By: Paul Cornell (writer), Pete Woods (artist), Brad Anderson (colorist)

The Story: Something went severely amiss in Larfleeze and Lex Luthor’s upbringing, as they seriously need to learn to share.

The Review: As far as I know, the guest star is a feature exclusive to television shows and comics.  In television, the guests have pull from their celebrity status, but for comics, the characters themselves have the star power.  As fun as these crossovers can get, more frequently you have cases where the guest character distract from the story at hand, occasionally poaching the spotlight from the title character.

Cornell’s plot device of featuring a new guest villain every issue of his Action Comics run has been notable for using them effectively.  As much personality he brings to their roles, they always serve to reflect or contrast our star character: Gorilla Grodd for Luthor’s intellect, Vandal Savage for his far-reaching ambitions, the Joker for his love of mind games.  This issue, Luthor’s base desires get brought out by Larfleeze’s mutual greed for the energy spheres.

Kudos to Cornell for giving us a Larfleeze who not only singularly pursues whatever’s on his wish list at the moment, but also has a lot more smarts than he usually gets credit for.  He’s savvy to Luthor’s ploys to get the sphere he’s collected, and is remarkably perceptive to when his chain is being jerked around.  On top of this much-needed depth, Larfleeze gets some growth, as his firsthand experience of the sphere teaches him there are a few things even he doesn’t want.

It’s worth mentioning again that Luthor remains the star of this storyline.  His hunger for the Orange Lantern ring he once grasped demonstrates why he got chosen as one in the first place.  But in the end, his view of the big picture of power allows him to resist even the ring’s allure, though not without casualties.  We’ve been avoiding the issue for a while, but Luthor’s purposeful, unrepentant shooting of one of his own serves as a pretty good reminder of why he’s still atrocious as a human being and a villain worthy to be feared.

By now, Robot-Lois as Trojan Horse is fairly obvious, but now the ticking clock is set for when that twist’s payload will take off.  The knowledge of her true loyalties (against her will, I should add, which in itself is a huge character detail for her) creates an underlying tension throughout the issue, as her every action and line becomes suspect, making her the pawn leading Luthor into an even grander master plan.  The revelation of the grandmaster is brilliant, but considering what Larfleeze and Joker have seen of the spheres, you have to wonder if even he understands what kind of power he’s dealing with.

What more can be said about Woods’ art that hasn’t already been said?  Besides his other strengths, he really kills the action scenes this issue.  With Luthor’s power suit and Larfleeze’s ring-slinging, Woods gets the opportunity to shape their energy beams and constructs into beautiful, convincing forms, including one of the best sight gags in the issue: Larfleeze’s Glomulus construct gorged on an energy sphere in his belly.  Anderson’s colors for these battles are so vibrant, they’re nearly blinding, which is what they should be.

Conclusion: It’s been a very strong run for Cornell and Luthor on Action Comics, and this issue, good as it is, makes you wistful that its end is near.  Only the promise of the ultimate blow-up can resign you to wishing the end will come as soon as possible.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen