ACTION COMICS #19

By: Andy Diggle (story), Tony S. Daniel (pencils), Batt (inks), Tomev Morey (colors)

The Story: When Superman’s life love goes south, he takes it out on a gang of giant robots.

The Review: This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I never actually intended to continue reviewing this series after Grant Morrison left.  I probably would’ve given Diggle’s run a chance, but for the controversy which ensured shortly after he was announced as Action’s new writer.  Once I learned that he wouldn’t even stick around for a whole arc, leaving artist Daniel to take his place, I took that as a red flag to make my exit, too.

But in my review of Morrison’s final issue, I forgot to make my intentions known, and I generally don’t like to Drop a book without some notice.  So here we are.  Actually, it’s still kind of nice to see what the new guy might bring to the table, and I admit to being more than ready for a less abstract and more mundane kind of Superman story after Morrison’s high-concept epic.  In this respect, Diggle delivers, though you quickly realize that the price is a loss of originality.

You don’t get a much better signal that the issue in your hands will fall flat than when it opens with the laziest style of exposition ever: one character literally telling another character what the second character had just done.  Such dialogue reeks of both insincerity and ridiculousness, just like when Clark exclaims to Lois, “I can’t believe you fast-talked your way to the pro-democracy rebel leader while he was imprisoned by the regime…and rescued a dozen political prisoners while you were at it!”

This is Diggle trying way too hard to manufacture, rather than develop, Lois’ appeal, and it feels just as clumsy and awkward as when he tries too hard to generate the chemistry between her and Clark or to portray Clark as the good man of the people that he is.  In a way, Diggle has the right idea of how Superman should behave and sound: staunchly for protecting lives rather than threatening them.  But to translate that through dialogue alone makes our hero seem showy, like he’s putting on an act.  He shouts at three formidable-looking mechas, “Listen to me!  I have no quarrel with you…but these people—all people—are under my protection.”  It’s hard to buy that kind of declaration, isn’t it?  Instead of feeling warmed, I just feel patronized by it.

Diggle doesn’t just push too hard in displaying our hero’s heroism, but also with our villain’s villainy.  I suppose the scene of Luthor getting an analysis by a psychotherapist is meant to be chilling, but really, it just comes off juvenile and melodramatic, as if Diggle’s mish-mashing every psychological term or phrase he’s ever heard into one diagnosis:

“Your ego has been damaged by early abuse and rejection by parental authority figures, giving rise to a—a malignant narcissism.  Th-this perfect storm of factors renders you susceptible to the diagnosis of being—in my professional opinion—a sociopath.  A psychotic megalomaniac.  Quite possible the most dangerous man on the planet.”*

Gasp!  Are we really supposed to take Luthor seriously after that?

Though I don’t often like to speculate on these matters, I have a strong suspicion the problem may be editorial interference.  You know the big gatefold reveal on the cover of Jimmy Olsen as Superman’s opponent?  You know, the supposed “WTF-certified” moment for this issue?  Well, when the red-haired fellow finally does appear from the ruins of a mecha suit, he instantly goes up in flames, perishing almost immediately.  What’s really creepy about the scene is Superman simply watches it happen with little reaction or regard, afterward shrugging it off completely: “I know that couldn’t have actually been Jimmy—got hit harder than I thought.”  That’s all the gatefold twist led to: some other carrot-topped, freckle-faced dude burning to death?  WTF, indeed.  I can only explain this casual, almost flippant treatment as Diggle sticking it to the powers who forced him to include the scene in the first place.

The only redeeming feature of this issue is Daniel’s slick, attractive art.  It may lack nuance and subtlety, but it makes up for it with pure, bombastic energy alone, bright and vibrant with Morey’s colors, all of which is perfectly appropriate for a comic titled Action.  It’s disappointing, really.  There are a lot of great titles which need better art, and to employ one of DC’s better artists on a faulty script is nothing more than a waste.

Conclusion: Way for Diggle to bring Superman back to basics—so much so that he lacks any novelty or freshness whatsoever.  Dropped.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Incidentally, that is the worst shrink in the world Luthor apparently hired, which is worrisome, considering how much money he has.

Grade

Conclusion