Comic Book Review: Action Comics #957
As part of DC Comics’ Rebirth line comes an unexpected surprise, the renumbering of Action and Detective Comics to their previous triple digits. It’s a small change, but I really quite like it. Plenty of modern comics seem scared to address their high issue count , Marvel being especially guilty with constant ending and restarting of their own books with only the most superficial of changes. Action Comics comes out this week, not with a Rebirth one shot, but right into its plot with Action Comics #957. Though its numbering is also superficial, it’s also the tinniest bit rewarding, mostly at the idea that the first comic to reach a legitimate #1000 is possible within my lifetime.
But enough of issue numbers, let’s talk contents. The new issue of Action Comics is written by Dan Jurgens with artwork by Patrick Zircher and colors by Tomeu Morey. The death of Superman has left a vacuum for who shall protect Metropolis and those who wish to replace the Man of Steel are cropping up. Last week saw the appearance of the older Superman from before the New 52 decide to pick up the mantle and this week another contender is Lex Luthor. (For the sake of sanity, let’s simply call the older Superman plain Superman)
The cover is by Ian Reis and Joe Prado with colors by Sonia Oback. It’s a typical collage of various Superman characters all encircling Superman lifting a bolder with the book’s title etched into it. Composition-wise it’s fine although a bit generic. There’s nothing that really pops out or communicates a message to the reader. It does seem with how the cover is framed that it looks like two ideas stacked on top of each other. The way Superman holds the bolder up looks really awkward, like his arm is halfway stuck inside it. Obviously it’s done to clear space for the other characters and perhaps the Superman image and the collage might have worked better as separate covers. Here it doesn’t gel the best. Oback’s coloring is superb, she does a fantastic job at making every character distint, even when three of them share the same basic color scheme and no one feels lost in another figure, except for possibly poor Wonder Woman. Reis and Prado’s lay out is solid, however the tiny man in the lower left hand corner stretches the boundaries on the acceptable range of tapering sizes. The team seems to be making a departure from their established style, going with a looser and more doughy look reminiscent of Neil Adams. It’s still not quite there but an interesting choice.
The story opens up in Metropolis with a group of gunman having taken some office workers hostage. What they are after is secret and as soon as they put their plan into action, they’re stopped by Lex Luthor, now wearing a Superman-styled version of his power armor and publicly declares himself as the spiritual successor of Superman. Superman himself is moving into a new home with his family when he hears about what’s going on and instantly decides to come out of hiding before Luthor can tarnish the hero’s name. As one can imagine, they don’t get along the best when they meet.
What’s nice about Action Comics #957 is it does a lot of what Superman: Rebirth didn’t. Where that book had barely any action or character moments, this one has plenty. It juggles a large cast and overall they’re managed well. Superman’s son Jon is a pleasant surprise as the less than ideal superpowered child. It’s strange to be so offset by a kid who’s mostly doing kid things. But when they’re a superhuman who is very likely going to grow up to be Superman, little things like Jon’s enjoyment of violent theatrics becomes uneasy. What’s also interesting in this book and the Superman line up in general is how they seem to be re-exploring the Death of Superman/Reign of the Superman storylines. Ignoring the weirdness of Rebirth blaming the dark and grittiness of the New 52 on Watchmen while DC is publishing sequels to the Dark Knight Returns, I’m interested in this direction. The Death of Superman storyline isn’t really that interesting, however what makes the storyline Jurgens seems to be setting up is his old story but through a warped mirror. Here the arrival of Doomsday, death of Superman, and the rise of his replacements are all out of order. Superman himself, having lived through all of this, is aware to his own genre in a manner that’s not all that common in superhero comics. Sadly, this issue also suffers from the main problem that last week’s Superman did. Despite the death of the New 52 Superman, no comic has bothered to actually explain it. Who and why the young Clark Kent died has been left so vague that I honestly got my best explanation from an emoji filled joke from DC’s Twitter account. Similarly, unless the reader already knows how and why the pre-New 52 Superman is walking about, they’re going to be very annoyed. It’s a shame that the Superman books seem to be side-stepping these important detail that inform so much about what’s going on in the story.
Patrick Zircher does a great job as the issue’s artist. I won’t deny I’ve been hesitant with his work. He does a lot of things that irk me. His characters are often really rigid and have little to no body language. It’s especially apparent when so many characters who are speaking just have their mouths closed and sport blank faces. He seems much more at home in technical design as seen with Luthor’s Superman armor. It informs a lot about Luthor’s character. It sports a Superman shield, a cape, and a red/blue pain job but those details seem at times superficial. Even Lex’s Superman logo, a symbol supposed to represent hope has been weaponizedThe neck color and the details under the shield inform that despite the iconic imagery, this is still Lex Luthor and he’s still as egotistical and self-centered. Superman’s new costume is a slight downgrade. I’ve never been a fan of taking away his red briefs and now his books have been turned blue with only some red trim. It takes makes his costume unblanaced in how much blue there is on everything, though at the least it’s going form more traditional spandex than battle armor like New 52 Superman’s. The one thing that really shocked me with Zircher’s artwork is oddly the backgrounds. While Zircher lacks the expressive qualities I favor, he puts a shocking amount of detail in the background. Almost everything background in this book is diegetic. He makes great use of putting in excessive amounts of detail that many artists would leave out or simply make into one primary color. It’s really fantastic how he does the skyline of Metropolis, the city is adorned with all these different post-modern buildings that make the city some place between the modern day and retro-futurism. It adds so much to the setting’s personality. I mean there’s a single panel of Superman’s new home where he doesn’t only bother to put in two cars with so much detail you can see the lids on the gas tanks, there’s a fully drawn house, and a barn far in the background where Zircher even bothered to put in horses. I appreciate that so much, especially when it takes so much effort and is rarely recognized.
The colors by Tomeu Morey are good. His palette is mostly realistic and earthy tones. The shading is done exceptionally well. Similar to Zircher, Morey puts in a lot of detail, in this case to shadows, that often go unthanked. The really intense shadows appear on Luthor and Superman’s faces when they fight and though it isn’t natural as in both cases they’re exceptionally dark. I’m uncertain whether this is adds an extra layer of theatrics to the panels or its just time saving. What’s fortunate is it doesn’t lose the depth to the figures which is often what happens when characters are blotted out into one single color. Overall it’s solid, but at times the issue feels washed out.
Action Comics #957 gets the ball rolling on its first arc and makes it an exception to Superman: Rebirth’s dull affair. Dan Jurgens has the potential to do an interesting take on the Death of Superman (something that story fell short of). It still suffers from leaving awkward unanswered questions like what happened to the New 52 Superman and that doesn’t play well when surprising plot twists happen and the reader isn’t sure whether this is something they should be aware of or not. Patrick Zircher, though far from the most expressive artist is fantastic in technical design and perspective. Tomeu Morey backs him up on colors. I’m still not certain what to make of this series as of yet, it seems to be rushing into its story far too quickly but I’m far more intrigued with this than I was with last week’s Superman.