REVIEW: Action Comics #894

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Before we get into our discussion about Action Comics #894, I figure some background information is probably necessary. Pretty much two years worth of spoilers lie ahead… You’ve been warned.

The Superman books have had a weird few years.  What with him not appearing in any of his ongoing titles during the New Krypton storyline, and now with superstar writer J. Michael Straczynski taking over Superman and deciding that the perfect follow up to that storyline is to have Superman walk across America as if he were Forest Gump or something. Of course if you’re going to have Superman just walk for however long that garbage is going to go on, you certainly don’t need multiple books chronicling it. As a result, Superman remains absent from his original flagship title Action Comics, and that book now stars Lex Luthor.

British writer and relative new-comer to the American comics scene, Paul Cornell, has been guiding Luthor through his sudden main event status on Action by focusing on the supervillain’s investigation into strange remnant black ring energy pockets that have appeared around the world after Blackest Night. His investigation has led to confrontations with some major DC villains including Mister Mind, Deathstroke, and Gorilla Grodd. Unfortunately Luthor’s Battle with Grodd ends with the bald billionaire being shot in the chest with a high tech sniper rifle and falling out of a helicopter. Three pages later, we get a rare cameo DC Universe appearance by Neil Gaiman’s once ridiculously popular Death that leads into a full guest starring appearance in Action Comics #894.

KevinMLD: So what we have in Action #894 is the first Death appearance that I can remember in many years. Paul Cornell has suggested that Neil Gaiman even wrote a great deal of her dialogue even though he only receives a “very special thanks to…” credit. To me the whole thing is weird, especially considering what a big deal DC made of the issue. Death was obviously immensely popular during the 1990’s, but it’s at least a decade later… So I’m not sure how much interest people still have in her. Having said that, you certainly wouldn’t have read this issue or been excited for it if not for her appearance. So what did you think?  Did it live up to your expectations?

PTB: Death’s appearance certainly drew in a lot of people that wouldn’t have been reading otherwise, myself included. I liked Paul Cornell’s work on Marvel’s Dark X-Men and Captain Britain and MI13 series, as well as his episodes of Doctor Who. Using Gaiman’s Death is a big deal if only because his characters are so seldom used these days. Did this live up to my expectations, yes and no. I think there will be more to come from this that isn’t readily apparent from this issue alone.

KevinMLD: Personally, since it amounted to just the two characters sitting around talking, it reminded me a little too much of Sandman #8, which was really the story that made her a star. It was an issue so popular that it was actually reprinted in both of the first two collections of Sandman. I’m just not sure that were I writing this issue that I would want to be compared to that type of classic. However, overall I’d say I enjoyed it.

PTB: The conversational nature of the story certainly speaks to the “no” part of the issue meeting my expectations. Stories like that always leave something to be desired, particularly if the art fails to hold your attention. It’s well written, but my hope is that Cornell is planning to use this propel his story beyond this issue.

KevinMLD: One of the key moments in the issue sees Luthor ask Death if she was behind Blackest Night – DC’s recent crossover that saw the dead rise up and confront the living. To me this question was unavoidable in the context of DC’s current continuity but it also hammers home why maybe this wasn’t the right time for this story to come out. How do you reconcile Blackest Night‘s Nekron with Gaiman’s Death? And for Death to further reference the Black Racer (basically the New Gods version of Death) and not attempt to resolve any of it is just problematic for me.  Death works best in the context of the Sandman mythology, which mostly ignored the DC Universe… I said mostly. And while “I was busy” is a humorous explanation for it all, I’m not sure it’s a satisfactory one. I did enjoy her indifference towards the constant resurrections that have become common place in comics due to the fact that “they always come back to me.”

PTB: This is exactly what speaks to the “yes” part of the issue meeting my expectations. Blackest Night has to be brought up here given Death’s appearance and because of what Luthor is trying to accomplish throughout this series. His investigation into the black ring energy would inevitably lead him to something along these lines, and I believe this is the foundation for something bigger for him. Drawing the attention of one of the fundamental forces of the universe to “check in” on him can only mean big things. From their conversation, Lex will never accept death and she’s checking to see just how far he will take that. He seems to pass her test, so does that mean he can’t truly die? If this was tied in any way to Brightest Day, I’d say he’d be a prime candidate for the “protector” the White Lantern is seeking.

KevinMLD: I just think the protector will come out of a book that Geoff Johns is writing right now or more likely be a character that is currently getting no attention.

PTB: As far as reconciling Death, Nekron and the Black Racer, I don’t see much of an issue here. This could be my being misinformed, but I saw Nekron as more of a nihilistic death worshiper than “Death” itself, much like Marvel’s Thanos. Marvel also set the table for multiple pantheons of gods to exist simultaneously, so The Black Racer (and even Nekron if I’ve read him incorrectly) would be equivalent to Hela, Amatsu-Mikaboshi, and others. Even with them running around, there’s still an embodiment of the abstract concept of “Death”, and that’s what I see Gaiman’s character as, essentially the true Death in the universe.

KevinMLD: I also want to highlight the art of Pete Woods. I’ve been a fan of his since his long run many years ago on Robin. His art has evolved so much since then.  I think he’s a real talent. His Lex is clearly based on Smallville‘s Michael Rosenbaum and it totally works. Woods has been a fixture on the Superman books for many years now… which is great… but I’d love to see him get a shot at a more high profile book. I will say Death might look a little brawny in a few panels though.

PTB: His art looks great here, as does the cover art of David Finch and P. Craig Russell. I’m not terribly familiar with Woods’ work, but much like the pages being turned out for Brightest Day, I’m really impressed with the art talent DC currently has working for them. I have to ask though, what would be higher profile than Action Comics?

KevinMLD: Sadly, both its history and this issue aside, none of the Superman books sell all that well. DC’s high profile titles are written by Johns or Grant Morrison. Anything else is a step below… Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how things have been for years now. So I’m really talking about Woods getting a shot at one of the crossovers mini-series that DC runs. I think Woods may have drawn Amazons Attack a few years back which was clearly one of the worst stories ever written before it was even published. I felt bad for him at the time.

Anyway, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole “this was just a check up” bit near the end. If there’s not some follow up on it before the story’s conclusion, i suspect the whole thing will end up feeling hollow and pointless.

PTB: I completely agree with you here. I hate to hinge my enjoyment of this issue on the prospect of something paying off later, but it’s really how I feel about the book. In its defense, it is part 5 of more than 5.

KevinMLD: The final bit about the hanged man would seem to be a reference to Lex as he pointed out in issue #892 that Mister Mind wanted him hung upside down.  It looks like a Lex-Vandal Savage confrontation is imminent.

PTB: That was all completely lost on me having not read the previous four issues and having no idea who Vandal Savage is. I think we’ve discussed him before, but I don’t recall anything about him.

KevinMLD: Vandal savage is basically an immortal. He’s been around since the caveman days. Bruce Wayne actually had a run-in with him in that era recently. He’s conquered the world in the past and sees it as inevitable he will do so again in the future.

Finally, I just wanted to mention how much I’m enjoying the Jimmy Olsen backup story that has been running in Action. This was the second part and while the character feels more in line with Grant Morrison’s All Star version of the character than his typical DC demeanor, it’s just been a fun story. This issue may not make it clear, but this is only the second appearance of Smallville‘s Chloe Sullivan in the mainstream DC Universe. Here she is an Olsen ex-girlfriend rather than one of Clark’s childhood friends, which is probably the most logical way to integrate her into modern Metropolis. It would have been odd to retcon her into Clark’s past.

PTB: The Jimmy Olsen backup is fun, and from what I’ve read of All Star Superman it does seem to be the same take on his character. It is neat to see Chloe Sullivan appearing the DC Universe. It’s kind of surreal to see another character integrated into their publishing line from another medium, and from what I’ve read here it seems like she’s being handled well. It’s also nice to see that the backup material is at least something decent to read for $3.99. Speaking of which, when do all the DC books go back to $2.99?

KevinMLD: I believe that price drop starts in January. I think it’s the right decision, but I wonder how much damage the temporary price increase did to the industry. How many people just stopped reading or stopped paying to read during the last year. I will tell you the truth, I read very few books that were worth $3.99 during that period. Even most of DC’s backups were terrible. Having said that, I also think it’s suspect that DC is cutting two pages from their books at the same time they drop the price. So while the cover price is dropping, the price per page is actually increasing.

Meanwhile Marvel is backtracking on their recent price decrease announcement all together. I don’t even understand what they’re trying to claim beyond all of the reporters got it wrong. But it was Marvel who felt there was no need to correct the widely reported misinformation for about a month.

PTB: Comic Book Resources recently discussed this in an interview with Marvel editors Tom Breevort and Axel Alonso. Your criticism of how they handled it is completely valid, but the thing that struck me the most was the response to a reader question about the price increase on Uncanny X-Men from $2.99 to $3.99. The book was solicited from July to December with an increased page count (40 pages) intended to be filled with backup stories. Only July’s issue #526 actually had a backup or the solicited page count, but the price has stayed at $3.99. Obviously, they can charge whatever they want, but the circumstances surrounding this change are a little disappointing.

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  • VJM said,

    You guys really need to read the issue of Captain Atom that had Death, Nekron and Black Racer in it. They explained it something like: Nekron is the enemy death, Black Racer is the running away from death, and Death was acceptance of death (or somesuch).

    I think Gaiman was pretty peeved about that use of Death.

  • KevinMLD said,

    I didn’t even know that had happened. Is this a recent Captain Atom series?

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