to take his belt off to get her down, and the whole thing will be played as a sort of semi-amusing fake out for the reader. But the thing is, it's so not funny, and it's such an idiotic way to end this chapter. Why have her think even for one second that Blackhawk is about to assault her? Is there a compelling reason to put her through that, especially after all the trauma and torture we already know she's suffered recently? And as cliffhanger endings go, making the protagonist—who's already a well-known womanizer—look like he's about to do something so despicable is a very poor choice indeed. I don't really understand the thought behind it, and what's really troubling is that Rick Burchett draws Alice's terrified face so damn convincingly, and in such a tight, detailed panel, the reader can't help but feel her fear with her. So we are left in Alice's position, with no reason to believe anything other than what she believes, save for the fact that we understand, deep down, that the hero of the story isn't suddenly going to become a rapist. Martin Pasko continues to be the wrong writer for this character, a fact that this awful, incredibly misguided ending really cements.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Blackhawk/"What's a Nice Girl Like You...?"
5. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction: One Mass Murderer to Go"
4. Green Lantern/"Veronica"
3. Deadman/"Part 2"
2. Secret Six/"Once More Unto the Breach"
1. Superman/"Protective Shield?"

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