Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #623

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-third of those reviews.
The cover image of this issue actually comes directly from a panel within it, which is a rare event for this book, if indeed it has ever happened before at all. Not the most exciting moment to pick, but I appreciated it nonetheless, especially after last issue's wholly disconnected cover.
I feel very blah about Green Lantern in this book right now. I know this is primarily because I was just barely starting to get invested in Peter David's narrative when he rather suddenly got replaced by James Owsley, the writer who David replaced initially. Owsley is a great talent, and he does this character well, but even several weeks later, I'm still more curious about the Freak Show characters David left behind than the new alien war we are introduced to here. I'm also not wild about stories where the hero is pulled into someone else's conflict unexpectedly, forced to participate because they are needed rather than choosing to because they want to help or feel some kind of obligation. If the protagonist isn't especially committed to the central struggle of the narrative, why the hell should I be? On top of that, the thing where Green Lantern needs to get to his battery before the recharge clock runs out feels tired. I realize this is an old comic so maybe that wasn't as trite at the time, but reading it with modern eyes, it just seems like yet another one of those stories for this character, with nothing new added to it. Maybe this will pick up now that Lantern knows what's going on, but at this point, I'm not sure it matters. Unless we go back and get some resolution on the Freak Show, I may be perpetually uninterested in Green Lantern's adventures in this series.
Though it moved somewhat jerkily, I enjoyed the Shazam story a whole lot. The idea of a superhero not just feeling guilty about causing the death of a criminal but actively working to make up for it is right up my alley, and it was a good way for me to get into a character with whom I've had minimal experience in the past. To be honest, when I saw that Shazam was going to be included in Action Comics Weekly, it seemed like a drag, not to mention redundant since Superman is involved every week. But right away, Roy and Dann Thomas found a hook that worked, and sold me on it in only seven pages. I also appreciated how Shazam actually spends most of his time as Billy Batson. I love a good secret identity, someone who can have a whole life of their own and can have stories center on them without the reader merely waiting for them to switch to the super-persona so the real fun can start. This story is just as meaty when Batson is on-page as when Shazam is, and it seems as though both will be key to what's to come, so that's a good sign. Are white supremacists the most fascinating foes? No, but they are at least easy to hate, and I do look forward to Shazam trying to pull someone out of their clutches. I'm this will involve some amount of deprogramming, and I'm curious to see how Batson/Shazam handles that.
This Deadman story, which I didn't miss for one second last issue, returns with the dullest installment yet. It's almost pure exposition, Madame Waxahachie just explaining to Deadman the history of the Peckshaw twins. It seems like this information could've been provided while there was, say, some action taking place, but instead we just get and infodump via dialogue as Waxahachie and Deadman drive around looking for someone he can inhabit other than Clara. When they finally do find that someone, there's a scene of Clara understandably freaking out over being used more than once as the vessel of a dead guy. This ties into the one aspect of this story I cared about at all, which is the idea that Deadman may cause permanent psychological damage to the people he possesses. I hope that thread isn't abandoned as we dive deeper into the voodoo zombie junk, because it's a compelling conflict for Deadman to grapple, and I'd like to see it explored more completely and maybe even in some other contexts. I'm not holding my breath based on how unfocused Mike Baron's Deadman has been in Action Comics Weekly from the very beginning, but time will tell.
I was not expecting the bad guys to be motivated by crazy faith-based beliefs in the same way Galt and his group are. I assumed the villains would be anti-Superman because of his morality, that they feared he'd get in the way of whatever corrupt capitalist schemes they were cooking up. But no, it turns out they think Superman is the legit anti-Christ, which was an interesting wrinkle to add. One side sees Superman as a savior, the other as a harbinger and bringer of doom, and all the meanwhile Superman himself only recently learned these two factions exist, and wants nothing to do with either of their beliefs. I'm eager to watch this all play out, to see how Superman handles not only the folks who view him as a messiah but also those on the other side. My guess is that he'll want to show both groups the error of their ways and the danger of their extremism, but whatever he does, it's bound to be interesting.
Secret Six is a blast right now. It seems to have, at least for the time being, fully embraced the action side of its spy-action mix, and this week had some of the best material yet in that regard. Acrobatic gunfights and daring last-minute rescues involving multiple vehicles are perhaps cliché, but Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin make it all hum and maintain the mood of high-octane excitement. The plot is still a bit muddy, and it isn't progressing all that quickly, but I don't mind one bit. I'm loving the adventure, and Martin Pasko is careful to add at least a tiny bit of relevant info every time. It's not always new for the reader, but at the very least we will see one or more characters discover something they didn't know before, so it's all forward movement, even when it's minor. Also, "Standard Allowable Abductions" is very much my kind of title, appropriate and descriptive while also silly and fun just like the story that follows.
I like the done-in-one Phantom Stranger tales that pop up in Action Comics Weekly every so often, and I absolutely love José Luis García-López as an artist, but this particular story underwhelmed me. For one thing, it tried to have a stick-tight-to-your-faith-and-all-will-be-well message, which isn't necessarily something I support. If you have faith, great, but faith should be flexible and reasonable and something that adapts to circumstance. Whatever...even if I agreed with the story philosophically, it fails to deliver its message convincingly anyway. The devil shows up at a church in the form of a baby, he and the Stranger struggle for a while, then the priest of the church smashes the baby to death with a giant cross. A cross may be a symbol of faith, but it is not faith itself, so the real takeaway here is that violence can solve problems better than simple, passive belief. Also, it makes me wonder why the Stranger had such a hard time in the fight if all it took to win was anything big and heavy enough to crush an infant. The imagery of the terrifying, sadistic baby was effectively creepy, and that was where García-López shined as he always does, but it wasn't nearly enough to make up for the other weaknesses and botched landing of the narrative.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Seventeen"
5. Green Lantern/"Priest"
4. Phantom Stranger/"The Devil was a Baby"
3. Superman/"Revelations"
2. Shazam/"My Week in Valhalla: Chapter One"
1. Secret Six/"Standard Allowable Abductions"

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