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The ’90s Revisited: Guy Gardner #12

90s_revisited

guy_gardner_0012Yesterday’s Sins 2 of 4: Dream a Deadly Dream

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: Terry Beatty
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Colorist: Anthony Tollin
Asst. Editor: Eddie Berganza
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1993
Cover Price: $1.25

We open on a scene of an "evil" Guy Gardner taking on other familiar heroes: Batman, Flash, Hawkman, with already-defeated Aquaman, Sentinel, and Blue Beetle on the ground around him. Narration lets us see that this is actually Guy considering what it might be like for the other heroes to see what he’s TRULY capable of, when the Draal unleash his double on them. That he–the REAL Guy Gardner–has held back and kept himself in check, though they haven’t treated him with the respect duly his for that. In the "present," Guy begins to form a plan with the other Lanterns…while in the course of a couple more encounters with the creature siphoning his memories, we get two scenes of Guy’s past: first, seeing that his brother Mace is still his father’s favorite, to Guy’s exclusion; and then that Big Brother Mace isn’t nearly as perfect as his father or younger brother believed him to be. Then, acting on the start of an escape plan, Guy and the other Lanterns fight, which brings the Draal in to "protect" their star resource–Guy himself. Of course, this gets him put back under for more memory-siphoning…but he aims to use it to his advantage. As we see a young Guy (though a few years older than the previous glimpse) driving a stolen car and picking up a police tail…the younger Guy is surprised when the present-day-Guy pops into the seat beside him…having inserted his present self into the memory!

Dixon‘s story begins to feel particularly formulaic, and the Guy-gets-captured-by-memory-viewing-aliens can be rather cliché. It becomes a framing device for isolated flashbacks…rather than our just simply being given an entire story set IN the past. But this is Dixon, this comic is from the ’90s, and for as clichéd and caricature-like I’d seen Guy initially…this story is quite "deep," really grounding and humanizing the character, inserting this detailed backstory that really helps explain Guy’s cockiness and attitude and driving need to seem like the best, and so on. That the "current" story is largely a generic framing sequence adds to the accessibility of this story–it’s not particularly drawing on continuity points that’d be overly important to the understanding of the story. You just know that Guy is in a fix, and while he and fellow prisoners seek escape, we’re seeing glimpses of his past as the alien creature sucks the memories from him to feed into the duplicate Guy that’ll be the Draal’s "sleeper agent" on Earth.

Visually, this is again a solid, consistent take on the characters. Everyone looks fine as they are, and familiar and distinct, with nothing weird or out there or such that takes me out of the story while reading. This is simply ’90s Guy, embodying the character as he was at the time.

I continue to enjoy the story as it unfolds, and though I somewhat knew it was coming, I either didn’t recall or know for sure that Guy (present day) would pop into his own memories to interact with his past self, so that’s got some fun potential, to say nothing of loosely firing up my own imagination on the topic in general beyond just this comic or its story.

Once more, a solid single issue and well worth getting as part of this four-part story (Yesterday’s Sins aka Guy Gardner: Year One). While the previous issue could be picked up "cold" and be relatively accessible, as the second part of the story, this one’s less so. However, this adds to my feeling overall that one can pick up this story arc by itself or as a first introduction to the ongoing Guy Gardner and do quite well with it!

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The ’90s Revisited: Guy Gardner #11

90s_revisited

guy_gardner_0011Yesterday’s Sins 1 of 4: Back in the Days

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: Terry Beatty
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Colorist: Anthony Tollin
Asst. Editor: Eddie Berganza
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1993
Cover Price: $1.25

Picking up this issue is like picking up a piece of history–literally and figuratively, as well as some shades of variance on the meaning for me personally. My earliest conscious recollection of Guy is one of the Eclipso Annuals back in 1992 (Adventures of Superman Annual #4, I believe–as I learned after the fact, the ‘transition’ for the character back from his prestige-format limited series where he GOT the gold ring to begin with). And his #1 issue–the first of this very series–was one of several issues I got at a Waldenbooks while out with a friend and his mom, using money my dad gave me (though I got 6 or so comics and had some change left, I recall his being a bit surprised he didn’t get MORE change…but that’s a story for another time).

Getting to the issue itself–the branding is given the Year One treatment…at the time, very much cashing in on the likes of Batman Year One, but still this was one of the earlier instances of the "branding," when it was still rather distinct and not a line-wide shorthand.

Despite the cover branding…the story itself is actually titled Yesterday’s Sins, and though it FITS the Year One stuff, it is not simply a story told entirely with the early version of the character…it just happens to touch strongly ON his past!

We open on the capturing by some other aliens of an alien Green Lantern–Graf Toren. Graf’s grabbed by some ugly Beholder-looking aliens that are very much aware of the Green Lanterns’ weakness to the color yellow. We then shift to Guy Gardner fighting minions of Kobra with General Glory. (I have some vague recollection of the character in relation to Guy…from a previous reading of this story or some Who’s Who or some other mash-up of prior DC half-knowledge). The two emerge victorious…the younger Guy showing off, while the older General is stricter and trying to get Guy to keep it closer to the book. The aliens that got Graf are watching, and teleport Guy to their ship, where he is left highly disoriented by the suddenness and surprise of it all…as well as what he sees! Before long, the stunned Guy finds himself with some de-ringed Green Lanterns, and learns he’s a prisoner of the Draal. The aliens are apparently replacing Lanterns with replicants…but need to capture the original and siphon their memories in order to enable the duplicates to pass muster for whatever mission they’re being sent on. Guy gets a short taste of the memory-siphoning process…which basically provides us as readers a look back to Guy’s life as a kid. An insight into his early life and (frustrating to say the least) childhood. (This is where the Year One designation apparently kicks in/earns some appropriateness). As would be expected, Guy’s none to thrilled at all this, and is not about to just roll over and take what the Draal are giving out, whether or not any of the other Lanterns are with him on the matter.

To me, Guy was always largely a caricature of sorts…a character I was loosely familiar with, but never particularly a fan of, nor overly knowledgeable about. He’s just some cocky jerk that happens to do the "right thing" even if he’s not the "typical" do-gooder hero-type.

Here, we begin to see him made a bit more human, given more of a backstory and motivation, elements in a past that (especially to the adult me) really would "explain" a lot about the character’s "present-day" self. That this comic is from 1993 kinda screws with my perception of time-frame for Guy’s flashbacks. I’m not exactly sure the character’s "present age," but would assume he’s at least late-20s or early-30s. Which in 1993 would put his childhood in the ’60s…while in 2017 present-day my mind "naturally" wants to put 20-some years in the past as 1980s!

I’m pretty sure this is the first issue of the series written by Chuck Dixon…and his name is very much a selling point to me, especially on ’90s material. And in what feels (to me) like typical fashion…this has a certain level of high quality to it FOR his writing. I’ve read a few issues of this series over the years…years after publication, not necessarily in order, and never the complete series, and this just feels like a solid Dixon ’90s story from this first issue.

The art is not bad, either. Nothing about it really stood out as some glaring weirdness, no wonky anatomy, and nothing that just stunned me with horribleness. Which is my way of saying that I didn’t notice the art all that much…I just enjoyed the story as I read the issue. The visuals are rather familiar, as I HAVE read some of this series in the past, and there’s no overly fancy attempt to be "experimental" in depicting Guy or any of the other characters.

This just makes for a single, solid issue that can largely be picked up cold, and one can figure characters out as they go along. I get something extra out of it for being aware of the character, his ’90s depiction, and all that. But in this particular reading, I jumped in cold–no reviewing prior issues, no covers of other issues to scan past to refresh myself. Just happened to have the four-issue arc this starts off, and jumped in to see where it takes me!

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From the Archives: The Atom and Hawkman #46

atom_and_hawkman_0046Bye Bye Birdie!

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ryan Sook & Fernando Pasarin
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Color: Hi Fi
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza
Cover: Ryan Sook
The Atom/Ray Palmer and Hawkman created by: Gardner Fox
Published by: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I’ve never been a huge fan specifically of these two characters, though I’m familiar with them and have read a number of comics they’ve appeared in. They’ve just tended to be on the outer edges of the books I read, showing up for the occasional guest-starring role or cameo, or as part of a team in a team book. I’d read the Return of Hawkman arc in JSA a few years back, and a few issues of his own series heading into Infinite Crisis. The Atom I feel I’m most familiar with from Identity Crisis, and material I’ve read online about both Ray and the new Atom and their adventures post-Infinite Crisis.

That said…this issue was quite enjoyable, rather accessible, and yet seems to have plenty for fans with ties to the characters going much deeper and much further back than mine.

In the "tradition" of many of the Blackest Night tie-ins, we open with a recap sequence of sorts, focusing on the character’s life, leading up to their death. This time, though, it’s a recap of the character’s compassion, and why Ray Palmer–The Atom–was chosen by the Indigo ring for recruitment into the Indigo Tribe. The Black Lantern Hawks (as Hawkman and Hawkgirl were killed and raised into the Black Lantern Corps way back in Blackest Night #1) then attack, and there’s the usual discourse between Black Lantern and Hero, as Hawkman tries to get Atom riled up and his heart ripe for the taking. As the fight wraps up for the present, Indigo-1 tasks Atom with protecting her–keeping her alive–while she contacts other Indigos across the universe who can reach the other Lantern Corps (so they know to get to Earth, where all the Black Lanterns are headed). While protecting Indigo-1, Atom is forced to recall the events that lead off Identity Crisis, as he again faces the horror of what Jean did to attempt to win him back. As the issue closes out, Ray makes an important request–one that seems quite obvious, and is something I would love to see accomplished.

This is definitely one of the better Blackest Night tie-ins. It seems that this issue’s events are more important and meaningful to the overall story than most of the tie-ins. While we do get some Atom/Hawkman interaction, it hardly seems like enough to satisfy expectation. It is, however, appropriate enough to an issue of a two-character book, as it’s natural that one or the other character may take more of a leading role, depending on the given story. As what is essentially a one-shot, though, it’s a bit misleading.

The issue having an important tie to the overall story is something that I suspect comes from this being written by Johns, essentially the orchestrator of Blackest Night in the grand scheme of things. The story touches on a number of elements–Ray’s role with the Indigos, a demonstration of what he can do with the Indigo ring, a confrontation with the Hawks, some resolution to things with Ray and setting a new course for the character–which makes for a very strong read. The recap at the beginning did more to clue me in on the past of the Atom than anything else I’d yet read (and I’m pretty sure answered my unasked question as to the premise of Sword of the Atom).

Sook‘s art is high quality as well, and does a great job of getting across the visual aspect of the story. It just fits the story, and worked very well for me.
All in all, a very strong one-shot issue within the Blackest Night arc. Though it remains to be seen how much–or what part(s) of this issue get recapped in the main mini…this seems to be a tie-in very much worth getting if you’re following Blackest Night, even if you’re not generally snagging the tie-ins.

Definitely recommended.

From the Archives: Adventures of Superman #648

adventures_of_superman_0648Look…Up In The Sky

Summary: Lois Lane reports on the destruction of Bludhaven and the response of the super-heroes.
By: Lois Lane
Photos by: Jimmy Olsen, Karl Kerschl and Renato Guedes
Additional Reporting by: Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilipis, Christina Weir and Jami Bernard
Graphic Design by: Richard & Tanya Horie
Copy Design: Rob Leigh
Editors: Eddie Berganza and Jeanine Schaefer
Editor in Chief: Perry White
Cover Art: Karl Kerschl, colors by Dave McCaig
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This issue is another logoed Infinite Crisis crossover issue. This is where we get the immediate response/fallout to the destruction wrought by Chemo in Infinite Crisis # 4. Rather than dialogue and seeing "inside" the heroes’ reactions to that event, we get it from the perspective of some citizen of the DCU reading reporter Lois Lane’s article covering the heroes’ response as she observed it.

This makes for an interesting perspective, if not entirely original. The "narration" is simply Lois’ story, which provides the only words found in the otherwise "silent" issue. One moment that stands out to me offhand is a full-page panel of Green Lantern amidst the wreckage, obviously deeply pained over the event. I believe this would be apparent even without Lois’ observation.

My initial reaction to this being where the plot thread gets immediately dealt with was surprise–given that many characters have "signature cities" that are often as much a character as any humanoid supporting cast member. Shouldn’t this be dealt with in another book? Except of course, Superman being Superman is obviously going to help. And given that Superman’s so powerful (here, the specific focus is on his invulnerability), it’s not like the character’s going to stand by and let others die just to maintain some "image" or such.

The style of this issue remind me of the Superman issue (# 79, I believe) that was told in this same way, except it was Ron Troupe’s story scattered in the otherwise silent issue which showed the Cyborg Superman stopping an attempt in the White House on the president’s life, and that president’s endorsement of the Cyborg as the "real" Superman. Given the destruction the characters rally to face, I’m also reminded of the "Black Cover Spider-Man Issue" (Amazing Spider-Man v.2 # 36, I believe).
Getting the story simultaneously after-the-fact (Lois’ words) and as it unfolds (the visuals) works pretty well–and for the most part might be the only way to truly cram so much into one issue. If there was dialogue with us seeing/hearing the characters talking to each other and coordinating and whatnot, this issue would have be be double, triple, or even quadruple-sized.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that there are four people listed for the writing–three beyond regular writer Greg Rucka. I can give the benefit of the doubt on it to the writing style and giving voice to Lois’ writing, as journalistic writing is not quite the same entity as character-writing and may be more collaborative.
Visually, there’s a fair amount of blank-space on these pages, as the images are pretty much contained to panels, and those panels’ layout tends to somewhat resemble photos placed on a fixed-size page. Though the art is not by a single person, it works for me here.

I found myself reading the text, using the visuals almost as an abstract, seeing them but not diving in deeply. Letting the visuals enhance what I was reading.
No real complaints with the art–it’s not perfect by any means, and this issue continues a trend of having "extras" credited, assumably to get an issue out exactly on-time (given what it covers, this issue pretty much had to be out right after Infinite Crisis # 4. Same week, and someone reading this issue spoils a major part of that issue; two weeks after, and it’s old news compared to books that also touch on the ramifications.

Other than describing how some of the mess is specifically cleaned up quickly (which might be mentioned in other books–I don’t know), this issue doesn’t strike me as essential reading. It will enhance one’s reading of the overall Infinite Crisis event, though. The issue doesn’t even have to be a Superman one–this could almost have been labeled "The Daily Planet – The Day After Infinite Crisis # 4" and been a "special" or "supplement" issue.

My initial reaction to the issue was that it wasn’t all that good, but it is actually quite well done, and serves its purpose as a followup to one of the more catastrophic events in the DCU.

Action Comics #976 [Review]

action_comics_0976Superman: Reborn Part 2

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, Trevor Scott
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Patrick Gleason & John Kalisz
Associate Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Special Thanks To: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Late May 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

[ SPOILER WARNING! This issue WILL BE SPOILED below… ]

I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, yet I still managed to be: after three issues building toward something HUGE…this felt very anti-climactic. Rather than coming off as "organic," to me–at least on this initial read-through–it came off as rather forced and after-the-fact than an organic, planned development.

[ I really will be spoiling this below, so consider this your final warning…spoilers after this line are preceded by plenty of SPOILER WARNING to absolve me of feeling guilty for discussing the issue in detail plainly. ]

We open on Mxy going off on Superman…or at least A Superman. In Mxy’s pocket-existence where Jon’s being held, A Superman and Lois have arrived. Jon recognizes them…they fail to recognize him. While Mxy revels in the chaos, even taunting this Superman, Jon realizes with horror that the woman he believes to be his mother doesn’t even remember him. While two spheres of blue energy approach Jon, Mxy opts to leave, warning of someone far beyond even himself as the cause of everything. That he–Mxy–was merely taking advantage of a situation already present. Channeling power from the blue ‘ghosts’, Jon manages to oppose Mxy, who offers him one last chance to leave this existence. Jon refuses, and Mxy leaves. As the reality crumbles, the blue energy merges with the New 52 Superman and Lois, restoring their memories of Jon and their lives together…and all reality re-knits, merging what we knew from pre-Flashpoint and the New 52 into one continuity, with Superman simply…Superman. But married to Lois, and with their son–Jon–as Superboy. Somewhere else, Mr. Oz looks on and marvels at the situation, at the love shared between Lois, Clark, and Jon, and how it unites realities. And finally, a hint that there’s someone–and/or someTHING–else out there still influencing things.

I feel like this was telegraphed a mile off, so to speak. New 52 Superman and the "real" Superman would merge, their realities fused/merged into one, to simply BE Superman, supposedly no more "divide" and smooth over stuff.

It doesn’t really work for me, as far as the in-story stuff goes. I could even have probably "bought" the notion of Mxy re-setting stuff somehow, though usually his machinations are undone when he disappears. Just continuing to merely "hint" at something else out there is getting old, and I’m ready to just be TO whatever ‘event’ that will be, and get beyond it. To just have A single DC Universe, even if it’s actually a multiverse, and either the New 52 completely wiped away or officially merged and just have a set UNIVERSE that is what it is and get on with stuff.

Visually, parts of this issue were quite "off" for my preferences, but not bad. I really like the "new costume" for Superman, essentially being the classic costume minus the trunks, and a modified (solid) belt (instead of the dots of red thing that’s been going on awhile). We seemed to have pre-Flashpoint Lois and Clark turned into energy and merged with the New 52 versions…but then a sort of switch up with the new costume, and it seems that Jon’s been given additional power (I had it in my head that he couldn’t fly, and he seems to be, here).

This resolution and issue as a whole seems to be an attempt to bring stuff together and "unify" fans of either Superman by making it so that both are one and the same–that New 52 Superman was always part of THE Superman, and the pre-Flashpoint Superman we had from Convergence, Superman: Lois and Clark, and the past ten months of Rebirth was not himself whole, but is now, with the merging of the new. This combined with stuff from last November’s Superman Annual would seem to have stuff in line for that, to firmly establish Superman is Superman and now whole, PERIOD.

I guess time will tell.

There’s still plenty of dancing around the fine details…even with the double-pager showing stuff from "both" continuities, it’s hard to tell–for me, at least–exactly what’s what, or supposed to be what–and what’s just looking different because of the artist’s rendition.

While I’ll grant that the "new costume" deserved its full-page "reveal" and the double-page spread of the "new history" deserved the room, I’m also a bit disappointed at how quick a read this was.

My feelings on this issue are certainly victim to the "hype machine," and to wanting to see some overt reference to Superman Red/Superman Blue, to SOMEthing more with the notion, at least, of Red and Blue, and some overt explaining of things. Instead, a lot seems to have been left to the visuals, to whatever the reader wants to interpret. Maybe it’s stuff to be explored in coming issues–but to consider this a conclusion seems to understate things, and though I certainly appreciate NOT having stories stretched out, I think Superman Reborn certainly deserves to be at least another chapter or two, to really lay things out and concretely state what’s what and when and all that.

Superman Reborn started strong, with a lot of epic possibility and potential. Sadly, it–at least for me–ends far short of what I’d hoped for, underwhelming me despite itself. I trust that stuff will play out in coming weeks and months, with further details and ramifications touched on…and hopefully this mainly just means that we’re NOT locked into "the graphic novel" of exactly X issues to a story with hard stop/starts. Perhaps this is just a "main event" and the full details WILL be revealed here and there–organically–as things continue.

I had to go to two different shops to find a copy of this issue, and got the last copy at the second shop…so I’m pretty sure that a number of people have been grabbing this issue even if they hadn’t been getting previous issues. Perhaps the nostalgia, more likely the hype–particularly from sites like Bleeding Cool–and jumping on for whatever this one issue would hold, regardless of continuity. Story-wise, art-wise, it’s a solid enough issue (note my feelings of its failings above) well worth getting if you’re already following either/both titles or this particular story.

But it’s not worth the "hype," at least on one read-through and thinking on it. That said, I won’t be surprised to have my feelings on it changed by further thought, analysis, and points of view…this post simply being my initial thoughts/reaction to the issue on a single read-through.

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Superman (2016) #19 [Review]

superman_0019Superman: Reborn Part 3

Story: Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Pencils: Patrick Gleason
Inks: Mick Gray
Colors: John Kalisz
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Patrick Gleason and John Kalisz
Assistant Editor: Andrew Marino
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Special Thanks To: Dan Jurgens
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Late May 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

Well, it’s safe to say I had too-high expectations for this issue, coming off the previous issue AND Action Comics #975. Though this issue advanced stuff a bit, it did not on initial reading hold up to my own internal "hype."

With the villain revealed, we basically get to see Clark and Lois being made to forget their life together, their son Jon, and to play along to Mxyzptlk’s game. As the issue ends, we have a bit of a throwback on stuff, that can kinda call into question this arc’s title and make one really wonder what’s going to happen in the fourth/"final" chapter before we head into April’s DC stuff.

Yeah, that’s all a bit vague, especially for a review, but this issue was all over the place–capitalizing on Mxy’s reality-bending powers and inclinations. And this is my "snap judgment," initial thoughts after having just read the issue, taking it–as I try to all my reviews–on a first reading without getting overly deep into it. My preference, my style.

The story picks up from the first half of Action 975, and seems to almost ignore the secondary Dini story. It also seems slightly out of nowhere to me, like I missed something. We had intro/setup stuff and the building of tension in the first chapter, getting things rolling. The second chapter brought that stuff to a head and revealed the villain of the story as well as paying off most of a year’s worth of build. I’ve plenty of anticipation and suspicions as to possibilities for how this story might end…so this "middle chapter" that’s neither setup nor conclusion is somewhat stuck in place, unable to conclude stuff, but not much new to be able to put out there.

The imagery is a bit wacky and trippy…which perfectly fits with Mxy and his powers and such. But it also made for a too-quick read; I rarely "like" multiple splash pages or double-page splashes and find them to be a huge "cheat" story AND page-wise in modern comics. That said, the spread with the game board worked quite well for me, all things considered.

This issue does not "sell" me on Mxy’s legitimate motivation for stuff…where it actually made sense in the Action Comics chapter, here he just comes off as petty and mean…I didn’t feel any of the "heart" of his motivation here.

I’m quite certain virtually no one–especially in this day and age–is gonna be inclined to "jump in" with the 19th issue of a series, labeled chapter 3 of a story. This is not something for a first-time reader, but is an issue for the ongoing reader, or the reader who’s dipping their toe in for this ARC.

In a way, this issue feels nearly "skippable" or extraneous, though I’m sure some small "details" will play into the conclusion and whatever status quo going forward from next week’s chapter. I would not actually recommend skipping this issue, but I’d highly recommend that anyone thinking of picking this up also pick up the first two chapters with plans to grab next week’s fourth chapter!

I was also slightly incorrect in my "assumption" of the covers for this story: they ARE going to join together in a 4-panel connected image…however, rather than a 2 x 2 configuration, they’re a 4-panel "tall" configuration (which is shown in the text piece on the final page of the issue, after the story itself).

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Action Comics #975 [Review]

action_comics_0975Superman: Reborn Part 2

Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Patrick Gleason & John Kalisz
Associate Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Special Thanks To: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Early May 2017
Cover Price: $3.99

[ SPOILER WARNING! This issue WILL BE SPOILED below…even the Second Feature’s title may give it away! ]

While this issue’s cover did not grab me the way Superman #18’s cover did last week, it had its own way to stand out, in the form of the large S-shield on blue as the main background, and the shadowed Clark Kent tugging his shirt open to reveal the classic "bleeding-S" first used with 1992’s Doomsday! / The Death of Superman. I didn’t even consciously notice until later that the title’s logo–Action Comics–was done as a white outline, virtually disappearing with the rest of the cover standing as itself. The green bar on the left seemed a contrast to last week’s issue…but when I held the issues together, they fit together perfectly, pretty much as I’d expected (except I’d figured chapters 1 & 2 would be top-left/top-right with chapters 3 & 4 as bottom-left/bottom right, respectively rather than top-left/bottom-left so far).

And these are–to best of my knowledge–STANDARD covers, the NON-variant covers, just being covers in and of themselves, no fancy tricks, no bags or accessories or foil or die-cut cardstock or 3-D lenticular/hologram stuff.

Just a 38-story-page issue (one 20-page lead story and an 18-page companion piece) for only $1 more…making an EXTRA-SIZED anniversary issue cost…the same as a 20-page Marvel comic.

Since virtually the beginning of Rebirth, the "human Clark Kent" has been a mystery. Things took a turn toward the creepy with the character lately as it became particularly obvious there was something "off" about the character, beyond our not knowing him any better than characters in the comics. The "slow burn" of that "subplot"–a through line in the books for most of a year–finally comes out in this issue as we learn the identity of the mysterious doppelganger.

After Jon disappeared, Superman and Lois go immediately to "the Other Clark"’s apartment seeking their son. Jon’s nowhere to be found…but the couple meet Clark and "our" Clark finally realizes who they’re facing. Though the figure is revealed…we get a few pages of shape-shifting with Superman glimpsing a number of prominent figures in his rogues gallery. Ultimately, a new threat arises, as we’re left on a cliffhanger for the next chapter exactly at the staples of the issue.

[ SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! ]

I generally–and this time is not an exception–find it interesting when I find myself guilty of something a main character is accused of. In this case, I did not see this coming, though in retrospect, I should have. I think I "got" it right before the first of the splash pages featuring other villains, as things all clicked into place, making sense across the months in a believable way that I really dig…though the particulars still have some shaking out to be done.

Mr. Mxyzptlk is our "Mystery Clark," having used his powers on HIMSELF, even, to complete the act–forgetting himself who he was and truly believing himself to be the genuine article. However, the imp is highly cheesed-off at being "forgotten" by Superman…an accusation I realized immediately I’d been guilty of myself…being unable to remember the last time I read a "new" story with the character! As punishment, Mxy will have Lois and Clark forget Jon even exists, though they won’t forget Mxy!

Art-wise, I have mixed feelings on this first half of the issue. The visuals are quite good, and I mostly like ’em…there’s just something slightly off, that I’m apparently not used to…or not consciously, anyway. Mahnke‘s style is very good, but some of the faces–particularly the villain splash-pages–seemed a bit off, and it’s definitely unsettling to see Mxy in this way…reminding me slightly of the character’s tone in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? without going quite that "sharp" and such.

Story-wise, this seemed way too short a segment, with a good quarter of the issue being a villains-show-off (#975, anniversary issue, lets see a bunch of best-known Superman villains!) and not really much plot advancement to the Reborn story other than actually pulling off "the mask" so we could see who’d be the antagonist of the rest of the story, or so it seems.

This is made up for by the Second Feature.

action_comics_0975_blogtrailer

The Man in the Purple Hat

Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Ian Churchill
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Assoc. Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza

Mr. Mxyzptlk has Jon Kent as his prisoner. We learn that Clark had told Jon stories of him when he was younger…though Mxy was simply "The Man in the Purple Hat" or to Jon, "Ruppletat." Mxy reveals what he’s been up to for years–having been captured, held, and tortured by Mr. Oz, keeping him "off the table" while Oz’s plan for Superman has unfurled. Mxy had contented himself initially with the sincere hope that Superman would be along to save him within days (when Mxy wouldn’t show up at Day 90, surely Supes would check into why the imp hadn’t reappeared for the traditional every-90-days challenge!) Time passed and no one ever showed up to rescue him…so he had to escape on his own. Once he did, he saw a way to kill two birds with one stone: hide himself from Mr. Oz while helping his buddy Superman in the process, but putting the "Secret Identity" back in the bag. Mxy had to mind-wipe himself to complete this…and was none too happy when he redisovered his own secret…and now he’ll have his revenge utilizing Jon to get at Clark.

I’m pretty sure it’s Churchill‘s art in this segment that put Mahnke‘s art in the first to seeming less thrilling to me. Churchill’s work here is great, with one of the best renditions of Jon Kent I can think of, and a sort of detail to Mr. Mxyzptlk that’s going to make other artists’ take look weak by comparison.

Story-wise, I love that Dini gives us a clear, reasonable explanation for Mxy’s actions and motivation, and this single story’s impact drives back to last May and retroactively adds to those previous issues! This gives us a spotlight on both Jon and moreso, Mr. Mxyzptlk and bridges the gap between whatever his last appearance was and now, while setting him up as an extra-scary antagonist. This is a strong complementary piece to the main story…expanding and contextualizing without having to me its own separate ISSUE or chapter, which will presumably make the "core" chapters that much tighter a story in the end.

We even get some breaking of the "fourth wall" without breaking continuity…and actually suggesting the rich DC multiverse all the more in a way that totally fits Mxy’s character, and allows readers a smile and "a-ha!" in recognizing other ways in which Mxy has appeared over the years.

This is an "anniversary" issue…that is, attention is on the issue’s NUMBER: #975. The round 75, marking off 25 issues since the 950th (which was still part of the New 52 Action Comics #s 0-52 numbering hiccup)…and 25 to go until the big #1000 mark next year.

While a new reader could certainly wade in and likely follow the story a bit…this issue as a whole is like a gift to the readers who’ve been following stuff for awhile, and is certainly a huge treat for me, paying off some ten months of stuff and doing so not only to mere satisfaction but in a way that leaves me eager to continue with the story! It makes sense to me, is believable within my conscious following of stuff, and does not let me down. The "villain pages" in the first story are a bit disappointing as those pages go way too quickly for me just trying to read the story…but they’re a sort of "special" thing for an anniversary issue, and aren’t the cop-out they’d have been if this was not an extra-sized issue.

Action Comics #975 is well worth its price simply for number of story pages, and is a great payoff to months of story-build while keeping things going for whatever’s coming as Superman: Reborn continues.

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