Monday, April 20, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #620

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 twentieth of those reviews.
I know nobody is keeping track as closely as I am, but I'm starting to get sincerely pissed at myself for not sticking to my one-a-week schedule for these reviews. So help me, I am determined to get back into that flow starting with this issue. And I will, goddamn it! I do swear it!
Huh...this Green Lantern story went ahead and got interesting out of nowhere. What has up to now been a pretty blah story about GL wrestling with the Freak Show and their mysterious benefactor Veronica Hawkes suddenly became much more complicated. It turns out Veronica's mousy sister Lillian isn't nearly as frail or oblivious as she seems. It is Lillian who may really be controlling the Freak Show, and though her motives are unknown right now, her ruthless methods are made very clear when she guns down Castle with great relish in order to cover her tracks. Having a character who seems weak and frightened secretly be a scheming, wicked villain is nothing new, but I was genuinely surprised when Lillian was revealed to fit into that mold. Because Veronica, Lillian, and the Freak Show are all new characters, I took their introductions at face value, so this twist caught me off-guard, something I always like from my fiction. And the fact that even Veronica doesn't seem to know what her sister's really like adds new wrinkles that make me really eager to see where this story goes. So that development would've been enough, but on top of it, Veronica gives Green Lantern a pointed, concise speech about how macho and ultimately sexist he is, automatically playing a protector to the sheepish Lillian and an opponent to the more assertive Veronica. Her points make sense, and Hal Jordan seems to agree, as in the end he finalizes his impending break-up with Arisia, believing he may be with her for the wrong reasons, more attracted to her helplessness than her actual person. It's fun to see Hal so shook up, and I hope we'll see it carry over into his future interaction with either or both of the Hawkes sister. Peter David and Richard Howell took a stock superhero story and added more than one effective new wrinkle in only eight pages, and after a while of feeling lukewarm about this narrative, I'm totally reinvested now.
I've complained about how much I dislike Wild Dog as a character and a hero lots before, but something occurred to me reading this chapter that I'd never really articulated before: I pretty much hate all of these characters. Lt. Flint bitches and bitches about Wild Dog's activities but refuses to do anything about it out of a weird combination of misplaced loyalty, cowardice, and laziness. Susan King is the stereotypical reporter character who only cares about getting the story, which is equal parts obnoxious and cliché. And then there's Wild Pup, the kid who's so into Wild Dog that he insists on putting his own life (and the lives of many other people) at risk so he can be the sidekick his hero doesn't want. Watching this child stubbornly ignore Wild Dog's orders to stay out of the way gets less tense and more frustrating with every page. At first I worried about the kid, but now I just want something bad to happen to him as it is inevitably going to do so we can just get it over with already. He can learn his lesson, Wild Dog can hopefully learn one, too, and this damn narrative can end. The Wild Dog universe is populated top-to-bottom with character I can't stand, and orbiting around a central figure whose moral code and entire reason for being I disagree with. I'm not going to harp on it any longer, because I feel like the most broken of broken records by now, but the it seemed a noteworthy realization that it isn't just the title character that drives me so crazy but also almost every member of his supporting cast.
Half of this was a tight, suspenseful action-adventure comic that I loved. The other half was talky, info-dumpy, and full of old information, so I liked it considerably less. To be honest, even during the good parts, I was pretty lost. The break Secret Six took from Action Comics Weekly was long enough, and the narrative complex enough, that it's been a little hard to get back into the swing of things since these characters returned to the title. Still, Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin make the opening sequence thrilling enough that it clicked for me in spite of the fact that I wasn't totally sure who I was watching or why they were fighting each other. I'm like 98% sure it was one member of the Secret Six escaping from enemy forces, and some of the opening conversation was clearly trying to put things into context for me, but there are so many moving pieces in this tale, I'm not always following them all with equal focus. I like it a lot that the Secret Six fights corporations and the like, that they combine espionage, violence, and research to accomplish their goals, and that they can do multiple things at once because of the size of their team and the range of their expertise. So conceptually, all the disjointed bits and pieces are key, and they're something I support. In practice, though, it means sometimes we're following the more obscure and/or less fascinating threads, and that it's easier to lose track of stuff than it would be in a simpler or more straightforward narrative. The ambition is a good thing, and it produces lots of good results, like the title page above and the two action-packed pages which preceded it. But I'm not as locked into the Secret Six as I am with other characters in this comic, and all told this was an uneven segment of their story.
I don't know if this gets credited to penciller Curt Swan or letterer Bill Oakley, but the "SMEK" sound effect when Bob Galt punches one of his would-be muggers was my favorite part of this Superman chapter. It's a well-done panel all over, with priceless looks on the faces of all the muggers, but that noise really sold it for me. I also enjoy that the way Superman finds Galt is to save him from a crime. It's a good way to reunite them, maybe even an obvious one, but earned through Galt's bravery and unshaken faith in the face of danger. If he wasn't so admirable in that moment, then having Superman come to his rescue might've seemed too easy, but Galt stays courageous and loyal to his idol even with his well-being on the line, so he fully deserves the protection from Superman that he already assumes he'll receive. That's all the happens in these two pages, starting with the muggers' initial taunts and ending with Superman's arrival, and as much as I liked it, I'm itching for a slightly faster progression of this story. Hopefully Galt and Superman being together again, now that Superman has slightly more info, will help them get to the heart of the mystery more quickly. It's been a long, slow ride to try and figure out who it is that wants to destroy Galt and his fellow Superman worshippers, and I know that two pages isn't a ton of space, but I'd like to see the villains more fully revealed sooner than later or my interest is bound to start waning. All the same, for this week, I was on board with everything that went down, and it should be fun to see how Galt's assailant react to Superman next time.
I feel like there's something wrong with the stakes of this Deadman story. I just cannot muster up any concern for what's happening. Deadman's not really personally connected to it at all; he's an outsider who got semi-randomly involved, and therefore he's annoyingly passive. Madame Waxahacie explains everything to Deadman and tells him what he should do, then he does it. That's boring, and slow, and it gives me as the reader no good way in. The only character I can latch onto at all is a protagonist who doesn't entirely understand what's going on, has no plan of action, and barely seems interested himself. He seems to be participating mostly because he has nothing better to do, and because he's obligated as Deadman to try and fight against evil. Those are weak reasons for the main character to be involved in the narrative, which in turn weakens my own commitment to it. So whatever, Legros continues to try and build his zombie army, and Deadman and Waxahachie feebly try to stop him. Then in the final moments, the Brogden twins who appeared to be victims of Legros expose themselves as villains/forces of evil in their own right. I'm not sure how that works yet, but it's a final beat that almost makes me want to come back for more. It is, at least, something unexpected, and having children as the antagonists in any story always makes for a nice moral dilemma to torture the hero. Still, it's too little too late, a small glimmer of something I might care about reading that shows up only in the last panel of the third chapter.
Ohhhh...he was taking his belt off so he could whip a snake with it. That excuses the implied rape from the end of last issue...NOT! I know it's a little silly to review this chapter based on the conclusion of the last, but it just still really bothers me, two weeks later, that the previous Blackhawk installment ended that way. And that this week ends with the same two characters having consensual sex doesn't help, and in fact makes it worse somehow. With all the impending danger, it seems like a pretty inappropriate time for them to do that, especially since they just met. I don't mean to sound like a prude, and there's nothing inherently wrong with sleeping with a stranger, but doing it under an active volcano while an ally is wounded and unconscious nearby and you're in the midst of trying to escape the people who kidnapped's ridiculous, and Martin Pasko wedges it into the last two pages not because it makes sense there but because this is Blackhawk and he's got to be a ladies' man all the time no matter how illogical it may be. In between the rescue and the sex scene was a TON of exposition that I had a hard time paying attention to and an even harder time understanding. The whole reason for this mission and this narrative gets explained, and I couldn't tell you what it is, because it's written dryly and hurriedly, like even the creators don't give a shit. Which they probably don't—this could all well be an excuse to write some gunfights and love scenes hung on the frailest of frames. That's definitely how it reads, and I'm sick of it.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Six: Tailed!"
5. Blackhawk/"Most Guys Just Leave Her Hanging There"
4. Deadman/"Part 3"
3. Secret Six/"Just a Little Bug That's Going Around"
2. Superman/"Too Late, the Hero?"
1. Green Lantern/"Last Gasp!"

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