Monday, July 6, 2015

Weekly Action Comics Weekly Review: Issue #626

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-sixth of those reviews. 
Paul Chadwick cover. Nice. Not the greatest image, but still cool that he did it.
Well I was wrong about the creative team changing again, but who cares? I loved this story. I'm always a fan of narratives where the villain is neither evil nor good, but simply a powerful force who has no sense of morality. This is about an alien who just wants to fix his ship, but because of what he sees on a TV and how little he understands human culture, he kills a bunch of people and steals their materials to use for his repairs. He's terrifying but also somewhat sympathetic, insofar as we know that he means no harm, that he's acting not out of malice but ignorance. And because Green Lantern, in their brief interaction at the start of the story, tries to hard to communicate with this alien, I'm excited to see how this all resolves. It may end up being just another fight, but my hope and expectation based on this initial chapter is that it'll be more about Green Lantern finding a way to explain morals to this alien than simply beating him with violence. It's an awesome set-up wherever it leads, and I dug M.D. Bright's design for the all-wooden spaceship, too. It was recognizably wood and also recognizably a spaceship, neither aspect taking precedence over the other. That plus the close-up on the alien's face right before he eye-blasts a random human to death were the high points of the art here, all of which was as great-looking as any of Bright's previous work on this book.
This story ends as it always had to, with Billy Batson breaking free of his bonds, becoming Shazam, and stomping all over the Sons of Valhalla and their infuriating Captain Nazi. What I liked about it, though, was that even with the largely predictable conclusion, the story managed to swerve a bit at the end, because Shazam has to admit to himself that it wasn't a perfect victory. Sure, he stopped the water supply from being poisoned, but there's damage already done to all the young men who the Sons of Valhalla recruited, Captain Nazi is temporarily defeated but still technically out there, and the death that started all of this can never be reversed. So Shazam did as much as he could, but there's still plenty to be upset by in the big picture, and I appreciate that Shazam openly acknowledges this, and that it doesn't really get him down. He says, "maybe all victories are really only partial ones. But that sure doesn't mean we can afford to stop trying for 'em." That's kind of the perfect attitude for a superhero, able to handle the small losses in the name of fighting for the greater good. In the final panel, there is a teaser for the (at the time) upcoming Shazam monthly comic, and I must say that if I had been reading Action Comics Weekly back when it was new, this would 100% have sold me on the Shazam title, too. It's been a fantastic narrative since the start, and it made me like this character more than anything I've ever seen with him in it before.
Though it only happens in the last two pages, the headline here finally see Rafael again, after he got kidnapped many issues ago. We pretty much knew it was Mockingbird who had him, but now it's confirmed, and the two characters are face-to-face at last, which is bound to lead to some real, solid answers about Mockingbird's identity and motives. There's also a lot of excellent action throughout this story, Frank Springer and Frank McLaughlin getting to shine in a way they haven't previously. The best sequence was Lucas attacking his captors, using his handcuffs and bionic legs both as weapons, really taking full advantage of every part of his situation. The three panels where he uses his metal knee to deflect a bullet and then kicks the shooter in the face with the same leg is excellent. At this point, the Secret Six narrative has found a consistent groove, and a lot of the essential information is on the table, so things are coming to a head in all directions. Bad guys are dropping left and right, we're finally seeing Mockingbird in real life instead of on a screen, and Rafael is a factor again. It's an exciting time, close to the end but with plenty of mystery left to bring things home in an entertaining and enthralling way.
Yet another chapter in which Clark Kent and Bob Galt travel while the villains try to track them, but this time we get a brief burst of action at the end, so things are looking up. Basically, I found this boring and repetitive, the weakest section of this issue overall, but it's a sure thing that next week will be more exciting, so that's something. I did get a chuckle out of Kent being described as a "media stooge," but other than that this seemed like mostly wasted space. I feel like if that last few Superman parts had all been part of the same issue, if this character got 7-8 pages like everyone else instead of just 2, it would've made for a solid, brief, enjoyable road trip portion of this larger narrative. The problem is that splitting it up 2 pages at a time makes each part less effective or compelling. That said, the final panel here is great, particularly the way Kent pushes Galt's head down to protect him. It's a small touch but it fits perfectly with Superman's whole deal and especially his relationship with Galt, who needs extra protection, since he's at risk not just because of his enemies but also from his own faith in Superman. This is still a story I'm enjoying immensely, but this week was just one too many chapters where all that happens is travel without a destination being reached or any new info being revealed.
I am so sick of reviewing this Deadman story, so thank goodness it's over. I have nothing new to say; the problems of this final installment are the same as everything that came before. It's unfocused as hell, right down to the very last, extra confusing and unsatisfying scene. Luckily, this did have the most and the best Kelley Jones artwork so far. Just look at the page above to see how fucking incredible Jones' Deadman looks. He is gloriously bony, ghastly, and fierce. With a stronger script, or even just a story that followed some kind of logical forward progression, this might well have been my favorite part of ever issue of Action Comics Weekly in which is was featured. But Mike Baron doesn't seem to even know what he wants out of this story, which means I don't know what to take from him, so all I can do is enjoy the visuals and be grateful that, for now at least, this is over.
The last page of this Black Canary story is chillingly beautiful. As I sit here typing this, I'm kind of kicking myself for not scanning it, too, but it didn't occur to me until now, and I'm mere minutes away from being done writing this, and I really, really don't feel like getting off the couch just to scan another page. It's separated into three rows, the top of which is the tallest and is sectioned off in thirds. Three long rectangles, each with a close-up of Black Canary's hand holding something against a solid black background: first her bared hand holding her gloves, then her gloved hand holding her belt, and then her gloved hand again holding her wig. This then leads to the second row, a single panel, shorter than the top row but also longer. It also has a black background, and is a short of Black Canary from the chest up, her body facing front and her face looking to the reader's right. She is in full costume now, her blonde wig flowing behind her face and being cut off by the panel's right border. She looks so intense, prepared, intimidating, and heroic, it makes you want to cheer. The final row is another single panel, shorter than either of the rows above and not quite as long as the second, placed at the bottom almost as an afterthought. It's a punctuation mark, a cityscape against a blue background, just a place to hold the caption that says, "Continued..." As insignificant as it is, its inclusion is important, because it gives us a place to come down after the pure awesomeness of what comes before it. It's a wonderfully constructed page and Randy DuBurke's best moment with this character so far, and ditto inker Pablo Marcos and colorist Gene D'Angelo. A perfect page by the whole artistic team. The rest of the story is good, giving us some insight into the murder from last week but still letting some mystery hang over the whole thing. This round of Black Canary has done a much better job of balancing the questions and answers than last time, and this week is no different. But the last page is what I remember most and liked best. It was a doozy.

In conclusion, here are all the stories from this issue, listed from worst to best:
6. Superman/"...Into the Fire!"
5. Deadman/"Finale"
4. Secret Six/"Capitol Offenses"
3. Shazam/Untitled
2. Black Canary/"Knock 'em Dead Part 3"
1. Green Lantern/"Bethel"

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