Friday, 14 January 2011

Action Comics #584

How are we all doing this evening? Really? That's great!

I'm feeling good, thank you for asking. I spent five hours a couple of nights ago with Jon M Wilson, Zach Henderson and Tyler Crone from Teenage Wasteland: An Ultimate Spider-Man podcast, talking about the first Stuart Immonen arc on the title, The Death of a Goblin. Well, at least, we did for some of the time. Along with thoughts on DCU Online (No, I don't have it yet, I need to become more self-sufficient in Cataclysm before I start to put a second MMORPG into the mix), the rise of Joe Quesada, just how bad Ultimates 3 was (hint: very), moments in Ultimate Spider-Man that make people cry, and more vulgar profanity than the most profane episode of South Park with all the non-profanity edited out.

The episode will be up in a month or so, and I'll be sure to drop a link here if you want to check it out. I'll be interested if only to hear what Zach manages to salvage from our random mumblings.

And talking of random mumblings, how about our review for today?


Storyteller: John Byrne
Embellisher: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: January 1987
Release Date: 23/10/1986

A Superman sighting in Metropolis turns sour when the Man of Steel starts attacking skyscrapers. As the debris hurtles towards bystanders, Cyborg of the Teen Titans appears, using his sonic weaponry to disintegrate the rubble. He then heads to confront Superman, who is ranting and boasting about his superior powers. To get his attention, Cyborg hurls a metal sheet at him. The plan works, but a little too well, as Superman attacks the Titan. Superman rips Cyborg’s arm off, heavily injuring him. Cyborg temporarily blinds Superman with a laser, but is hurled off the top of a skyscraper and crashes heavily to the ground. With his internal communications systems damaged in the fall, Cyborg makes it to a telephone box where he contacts the rest of the Titans for assistance.

Wonder Girl and Changeling respond to Cyborg’s cry for help. Changeling goes up against Superman as an elephant, but is quickly batted to one side. Wonder Girl appears to subdue Superman with a wrecked car, but Superman fights back with a broken mains water pipe. Changing tactic, Wonder Girl binds Superman with her lasso. Meanwhile, Jericho breaks off from teaching American Sign Language to children when he hears a radio report of the combat. Cyborg recovers from his beating just in time to see Superman break Wonder Girl’s lasso, and leaps in to save her. Jericho arrives, getting Superman’s attention by throwing fruit at him. He makes eye contact and jumps into him, but Superman’s alien physiology prevents Jericho from fully taking control, although his presence quells Superman’s rampage. Suddenly, a man on crutches arrives and claims that he is Superman.

Flying across Metropolis, ‘Superman’ explains to the Titans what happened, whilst Jericho ‘pilots’ Superman’s body to keep him under control. Clark Kent had taken a phone call at the Daily Planet from David Gunderson, an amateur scientist who needed Superman’s help for an experiment. Arriving at Gunderson’s lab, Superman was tricked into a trap, and Gunderson was able to switch his mind with Superman’s. Gunderson then locked Superman in his basement whilst he went on a rampage in Superman’s  body, although Superman was able to escape. The Titans take Superman to back to Gunderson’s lab, where he is able to reverse the mind-swap by tinkering with the apparatus.
 In Paris, Lex Luthor reads Clark Kent’s report of the incident in the Daily Planet. Musing on the fact that Clark Kent seems to get all the good Superman stories, he decides to discover the connection between Kent and Superman.

In his column at the end of this issue, John Byrne talks about the genesis of the three post-Man of Steel Superman titles. He writes, “it would be in Superman and Marv’s title (Adventures of Superman) that we would explore Clark Kent’s place in the universe, his attitudes to the world and Superman. In the team-up title, then, the key would be… action” This definition between Action Comics and the other titles is marked, and exemplified by the contents of this issue. With the exception of the final page, none of Superman’s supporting cast appears, and no service is paid to the ongoing plots of Superman and Adventures of Superman.

Instead, what we get is action, and lots of it, featuring the stars of DC’s most popular team book at the time, the Teen Titans. First Cyborg, then the entire team, go up against the mind-controlled Superman, and this issue is little more than a very well-executed fight scene with a superficial plot tacked on. The mind-swap plot, such as it is, is pretty basic and non-descript, although the comparisons between the crripled Gunderson and the pinnacle of super-heroic ability that is Superman had more mileage than the simple homily of “It’s not you body that cripples you, Gunderson. It’s your mind!”. Unlike the similar fallen genius of Emil Hamilton, there is no on-page redemption for Gunderson, which is probably deserved thanks to his failure to disable the mind-control machine to ensure the switch would not be reversed, before going on a power-drunk rampage in Metropolis.

The action is well portrayed. Cyborg’s initial encounter with Superman is brutal and destructive. The fall from the top of the office building is painful, and the visuals of Cyborg without his cybernetic arm and leg are disturbing. The Titans fight with varying levels of success, with Changeling coming across as impulsive and a little reckless, whilst Jericho’s inventiveness to insert himself into the fight, using a piece of fruit, surely the least threatening item imaginable in the destruction of the fight, is deft and amusing.

This is a light issue, short on plot and resonance, but high on power, energy, and panache.

The Geeky Bits:

I mentioned that I would touch on this a while back, but the use of the Teen Titans as the guest stars in this issue tells us a lot about how compressed DC history is when compared to that of Superman. The last time we saw Robin was in Legends of the DC Universe #6, set between Man of Steel #4 and #5. Approximately three years or so passes between that issue and the January 1987 issues of the Superman titles, meaning that Robin has his entire career as Robin as well as some time as Nightwing, including leading the Teen Titans, in this time. Of course, Nightwing doesn’t appear in this issue, but the appearance of the Titans was intended to be contemporaneous to their current adventures in their own title, resulting in this comparison.

Talking of the Teen Titans, their hugely-popular title, The New Teen Titans, had launched in November 1980, written by Marv Wolfman and pencilled by George Perez. The success of this title meant that it was the only DC book to rival the popularity of Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men, and the two titles shared a crossover in 1982.

This issue of Action Comics was covered on episode 3 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next Time on World of Superman: We take a look at the brilliance of Lana Lang.

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