Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Comic Book Review: Action Comics #19

After the conclusion to Grant Morrison's wonderful run on Action Comics, it came as quite a disappointment when I heard upcoming writer Andy Diggle was leaving the title because of editorial interference. I don't know exactly what kind of interference was happening - but this first issue certain looks like it was messed with, on some level, to meet the set-upon expectations of DC's "WTF" month. See - Diggle's first issue was suppose to be issue #17. That got pushed back, and then again with issue #18, as Grant Morrison needed more room to conclude his epic. So suddenly Diggle's first issue needed a "WTF" moment to slap on the cover -- and this is what we got:

Really, Jimmy Olsen is Superman's greatest enemy? Stupid as it sounds - I believe this Jimmy Olsen/Enemy idea was forced into the story, were it otherwise didn't belong. All just so DC could pull a lame "gotcha" moment. At $3.99, readers deserve better than this. Heck - on page count alone - clocking in at 25 pages of story, this issue underwhelms in both terms of content and quality.

Still, lets look past it - and see if there's something redeemable about this issue? The issue begins a year ago, in the fictional war-torn country of Qurac. Lois Lane is celebrating with Clark her achievements -- which, quite frankly, instant sounds cartoonish -- as she not only got an interview with a captive rebel leader, but managed to rescue dozens of political prisoners while she was at it. How did she do this Super Heroic feat of reporting? She left the safety of the hotel, unlike all the other foreign correspondents. (Any real-life foreign correspondents feel a bit insulted?) It flat out sounds outlandish, and immediately takes you out of the story. There a bit of throw-away romantic tension between Lois and Clark, but is quickly thrown away as Superman is called into action. Lois, though, meet some other reporter, Jon Carroll. I know DC is trying to take it slow, not having Clark and Lois dating - but it annoys me how often that means some other guy is getting in Clarks way. Can't they just be competitive reporters -- does Lois really have to one-up Clark every time, with a new man in her life?

Whatever - this issue quickly moves onto the action, which it thankfully does very well. Its not a complex or long fight - but Tony Daniel's art really works in these moments, as Superman faces off against hovering assault tanks. They give Superman a run for his money with rail gun shots, hellstrike missiles, and sonic attacks - but Superman forges through and takes out the assaulting machines. One of the pilots of the ship lands safely from the wreckage, and takes Superman by surprise because he looks so much like Jimmy Olsen. It's a similarity - nothing more. (Surprise!!!) The pilot isn't able to give up any info on who hired him to do this, as his body explodes into flames; sub-dermal thermite was injected into him, to make sure he never talked.

We move on to the person behind these minions -- that of Lex Luthor. A physiatrist is trying to give an evaluation of Luthor, but is giving an unsatisfactory diagnosis by labeling him Psychotic Megalomaniac. Luthor disagrees, and it then becomes clear that this psychiatrist is actually a prisoner of Luthors - playing some kind of game, trying to get a diagnosis that suits him. Its actually an interesting moment - and in-tune with Luthor and how dangerous he can be. We are then shown how Lex's plan against Superman worked. The robotic tanks where merely a decoy, to hide a dangerous nanites, shot into Superman's body during the battle. Made of Kryptonite, the nanites were able to enter his body - but their true function is not merely to poison him - but to rewrite his Kryptonian DNA. Three weeks later, the nanites are activated, and Superman crashes into the ground - his hand radiating a sickly green - with quickly spreads!

Now, to answer and point something out -- this issue made it clear these events are one year prior to the current time-line. Why does that need to be established? Because in the pages of "Superman", modern-day Lex Luthor has been introduced in a specially designed prison, bearing scars on his face. Solicitations hinted that this storyline might be where those scars are explained - but I'm not entirely hopeful about everything matching up that well. Proof evidenced by Andy Diggles swift departure - I don't think a definitive road-map has been made for the Superman titles.

This issue has many, many faults. In the end, though, it manages to be half-way decent. I do wonder, how much of this is really Andy Diggle's writing, and how much is editorial re-writing? Simply put - the art of Tony Daniel really saves the issue. The downside, though, is that this 25-page story becomes extremely short. Again - I expected better from DC, especially for $3.99. I'm more forgiving, for now - as I'm considering continuing to read this storyline. I'm hopeful DC will announce a new writer to come onto the series. If not, I might drop it after a few issues. Lets at least see what Andy Diggle set up, and wether Daniel can pull the rest off by himself.

As for wether this issue is worth you're time? It is new-reader friendly, with nothing too confusing muddling the waters. The action is quick and satisfying -- but, I only wish, the story had been as robust as the art was. This can be a good jumping on point -- but, in terms of value, the $2.99 Superman title, with Scott Lobdell, provides a more compact and longer-lasting story, and only with 20 pages. That Superman title, though, is more continuity-filled. So there are pluses and minuses to each title. (Or, just wait for Superman Unchained, by Scott Snyder a Jim Lee -- where you're guaranteed to get your money's worth!)

This image is promoted at the end of the issue, with the tag-line "Things to Come..." While I don't mind a different Superman costume - I really simply adore the current Jim Lee designed Red and Blue outfit. Any wardrobe change HAS to be temporary. Whatever the future storylines coming down the pike - they will be without Andy Diggle. I really wish he had gotten more of chance to spread his wings -- as this issue might be the sum total of his work on the series. I have hopes the series and story will improve. If they don't, I will quit the series. I'm simply being hopeful here - so, with or without Diggle, I hope DC doesn't let me down!

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