Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #625

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-fifth of those reviews.
Spoiler alert: Deadman does not wrap it all up.
A very weak ending to what was already a not-so-strong Green Lantern story arc. We suddenly cut to a peace talk between the two warring alien races who Hal Jordan is supposed to help out, even though, to the best of my memory, there was no mention of any peace talk before this issue. Predictably, thing devolve into violence pretty fast, so Hal powers up his ring and joins the fray, only to get his ass pretty well handed to him. As chaos ensues around him, he decides to put an end to the madness all at once by letting loose a huge blast from his ring that all but demolishes the building he and the aliens are in. He then strong-arms them into making peace, which is about as obnoxious and ineffective a tactic as I can imagine. Want proof? The story ends with the two alien races agreeing to combine their technology to build a super-advanced weapon, which they will then use to kill Green Lantern. So he united them only their hatred for him, which is a shallow victory at best. I did love Mark Bright's art, which began with a Kirby-esque, New Gods kind of feel while Hal was disguising himself (see above) and then the moment when he flies into the fight in full GL glory is maybe the best panel Bright has drawn in this title so far. It's a drag this narrative is so boring and gets wrapped so quickly, because Bright did a great job with the designs of the aliens, and he seems to just get better and better at drawing Hal with each new issue. So I would've liked to see more from him before this concluded. I'm guessing I will eventually, though, since it seems like the strategy is to always have Green Lantern be part of Action Comics Weekly, but with James Owsley and Bright only doing every other arc. I suppose I'll get a confirmation or denial of that assumption next week.
Still loving this Shazam story all over. It's fairly simple but with just enough complexity to remain compelling, like the unexpected arrival this time of the real Duane McCullers who shows up to out Billy Batson as an impostor. This ends with Billy bound and gagged in a burning gas station, a solid cliffhanger but, again, a straightforward one. And that's true of every detail here. Captain Nazi could not be a more easily understandable villain; it's all right there in his name. But it's precisely because he is played so straight that he works as a bad guy. He's scarier because of his simplicity and single-mindedness, basically just a walking, talking tool for the rest of the baddies to use. If he had a detailed backstory and a full mind of his own, who knows where the story might lead, but when he's just a weapon in the shape of a man, it's easy to imagine the damage he'll cause. I will say that I didn't love the exposition dump that happens in the middle of everything, where one of the white supremacist group's leaders reveals to Billy (as Duane) all the organization's secret plans, past and future. It was a little hard to believe they'd tell all that to one of their kids, especially the one whose father died because of the lies they told, but it was important info for the reader to have and I'm not sure where else it could've been included. At any rate, that wasn't enough to ruin all the good material that surrounded it. There's nothing brain-melting about what's going on in this Shazam tale, on either a story or art level, but it is all very clear, fun, classic superhero fare that I can really sink my teeth into. It's just hitting all the right notes from my perspective, and I look forward to seeing how it ends next week.
This Secret Six section was middle-of-the-line, but that's still better than a lot of what you get from this series. The Secret Six are probably the most reliably good of all the characters featured in the comic, but they rarely ever wow me, either. It's just solid, enjoyable, good-looking espionage action and suspense, and I appreciate that tremendously. This week, there are a lot of moving pieces as the Secret Six and their enemies both prepare to engage with one another. It all feels like it's building to something pretty explosive, and I'm eager to see that, but I'm also enjoying the slow burn as we get there. Martin Pasko does a good job of reminding us of the previously established facts and introducing new ones at the same time and in a very natural way, so that every line of dialogue is believable even if it's just recapping old info. He also juggles the large cast skillfully, as do artists Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin. Everybody has something to do this week, and they all look good doing it, and even with all the location changes and the numerous characters involved, it's all easy to follow. Again, there's nothing here that's truly amazing, but it's all better than average for Action Comics Weekly, and that fact is kind of amazing in its own right. I always enjoy the Secret Six, and this is no exception.
Sometimes this Superman story gets too mundane, too hung up on showing us every tiny bit of narrative progress. This is definitely one of those times, with Superman and Bob Galt still traveling, having left point A last time and not even making it to point B this time. They do land their plane and rent a car for the rest of their journey, and that is significant because the car rental company employees are members of the villains' group so they plant a tracking device on the vehicle Supes and Galt rent, meaning all of this is still clearly leading to some kind of significant confrontation between Superman and the baddies. But for an entire chapter to just be that they rent a car from their enemies seems weak at best, and pointlessly wasteful at worst. Also, it is so much like last week's chapter, where we saw them get onto a plane and take off while one of the bad guy henchman reported it back to base. The last two weeks worth of Superman have had their final panels be a low-level villain calling into the higher-ups to give them an update on Superman and Galt's location, and I can't help but feel like all of this could've been condensed into one two-page section rather than two. But hey, at least things are moving forward and not just standing still, meaning that, as exceedingly dull and uneventful as this was, we are technically that much closer to seeing something truly exciting happen when Superman and the villains finally collide.
At long last, Kelley Jones gets to actually draw a whole lot of Deadman is his natural form, and boy was it (just barely) worth the wait. Jones nails it, stretching out Deadman's body so it is eerily long and gaunt, and there's a nice fluidity to his movements that really captures the undead spirit walking through the living world aspect of it all. Plus there are a few panels where Deadman is legitimately terrifying, which fits in with this horror narrative perfectly. I still find it difficult to give one single damn about what's actually happening in this story, although I did enjoy watching two zombies get snippy and violent with each other over their egos. I always prefer a zombie with a personality over the mindless, shambling monsters you usually see, so that got a smile out of me. But the Brogden twins and their slow-moving plan to take over New Orleans with an undead army are extra super boring, especially since the twins themselves don't seem all that invested in it. They're just, like, having fun being semi-annoying ghosts inhabiting the bodies of two young sisters, and the rest of their scheme seems secondary to the fun they're having being alive again. Still, if Kelley Jones is going to draw Deadman like this, the rest of what happens barely matters. I would read eight pages of Deadman learning how to dance if he looked this amazing. That might actually be better than what's on the page. With the Brogden's moving into new host bodies at the end, and nobody else around for Deadman to possess, I am really crossing my fingers that he spends the entire next chapter in his true form, looking awesome in Jones' hands and, with any luck, being a badass horror hero to boot. Even without caring about the plot, I am excited to see more Deadman in this book for the first time in a long time, all thanks to Jones' fucking perfect depiction.
While I still have almost no sense of what the Black Canary narrative is about, I could at least follow each individual scene this time around, and it all looked fantastic. Randy DuBurke has been a great fit for this character and her world all along, but he added a dash of a certain dreamlike quality to his visuals this time that really struck a chord for me. It added a lot of atmosphere, be it the quiet calm of Black Canary resting after falling through a wooden floor, or the creeping dread as the reader realizes that the unnamed woman in the hotel bar is going to murder the unnamed man from the same bar she's been flirting with the whole time. We still don't understand the reasons for this killing, or how it relates to the guy sitting alone getting drunk and reading a letter composed of cut up magazines that promises he will soon be dead. Nor do we know how any of this ties into Black Canary. But unlike the character's first arc in this title, or even the first chapter of this arc from last issue, here I find I don't mind the mystery and, in fact, that it adds to my enjoyment. I think, again, this is mostly do to DuBurke's drawing. He makes everything so beautiful, detailed, and moody that I can get pulled into each moment even without seeing how they're tied together. We'll need answers and context eventually, of course, but for now it's more than enough to simply steep in these dark, heavy, isolated moments and let them be just what they are and no more.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"Out of the Frying Pan..."
5. Green Lantern/"The Law"
4. Secret Six/"For Whom the Toll Builds"
3. Deadman/"Tickle, Tickle"
2. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 2"
1. Shazam/Untitled

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