Monday, April 27, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #621

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 twenty-first of those reviews.
You guys! My copy of this issue has two covers! Not two different ones, two of the same cover, front and back. They just put the cover on it twice. Or two covers got stuck together when they did the stapling or something. I love it. It's really fun to open the cover and have it still be there. Is this something that happens? Why have I not seen this before?

Also—I'm halfway through these issues now! And this one is coming in on time! Exclamation points! Don't worry, my enthusiasm is about to go way, way down when I start reviewing the stories.
So I went back and looked at the end of last issue's Green Lantern story, and it does promise that this week would have "a new beginning," but I didn't expect that to mean a whole new creative team telling a brand new story from zero. The Freak Show/Hawkes Sisters shit just got interesting after being so-so for a long time, and now it's been replaced, even though it was far from resolved. The only conclusion we got last time was Hal and Arisia finally breaking up, but the A-plot had only just barely hit what felt like the end of Act II. I was bummed to see a whole new direction here, and even more bummed once I read it, since so much of it was just Hal explaining the various steps taken to test new planes. It's crazy dry, even though a lot of the information is delivered while Hal is moments away from crashing, because it's just such intensely uninteresting information. I don't care about the finer points of your day job, Hal, except insofar as they affect your life as Green Lantern. Is it possible that the malfunctioning plane is going to connect to some superhero stuff down the line? I suppose, but there's no indication of that, and on its own, the plane-related material is a snooze. Before that, we see Hal save an alien ship from the sun, responding to a distress signal he says he got but that we didn't see. We also don't see the results of this rescue; Hal saves and releases the ship, and then that thread is dropped so the plane nonsense can happen. At the very end, Hal' power battery explodes and something mysterious and yellow comes out of it, which is probably where this story should've begun. It's the first thing that happens which does anything to draw me in, and it's on the final page, a cliffhanger unrelated to anything that precedes it, one alright beat after a whole bunch of junk.
Wild Dog and the Night Slasher have their final confrontation, and as expected, Wild Pup shows up to ruin everything and gets himself stabbed. What is with this kid? He has one move, which is to jump of the back of the bad guy like he's getting a piggyback ride. How would that be helpful? He is, at best, a distraction, and at worst a target, which is exactly what happens here when the Night Slasher gets him with her knife. I'm not going to say I wanted the child to get hurt, because obviously the ideal outcome would be if he learned his lesson without getting injured, but it was a pretty sure thing that this would happen eventually, and I am glad it's over with now. Next week this story will be concluded and we can all move on with our lives for a while, Wild Dog-free. Wild Pup getting stabbed is, of course, the last panel, and before that scene there are a few extremely tired scenes of Wild Dog talking to his cop and reporter friends, having the same arguments as always, acting just as much the stubborn, arrogant ass as ever. I've really grown to hate Wild Dog over the course of this Action Comics Weekly project, and since he never changes or does anything new, that hate just festers and flares back up every time I read another story. I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming hiatus, because I'm sure we can all agree that my incessant complaining about Wild Dog is as worn out and obnoxious as anything the character does.
I liked this installment of the Secret Six in large part because it reminded me of some of the long-forgotten names of the characters, most of all Tony, the guy who's running for his life. He has the most exciting plotline right now, and the most compelling, since he basically kidnapped a woman so he could use her car to flee his pursuers. Now her life is derailed and in danger, and he's trying to keep her safe, but at the same time his min priority is saving his own skin and rejoining his team. It's a situation that positions Tony right on the line between hero and villain: he's fighting the good fight tooth and nail, but in the process he's risking the life of an innocent passerby. This is the kind of thing you see a lot in this story. Mockingbird has righteous goals but uses questionable (at best) methods to reach them, so the entire Secret Six organization sits somewhere in between being good guys and bad guys. Tony's current circumstances are a small-scale version of that larger conflict, getting to the core of what makes the Secret Six interesting characters to being with. Indeed, Ladonna's situation at the end, where she is posing as a real student and has to pretend to be dating that student's boyfriend in order to get information, is another strong example. Stealing one person's identity to betray another's trust is kind of gross behavior, yet it's in the name of completing the mission and stopping several evil corporations from continuing to go unchecked. This chapter was a strong reminder of what works about the Secret Six as a concept, and it pulled me back into a narrative I'd felt a little distanced from since it came back after its initial hiatus. Hopefully the momentum continues in this direction from here.
This was sort of disappointing in that all that happens is Superman handily defeats the muggers from last week, then switches back into his Clark Kent look to actually revive Galt. All of that was to be expected, and having it go down in such predictable fashion isn't ideal, but there are is at least some effective comedy during the fight, particularly the guy who knows that Superman can't be hurt by bullets but goes after him with a knife, hoping that'll do the trick. I just love the insane logic of believing Superman might be immune to bullets specifically, as opposed to merely being invulnerable enough to withstand them. So that's good for a laugh, and Curt Swan really sells the slapstick hilarity of that knife-wielding mugger being thrown into his friends. So it was a fun first two-thirds of the story, but then the final moment where we see that it's Clark Kent, rather than Superman, who comes to Galt's aid is needlessly drawn out and not all that exciting. I guess we're meant to wonder why Superman would feel the need to become Kent again instead of telling Galt the truth, but actually that makes a lot of sense to me without any explanation. Galt believes Superman is his personal savior and protector, and that's a delusion he's suffering from, so giving evidence in support of it is probably not for the best. Superman wants to keep Galt safe, but also to help him get over his hopeless hero worship, so helping him directly as Kent and in secret as Superman adds up. So while the reveal of Kent is overly dramatic, at least it fits with what's come before, and everything else is good, solid Superman action-comedy, even if he does drastically outmatch his foes.
As with the original Deadman story in Action Comics Weekly, this one is starting to lose focus and become too unruly. Really important stuff happens off-panel this time, and is then explained way too quickly and confusingly, leaving me unsure of exactly how the major events of the story went down. The little girls do...something to Deadman while he is in Legros' body, and it allows them to escape somehow, even though Madame Waxahachie was outside so you're think she would have seen if the girls left. Also, what happened to all the other zombies in the building? At the end we see the girls raising a new army of undead at a graveyard, but what of the army already assembled at Legros' house? Even the fact that Legros went from being the main villain to getting replaced by these twins is an example of this narrative's meandering nature. The biggest problem I had with the first Deadman story was that the threat Deadman was facing kept changing. While the main problem is still a zombie invasion, changing the source of that invasion from one person to two others seems like a pointless shift and a waste of time, especially when we don't even get to see all of the important parts play out on the page. Kelley Jones is still my #1 pick for best Deadman artist ever, but as has been a problem all along, Deadman doesn't have much to do in this tale, mostly a passive observer who has the context of what's going on explained to him by Waxahachie. And even when he's active, it's almost always in another person's body, which I know is his whole deal, but that doesn't mean we can't see more of him. This chapter might actually have had the most Deadman so far, but it still felt like too little, even though every time we did see him, he looked freaking amazing. In some ways, this story seems to have finally gotten its bearings, so it could improve from here, but I'm not hopeful based on the disjointed narrative Mike Baron constructed with this character in this title before.
I really the title of this Blackhawk section, and it was probably the best part of this narrative so far. Now that Blackhawk and the main female character have had sex, the story can move on, and it does so pretty quickly. The strongest sequence centers on three of his crew finding a pretty clever yet simple way to escape their captors. There's a lot of good, quick dialogue between them, and some nice visuals, too, once the escape plan actually gets put into action. Most of the story cuts between that and scenes of Blackhawk and the two CIG agents (Central Intelligence Group, get it?) making their way back own the mountain to try and get out alive before the volcano erupts. Meanwhile, the villains make their own preparations to depart before the lava starts flowing, so what you end up with is a race-against-the-clock atmosphere, several small groups all working toward the same goal but also working against each other. It should make for a fun, fast-paced final confrontation, which gets set up in the end when the baddies find the same truck Blackhawk plans to use as a means of escape. Shit is about to hit fans in several different spots, and for the first time I'm actually eager to see where things go. It's a hesitant eagerness, because this was just one enjoyable chapter in a story that's never had me fully invested, but if it can keep ramping up the stakes and action like it did here until it crosses the finish line, I might up really really liking this story in the end.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Wild Dog/"Fatal Distraction Chapter Seven: Stab in the Dark"
5. Deadman/"Part 4"
4. Green Lantern/"Gremlins!"
3. Blackhawk/"It's Not the Heat, it's the Futility"
2. Superman/"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime"
1. Secret Six/"Guess What we Learning in School Today?"

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