DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as
Young Animal, Wildstorm, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Things get steamy for the Couple of Tomorrow!
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Action Comics #1004
Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ryan Sook
Inks: Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Josh Reed
This past spring we celebrated the 1,000th issue of Action Comics. A thousand issues and eighty years of Superman. Amazing. The thought of a story running continuously for so long is frankly staggering. Indulge me in a quick look at where we started, to help us appreciate what’s going on in the story now.
Looking back at 1938’s Action Comics #1, things were a little different. Superman started his career by thwarting low-level crimes. Bank robbers, corrupt politicians, street thugs. This was back when all he could do was leap tall buildings with a single bound, well before his gradually-increasing power levels had him flying to the stars. Faster than a speeding bullet, sure, but not yet going toe to toe with The Flash. He was less “super” than “man” in those days. The stories revolved around him protecting his secrets and navigating everyday relationships as he did what he could to protect the city.
Lois Lane was a part of the story from the very beginning. There were other women in his life from time to time, but we all knew that she was the One. The long-standing question of whether Lois was in love with Clark Kent or with Superman was eventually put to rest when she realized that she loved Clark Kent AND Superman. The wedding was inevitable. Their marriage is legendary. Eighty years of Superman. Eighty years of Lois Lane. Their relationship predated most of us and it will certainly outlive us all.
Anyway, we commemorated the recent milestone in the traditional fashion: with an extra-sized anniversary issue. Action Comics #1000 had eight variant covers and a slew of short tales that highlighted various aspects of Superman throughout the years. There were stories about his childhood family, the Metropolis criminal underground, Lex Luthor, war on Earth, war in space, team-ups, the fifth dimension, you name it — all by renowned creators who have worked on the book over the years. And then right at the end, new DC writer Brian Michael Bendis took the reigns of the entire Superman narrative and went to work.
Bendis appears to understand that there are two very distinct parts to this myth, each important and deserving of space, so he is writing two different books. If you want a story about strange alien worlds, epic battles in space, and mind-blowing superheroics, you’ll want to be reading the book titled Superman. It focuses on the “super” part, as interplanetary terrorist Rogol Zaar is leading an army of Phantom Zone exiles to terrorize Earth and rid the universe of Kryptonians. It’s a fantastic exercise in superpowered ass-kicking. But for my money, the hero has always been less interesting than the man.
Action Comics scratches that itch perfectly, as it is reminiscent of the “good old days” of low-level street crimes and journalistic investigation. Clark Kent spends more time in the Daily Planet newsroom than in costume. He investigates a rash of building fires and reports on the murder of a mob boss. He gets in arguments with his nosy coworkers as he tries to protect his secrets. Staying on this level allows us to really explore what day-to-day life must be like for him and it feels just like old times. He still flies over the city and uses his x-ray vision, but the central character isn’t Superman, it’s Clark. Clark and Lois.
The relationship between these two has been portrayed in a “safe” way for a long time now. Clark stops in at home between Justice League meetings to kiss Lois on the cheek and remind Jon to do his homework. She calls him “Smallville” in their characteristic banter and they eat takeout as they fall asleep on the couch. It’s not exactly an inaccurate portrayal of everyday married life, but it’s no wonder that the publisher explored breaking them up a few years ago to make the story more interesting. The stability that comes with marriage isn’t always glamorous. The tedium and routine is part of the deal, but it’s not the whole story by a longshot and we know it.
When people complain that Superman is “boring” (and so many do), I think this is a big part of it. We’ve been invested in this relationship for an awful long time and we need some payoff. We want romance, dammit! We want fireworks.
We remember the energy that brought these two together and made us cheer when they finally consummated the longest courtship in print. She was a ferociously determined professional, a master of her craft and a force of personality. He was an earnest farm boy with honest emotions and an open heart. They clashed in just the right way. It was fireworks from the very beginning, and Bendis has captured it masterfully here.
All marriages have troubles, and in this issue Clark has a moment of real doubt. The look on his face is harrowing, especially if you’ve felt it before. He knows that if the relationship isn’t right, nothing is. Both partners have been feeling that they’ve lost that old sense of themselves, as individuals and as a couple. Lois can no longer act like their relationship follows the “normal” rules and needs space to get back to who she is inside. Clark just wants to be close to her so he can face the stresses of the world. For a moment there, it looks like things are on rocky ground.
And then we are reminded, as they are, that this is the relationship for the ages. Theirs is a love stronger than any villain, able to outlast eighty years of editorial tinkering and more powerful than a locomotive. They come together in a big way and it is HOT. We get a real glimpse of their relationship here, probably for the first time. She calls him “baby” instead of Smallville. They stare at each other with longing and with tears in their eyes…and then they bring the fireworks.
This is the steamiest issue of Action Comics of all time. Because the Husband of Steel understands that if the relationship is right, everything is.
Justice League Odyssey #2
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Art: Stjepan Sejic
Letters: Deron Bennett
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The heroes of Earth ripped a hole in the Source Wall and broke the multiverse, and yadda yadda yadda, there’s a bunch of new Justice Leagues. We’ve got three different flavors so far: Regular, Dark, and Odyssey. This last one is the space-faring League, consisting of the motley crew of Starfire, Cyborg, Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, Azrael, and (checks notes)…Darkseid? Sure, why not.
If you go back and read the No Justice mini, you can trace the early concepts of each team. In that series, Wonder Woman was surprised when she felt a spark of magic inside of her, Luthor was able to spark the seed of Entropy before he had turned overtly villain, and Cyborg learns to pilot Brainiac’s ship as Starfire helps to release her home planet Tamaran into the Ghost Sector. It’s that last plot point that is followed up upon here, as Cyborg and Starfire travel to the Ghost Sector with Azrael in tow and Jessica Cruz in their way.
The tone of the series is what I’d call high action pseudoscience malarky, which tends to work in these space opera type books if you don’t think too hard about it. It’s reminiscent of Rann-Thanagar War or Mystery in Space from the 2000’s. All four characters were drawn irresistibly to the new and dangerous planetary collection by a voice. That voice turned out to be Darkseid’s. And we’re off!
To be honest, the lineup in this book didn’t exactly light me up when it was announced. Jessica Cruz is quirky but interchangeable, and not in my top 20 list of Green Lanterns I’d like to see. I’ve long ago given up on anyone writing Cyborg in a way that holds my attention and Azrael is a complete head-scratcher for a space travel story. After a couple of issues, some of my misgivings still linger but there are definitely enough solid story elements here that will keep me checking in.
Starfire is a great character. Did you know that she can absorb any alien language via physical touch? Her compassion and openness make her a great fit for an alien setting. Darkseid is still a terrifying force, even if he’s supposedly on the side of the angels here. As a reader I’ll never trust him, but it’s fun to play along and watch for the moment that he screws the team over. There’s also an interesting relic that was introduced in this issue: some kind of multiversal key that almost guarantees we’ll be hopping dimensions before too long. Sounds fun.
Really, you could have just told me that Stjepan Sejic was drawing this book and I’d have been all over it, Azrael or not. His recent stint on Aquaman was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen the underwater kingdom look, and his work here is stunning as well. He is a master of lighting, reflections, silhouetted shadows. Bright purple grasses dot the alien landscapes and the giant carving of the indigenous goddess is an intricate beauty. We’ve got to get this guy on a Green Lantern book.
Two issues is barely enough to establish the premise and get a feel for where this story is headed, but I’m all for saving the multiverse — one cluster of mislocated planets at a time.
- How dare DC attempt to cash in on the popular Harry Potter franchise by publishing this clearly plagiarized knock-off series! What’s that? Books of Magic predated Harry Potter by almost a decade? And it was written by Neil Gaiman and I loved it and missed it so so much? In that case, THANK GOD this story is back and in good hands. I can tell I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it all over again.
- I’m usually way more into the writing than the art, but I knew who drew The Flash #57 as soon as I opened it. Scott Kolins on the Flash is like going home for the holidays. In a good way, obviously.
- The Witching Hour storyline that’s running through Wonder Woman and Justice League Dark is better than most of the magic-based stories that DC has told in the past decade. It’s got everything: the Parliament of Trees, Oblivion Bar, Zatanna and John Constantine, Nanda Parbat. They warned Diana that magic has a cost, and boy is she finding out just how true that is.
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