The other amazing thing is that sometimes these good comic books feature some of their A-list characters. To wit …
I read all five issues so far of Paul Cornell and Pete Woods’s run on ACTION COMICS (#890 through 894, the last of which is pictured above) tonight. ACTION no longer features its usual headliner, Superman; he’s busy being written, badly by all accounts, by J. Michael Straczynski in his self-named title. Cornell, best known as DOCTOR WHO writer and formerly of the late, lamented CAPTAIN BRITAIN & MI-13 for Marvel, instead is writing an ACTION COMICS with Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor as the protagonist. As the story opens he’s become obsessed with discovering what happened to the Black Lantern Power Rings that were supposedly destroyed at the end of the big GREEN LANTERN event “Blackest Night” so that he can harness that power for himself. His quest to discover their whereabouts puts him into conflict with a series of guest stars that include Captain Marvel/Shazam foil Mister Mind (yes, the mind-controlling caterpillar), Deathstroke, Gorilla Grodd, and most recently Death from Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN. All the while Luthor is accompanied by an android designed to look, act, and react like Lois Lane. Yes, he’s got a robot who looks and acts like his arch nemesis’s wife. It’s a little creepy.
The big problem I have with the story so far is that Luthor is far too simple a character. He’s an insufferable egomaniac; it’s obvious from the first few pages of #890, and it’s hammered home pretty severely by the events of #894. The story’s actually fairly interesting, building a web of conspiracy trying to prevent Luthor from completing his goal — a web that seems to involve a far-ranging list of special guest stars — but Luthor himself unfortunately really isn’t. The Lois-bot makes a decent foil for him to bounce off of, at least as decent a foil as a man like Luthor can have — one that’s DESIGNED to challenge him, but can be shut off if he decides he’s tired of being challenged. Woods’s art is clear, clean, full of character, and uses a lot of visually interesting angles. Unfortunately #893 is a fill-in by Sean Chen, an artist I realized I didn’t much care for years ago on Chris Claremont’s X-MEN THE END: BOOK ONE. There’s something stilted and awkward about the way Chen does faces and body language, and it’s something that hasn’t improved much, at least to my eyes, in the years since he did that X-MEN work. Not a bad storyteller, his art’s just not to my liking.
The last two issues featured a Jimmy Olsen backup strip by Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva. I remember liking the first one when I read it for free on my iPad, but the second installment felt like kind of a slog. Cute, full of neat ideas, but too much exposition. A group of aliens have come to Metropolis to hold some massive shindig because it’s built up quite the reputation, and also their race gets drunk on Earth’s atmosphere. Jimmy and his low-rent-Lex-knockoff-nemesis are both assigned to show the alien delegates a good time. Hijinks ensue. I blame most of the problems on the “here’s a crazy situation, here’s how we got there” story structure. Didn’t work so well in this case; just made things kind of confusing.
I’ll probably pick up another issue or two of this run and see where it goes; Cornell’s crafting an interesting yarn around Lex’s hunt for these damnable rings and I really like Pete Woods’s art. (I especially liked his Mister Mind; he does a great job with the oddball stuff.) It’s just a shame that my only “in” with the main character is the fact that I’m hearing Clancy Brown’s voice in my head when I read his dialog (he played Lex in the 1990’s SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and the subsequent JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoons). Otherwise I think he’s just kind of an obnoxious prick.
I washed that down with the first issue of Rick Remender and Jerome Opena’s UNCANNY X-FORCE, a team book that brings together overexposed Weapon Xers Wolverine and Deadpool, mid-1990’s lovebirds Psylocke and Archangel (two characters who also share the distinction of having their identities screwed with eight ways to Sunday by different X-villains), and Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN psuedo Weapon Xer Fantomex, a character I’d probably like more if I could wrap my head around what his “hook” is supposed to be. Did he display his Convincing John powers before back in NEW X-MEN? Is that a recent thing Remender bolted to him in that WOLVERINE DARK REIGN: THE LIST one-shot? Anyone else get the sense that the “external nervous system” thing just sounds like trendy Morrisonian buzzwords from a practical standpoint, and that it really just amounts to him having a nifty-looking spaceship thing?
It’s a well-made book with moody, well-played, eye-catching art, and I actually enjoyed all the character stuff between Archangel and Psylocke, the two of them having rekindled that flame they had going back in the mid-1990s, back when I was reading X-MEN books the first time around, only with Archangel using her help to try and fight his darker urges, represented by his physical transformation from Angel into Archangel. They’re the most interesting characters in the book; Wolverine stopped being interesting nearly twenty years ago, and sorry to say that Deadpool comes off as just annoying spouting bad jokes that reminded me of his more lamentable attempts at humor in the MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE games, though his characterization reminded me more of the old Fabian Nicieza model from CABLE & DEADPOOL rather than the overexposure-era Daniel Way model. Still, the interaction between the characters is quite good, and while the formula is familiar, it’s well executed.
Well written, lovely art, and engaging in the moment, and I’m a little curious where the latest resurrection of Apocalypse is going, but probably not curious enough to read the next issue. Temptingly fun, but I’ve seen this trick before. I know how it ends; or rather, it doesn’t.
The sad thing is, all six comics are above average superhero comics that I did rather enjoy in the moment, and I’m glad I read them, but in retrospect I find no real pressing urge to see what happens next issue. Then again, as I was saying to someone earlier tonight, I don’t really feel any urge to continue watching all the TV shows I used to like either. I’m thinking this is more an issue with me than with the work . I wish I cared more; there’s a part of me that does, indeed, want to see where Cornell and Remender plan on going with this stuff. I think the real problem I’m having is that both storylines — Cornell’s based on the fact that this is spinning out of a mess like “Blackest Night,” Remender’s based on the scope of the villain he’s dealing with — have great potential to be derailed by corporate comics mega-crossovers. What I want to see is THESE writers’ endgames, not some many-handed cluster-you-know-what directed by the obnoxious leadership of these publishing outfits. What do you want to bet that’s NOT what we’re gonna get?