Action Comics #896
On Paper, the combination of Lex Luthor, The Secret Six and Vandal Savage should be an absolute winner, no questions asked. Does this “great on-paper” combination live up to the hype, or is the show stolen by the undercard headlined by Jimmy Olsen?
To some of the more savvy DC comic book fans, one of the bigger background stories of nearly the past decade has the culture war that has gone on creatively. Since Dan Didio’s installation as the Executive Editor of the DCU in 2003, he has succeeded (spiritually more than literally) in remolding the landscape of that Universe drastically. Between the resurrections of Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and Barry Allen and the minimization (to various degrees) of their successors, the reestablishing of the Teen Titans, the return of Supergirl being a Kryptonian Cousin of Superman, along with a host of other changes whose results have the DCU resembling what it looked like before Crisis on Infinite Earths took place in 1985. Of course, these changes have been welcomed by some, reviled by others and while this reviewer has his own opinion on how he feels about these changes, he will hold back on going into detail about them, because of the wasted space that will result. However, this debate seems to be inescapable when discussing the current star of this book, Lex Luthor.
As for Lex Luthor, depending on when you discovered the character, one of these characterizations stands out for you. If you discovered the character before the early 1980s, then his characterization as a mad scientist who hated Superman for various reasons is the one you’ll remember most of all. However, if you were a child of either Bryne’s “Man of Steel” (1986) or Superman: The Animated Series (1996), then your greatest memories of Luthor will be those of an Untouchable Businessman who used his genius to wage war on Superman who’s contributions overshadowed his. The latter characterization reigned for years (with Luthor even becoming President of the United States), until it was phased out in the latter half of the 2000’s to return him to his “iconic” version, which added more fuel in the debate between the cheerleaders and detractors of the whole entire movement. However, unlike most “iconic” takes, Luthor’s own “revitalization” didn’t take to enough of the fanbase, nor lend itself to creative success stories as it felt that Luthor was being written into a wall. To counteract this, Paul Cornell’s talents have been tapped in an effort to show that Luthor can still be a viable player in the DCU, even bringing Sandman’s Death out to play. Issue #896 takes things to yet another level as The Secret Six gets involved in the fun. Something that sounds good on paper, but not so much in action.
The main story of Action #896 starts us off with a full page shot of the Secret Six, and in short order we understand why they’re here and who they’re up against. From there, the next 19 pages of the story is one knockdown, drag out brawl mixed with a comedy of errors, a confrontation long overdue, and Robot Lois blowing shit up. On paper, it feels like this book would’ve been one of the books of the week, however when it’s all put together, it just feels underwhelming. This isn’t to say that the writing is terrible, or even bad, it just feel like this should’ve been much better than it ends up being. Part of the problem is that this crossover is plopped in the middle of an already expansive storyline (with Action #896), which automatically exponentially increases the barrier of entry to anyone who reads Secret Six exclusively. I know that a huge chunk of DC fans hate recap pages, but this is one of those times where I think a comic could’ve benefitted from such a feature. The huge barrier of entry also leads to this book losing a lot of story weight, as we get a very vague reason as to why Vandal Savage has decided to use such extreme measures against Lex Luthor, and it helps the thing to come across as a complete throw away comic to Secret Six fans who are used to every comic mattering in one way, or another. Even the pivotal moment of Scandal confronting her father doesn’t carry the weight it should the big noisy fight takes center stage, without giving any other plots breathing room, and it all comes off as a tragic waste of potential that could’ve been avoided if they allowed this story to stand on its own, instead of tying it to an already 6- Part Arc.
Artistically, the main story will give most people very little to complain about, as Pete Woods does a great job drawing most of the characters, backgrounds and details that surround the story being told. Some people might feel underwhelmed by Luthor’s portrayal in the book itself due to David Finch’s excellent cover work, but I feel that the artists did an excellent job portraying Luthor as a devious underhanded person who will take any advantage he can get. However, most Secret Six will find themselves comparing it to their regular drawings in their own comic book as they could possibly feel underwhelmed by the different art style, which misses some of the small details, which help to make these characters feel as unique as they do. I know I am probably nitpicking here, but all I can say is that I expect these characters to be drawn a certain way, and this style falls short of that.
No real analysis of Action #896 can be called complete without mentioning the “Second Feature”, which stars Jimmy Olsen, who is dealing with the fourth day of his big week by being auctioned off for charity. What we get here is a story that’s not only hilarious, but extremely fun to boot. Nick Spenser makes excellent use of his 8-Pages as we get an excellent look into Jimmy Olsen, and what’s going with his life. Along the way we also get to see him interact with a past love of his, and a girl who might be far too sweet for her own good. Overall, we’re given a reason to care about what happens to Jimmy, and the ridiculousness of the scenario is just fun to see unfold. RB Silva also deserves great praise, as he gives each character their own unique look, not falling into the traps of giving everyone the same features, as the story unfolds around his amazing art. This reviewer now sees why the Jimmy Olsen feature was well acclaimed, and I can’t wait for the continuation in March.
When I picked up this last Wednesday, if you told me that I would enjoy the Second Feature more than the main story, I would’ve laughed in your face. Now as I conclude this review, I could say without a doubt that I be gladly eating crow as I got to discover one of the better kept secrets in Comic Books. I just wish I could say that Paul Cornell lived up to the potential that I know he has this month. Hopefully he’ll strike a winner with me in the near future.
Story: 5.5 (For the Main Feature)/8.5 (For the Second Feature)
Combined Final Judgment: 7