Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #624

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-fourth of those reviews.
And we're back! Took me a little while to get myself resettled after we returned from Florida, but hopefully now I can do this on a regular weekly basis again, at least for a while.
I read this comic last night, and when I looked at the above title page for this Green Lantern story just now, it took me a second to even remember any of what happened. Mostly, Priest lies to Hal Jordan in an attempt to prove a point about Hal not needing a power battery to charge his ring, but Hal, in his childish, stubborn anger, refuses to learn the lesson. It makes them both seem like jerks, with the most sympathetic characters this issue being the "dreadnaughts," the forces against whom Priest is fighting and whom Hal is training to fight as well. They try to stop Hal from messing with their property, something he only does because of Priest's manipulations, and then he blasts them about with his ring anyway. It does seem like Hal himself is starting to wonder about the morality and honesty of his new ally/coach/captor (Priest), but he doesn't do very much about it yet, so most of this story has them both behaving frustratingly. At least Mark Bright's pencils are extra sharp, with Hal looking particularly strong and bold and consistent, as well as subtly expressive in a few key moments. The page where Hal thinks he's lost his power and is on the brink of suffocating in space is very nicely laid out, Bright including a total of 15 panels (though two of them are all-black and extra skinny) to really hammer out each beat of Hal's struggle.
I am loving this Shazam story, and more specifically Billy Batson's personal brand of heroism. He really goes for it, he uses the full range of his skills as both Billy and Shazam, and he's super wry and funny and sharply observant about the whole thing. Roy and Dann Thomas have made me a huge fan in only two chapters. This week, Batson infiltrates the Aryan Acres camp, pretending to be Duane McCullers, the son of the guy Shazam accidentally killed last time. We get to see how intense this racist organization really is, and just when it seems like they couldn't be any more despicable or brainwashy, at the end we get our first glimpse of Captain Nazi, their homegrown supervillain. I could not be more excited to see Captain Nazi and Shazam go toe-to-toe, because it's bound to be a pretty gloves-off kind of fight, both men truly, deeply hating what the other stands for. I don't know what else to say, really...I'm totally hooked, I can't wait to see what happens next, and I love this protagonist. For a character I've always fairly actively ignored in the past, Shazam is turning out to be exceptionally entertaining in this comic.
This installment of the Secret Six is all built around its final reveal, so there's not a ton of forward progress, but what's here is handled very well. We see Tony reject Shelley's advances for all the right reasons, and then he tells her the story of how he became deaf. As a reporter, he was investigating possible corruption within a Pennsylvania coal miners' union, and he went into one of the mines along with photographer Tom Pearson. Tony says that he and Pearson had "certain tensions" that distracted him, so when they came across a live explosive device, Tony missed it. Tom saw it just in time to push Tony out of the way and save his life, but not his hearing. As for Tom, he died, sacrificing himself to keep Tony alive. That's a rough enough story to hear when Tony tells it, but then at the end, Tony stops by a graveyard to leave flowers on Tom's grave, and the groundskeeper tells a passerby that he comes and does so every month because Tom was his lover. It's a nice little surprise at the end, because the assumption earlier (or at least the one I made) was that Tom and Tony didn't get along, and that this was the source of their tension. To have them be a couple makes their tale all the more tragic, and that detail is delivered in a smart and heartbreaking way. This is the most I've cared personally for a member of the Secret Six so far, and I'd like to see more of their backgrounds down the line if there's room for it.
Because we only get two pages at a time, these Superman section are occasionally boring in the name of getting from point A to point B. This is one of those times, where all that happens is Clark Kent and Bob Galt get on a plane together, and the still-mysterious bad guys see them do it. It's not all that exciting, we don't get any new information about what's happening, and Superman never appears as himself, just as Clark. (Ok, we do get a glimpse of the S-symbol as Clark gets dressed, but I'm not counting that for what I think are obvious reasons). Honestly, my favorite part of this was that in one panel, Clark and Bob pass by a Fresh Juice stand in the airport that seems like a random background detail, but then in the last panel it is the Fresh Juice vendor who is reporting their flight back to the villains, so it turns out he was an enemy agent all along. It's subtle and funny, and I kind of hope it comes back later, though I doubt if it will. Anyway, even when they're dull, these Superman installments are pretty solid, Stern and Swan both very comfortable and on point when working with this character. It's unremarkable, but not at all bad.
A confusing and mostly pointless Deadman chapter, fitting in perfectly with the general aimlessness of this narrative and my subsequent lack of interest. Suddenly, after several issues of zombies, this time the problem is ghosts, but weird ghosts that don't make sense, or do anything, or matter to the larger plot. I feel like Mike Baron is writing this stream-of-consciousness style, just throwing out whatever idea tickles his fancy from moment to moment without worrying about everything having a purpose. The main point here seems to be that Madame Waxahachie figures out how to convince the Brogden Twins' dad that he's dead, but that doesn't do anything to the Twins' power or plans as far as I can tell, nor does it held Deadman and Waxahachie in any obvious way, so who cares? Why include it? That's where I stand on most of the Deadman material this week. It all smacks of randomness and meaninglessness and it pretty much amounts to nothing. At the end, we're back to an army of zombies, so all this ghost stuff is a total waste, filler thrown in inexplicably and frustratingly.
Black Canary is back and as hard to follow as ever. Just like last time, Sharon Wright does this thing where she shows us glimpses of characters we don't know doing things we don't understand, yet still tries to give those moments weight. Maybe there will be more payoff this time around; it's only the first chapter so it's too soon to tell. But I'm admittedly nervous based on how baffling the initial Action Comics Weekly Black Canary narrative ended up being. Plus this opening chapter doesn't even try to explain itself. No matter how much I want to, I could not possible tell you what this story is about yet. The only thing that happened that I fully understood was that at the very end, Black Canary is in some big empty building to do some practice/training, and she accidentally falls through a wooden floor. That's alright as far as cliffhangers go, because our hero is suddenly in unexpected danger, but it's not as good a hook as, say, a proper introduction to an interesting plot would've been. It's not that I hated this, it's that it made me feel nothing, not even boredom. It was basically just a collection of ok-looking comic pages that didn't even connect to each other in any obvious way, a few of which featured a character I like getting herself into trouble, and the rest of which I can't judge yet because I just haven't seen enough. Hopefully some insight will be offered next issue.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Deadman/"Wildwood"
5. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 1"
4. Green Lantern/"Faith!"
3. Superman/"Pin the Tail..."
2. Secret Six/"The Sound of a Silent Heart"
1. Shazam/"Chapter 2"

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