Sunday, May 1, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Action Comics #900 part 3

Wow, this is taking up a lot more ink than expected. I'll try to be brief.  This is part 3 of a 3 part discussion of Action Comics #900.  You can read Part 1 and Part 2 before checking out the final part below.  

With a whopping 96 page count for Action 900, and because its an anniversary issue, DC included several back-up features from folks of varying prominenence in the entertainment industry, including Lost maestro Damon Lindelof, Dark Knight scribe David Goyer, DCE CCO Geoof Johns, and Superman: The Movie director Mr. Richard Donner. 

Life Support
written by Damon Lindelof
art by Ryan Sook
letters by John J. Hill

Most often even as filler material, when celebrities guest on mainstream comics its kind of cute story that demonstrates some base knowledge of the character and what makes them work, but the stories are generally forgettable.  However, Damon Lindelof didn't make ABC's Lost a cultural phenomenon by just tossing off ideas.  This is going to be one of those stories I'll absolutely remember, and if you're up to speed on your last days of Kryptonian history, it belongs in there as cannon.

Lost may have played the hand on too routine a basis, but this also follows a similar vein of so many scenes from lost where an innocent character becomes embroiled in matters well above their paygrade or consideration with a few simple questions.  And just as in Lost, what we may believe we see at first...  well, the scenes are handled well and beautifully intercut.  In this case, its Superman's father asking a young engineer about building a super-efficient life support system in three days, the deadline is... non-negotiable.  

Its a beautifully written piece about living with the end of the world, and Sook's art handles the mood and tone masterfully.  In the end, I think its this kind of thing I wish people were talking about (along with Cornell's treatment of Luthor) instead of the controversy alluded to in previous posts.

written by Paul Dini
Pencils RB Silva
Rob Leon Inks
Java Tartaglia Colorist
John J. Hill Letters

Many short pieces like the ones commissioned for this issue are often meditative in nature.  With 4 or 5 pages to tell a story, you can make some small point, a bit like the traditional short story in prose, only using the splattering of panels, form, figures and color to assist.  And like short stories, writers and artists reveal themselves in such a short span, forced to drop tricks that might cover their weaknesses if a story crosses six issues.  

Autobiography does not refer to the journal of The Man of Steel, but to the telling of the near-infinite tale of a fellow lone-space traveler with whom Superman has met and given sanctuary in the Fortress of Solitude.  The creature's history gives some perspective on what the future may hold for Kal-El, and its a neat piece, especially as we consider the nature of an anniversary issue.  Its a great way to look forward, by looking back by someone who has been there.

Anyway, well done.  Plus, floating indigo space hippo?  I'm on board with that.

Friday Night in the 21st Century
written by Geoff Johns
art by Gary Frank
Color by Brad Anderson
Letters by John J. Hill

A short story, and kind of goofy, but it was the kind of character bit that in-continuity comics should be able to do better on a routine basis, and it kind of summed up what Johns was trying to establish with the return of the Legion.  Its a fun little throw-away piece, but its nice to see some levity makes its way into the book.

Anyway, its not really anything more than Lois and Clark chatting, and a two page spread for Gary Frank to draw Lois, Clark and the Legion, but it works.  Plus, I heart Frank's Lois.

The Incident
Written by David S. Goyer
Art by Miguel Sepulveda
Colors by Paul Mounts
Letters by Rob Leigh

It will be impossible to discuss this story without acknowledging the controversy sparked by the conclusion of this 9-page hand grenade.  I have already spilled plenty of bits on this when it became clear mainstream media was picking up on the hysteria of a few comics bloggers and an out-of-context panel.  Oddly, my calls for a reasonable approach went unheeded by the press, and the story has legs, albeit ones that are fairly short in the wake of the tragedy in Alabama and the Royal Wedding.

At this point, I've read and re-read the story, and I can't really fault DC's conclusions, and Goyer's attempts to frame Superman a bit differently and open up the character a bit more to the 21st Century.  After all, the refrain is always that Superman is a dated character, stuck in a past quickly receding in our collective rear-view mirror.  I'd point out that the fact that when Superman adjusts in story (ie - adapts slightly as a character) the rebuke of pundits and talking heads is more or less what DC has to deal with.  Superman may be their character, but he's also an institution.

You can't really expect, oh... Mike Huckabee to follow Superman comics or to have spent two minutes of his life pondering Superman, citizenship, international incidents, etc... before.  But, you know what, I do.  I totally think about this stuff, and when you come down to it, the end result is more or less a necessity if you want to keep telling Superman stories to people over the age of 10 who are aware of the precarious nature of our global political climate.

What I don't agree with is that this is a particularly compelling story so much as a straw-man argument for setting the stage for a different look at Superman when Man of Steel hits theaters for Christmas 2012.

I do agree with Goyer's points: if Superman is fine with fighting intergalactic despots, why shouldn't he also stand up to them at home?  How would Superman's presence tilt the scales?  And would we not believe that Superman has a different perspective from our own as (a) an alien, (b) someone who can be across the planet in a few seconds, (c) who can look down on the Earth daily as someone for whom borders are lines on a map, not true boundaries seen at 60,000 feet?  On that note, I'm not sure why Goyer would go micro in his "we're all one, I see everything" speechifying, rather than macro, about what a man who can fly sees from his perspective.

Keep in mind, also, in the comics the US Government has always played friendly with Superman, but its also the kind of government that spent untold resources planning to kill him if he ever even began to look slightly like he was out of line - in fact, in the story there are snipers surrounding Superman with Kryptonite shells.

Still, its clear DC didn't really think this through, and I wish they'd spent a bit of time building a better case rather than baiting Fox News on this one.  And, good Lord, the fallout.  I was discussing this with a friend last night who doesn't read comics in the slightest, and she was shocked to learn they still make Superman comics.  After all, last time Superman was in the news, he was dead, so...*

Anyhow, I'm reayd to be done with this particular mess.

Only Human
Written by Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman
Storyboards by Matt Camp

This is a weird one.  DC apparently asked Richard Donner to script and storyboard a short Superman story in which a famous (fictional) athlete has become the spokesman for a company planning to create suits that provide the wearer with an array of Superpowers, including flight.

Of course Superman is accused of being jealous, of course Superman takes the bait and "races" the guy, and of course the guy becomes a danger to everyone around him.  Its a well-worn plotline, and because nobody involved seems aware of DC Continuity, and that's totally fine btw, we just kind of read the script and look at the storyboard and say "well, gee, Mr. Donner.  That's a neat story."  And it is!  But...  anyway, its by far the fluffiest filler in the book.


Wow.  Well, that was interesting.  Not sure I'll review things that way again.  Anyhow, thanks for sticking with me!  And here's to 900 issues of Action Comics!

*I was a bit stunned.  This same friend lived in our house with us for 9 months.  She confessed she thought I was just reading reprints of old stuff.  Oh, Comics Industry, leaving the spinner rack at the drug store was such a dumb idea.


Gerry said...

Life Support was a brilliant piece. My clear favorite in this issue. I blogged about it as well. I would love to see more of this take on the end of Krypton.

The League said...

Gerry did blog on this, I recommend you check out his site.