Monday, 27 June 2011

Introducing... The 20 Minute Longbox

So, you've probably noticed that I've been absent again. I have a post queued up, I then edited it at St Pancras station, accidentally cancelled the scheduled posting, and lost half of the post as well. It's been a struggle to go back to it again, but it'll be here in the next couple of days.

But I've also had another distraction. It turns out that I've gone and got me a podcast. And so, I present to you...

The 20 Minute Longbox

A brief and random dip into my longboxes, 20 Minute Longbox is a review of a random comic, one per episode. I've started with 52 #2, and the next episode, featuring Daredevil #502, will be up in a couple of days. The show is also on iTunes, and you can leave comments and reviews both there and at the libsyn page.

My show is very similar to the blog randomlongbox.com and I mean no disrespect to TomO by... well... ripping off his idea. However, we are both very different writers, with very different comic collections, and I'm sure the amount of crossover between our two projects will be minimal. TomO's blog looks like it's getting ready to return, and as soon as it does I'll be shouting about it, as it's one of my favourite reads on the internet.

Anyway, that's enough from me. Go and check out my show, let me know what you think, and stop by the Random Longbox and take a peek.

See you all in a couple of days!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Action Comics #586

Yes, I'm back. I had a great time at the MCM Expo. I had my entire run of All Star Superman signed by Frank Quitely. I got Hitman #34 - yes, that issue - signed by John McCrea. I got the most amazing Doctor Who variant cover from Tony Lee. It's a TARDIS on the front, and the cover opens in the middle to reveal the console room, twice the size of the cover. The inside is bigger than the outside. It's genius! And I saw exclusive Green Lantern footage and heard Maurice LaMarche do the voice of The Brain live. And Billy West rolled out Ren and Stimpy. It was great, and if you didn't get the chance to go then I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry.

I also got to see X-Men: First Class recently, and I've not felt that excited about an X-Men movie since X2. Everyone involved in the film did a cracking job, and that cameo was an absolute bloody treat. More recently, last night in fact, I saw the documentary film Senna, and I would fervently recommend that to anyone, regardless of your level of giving-a-crap about Formula 1. The film was superb, constructed entirely of archive footage and the very occasional context-giving voiceover. Go see it - you won't be disappointed.

That's enough of various bits and pieces, let's take a look at some comics.

Legends Chapter 19: Superman vs The New Gods! The Champion!

Storyteller: John Byrne
Embellisher: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: March 1987
Release Date: 26/12/1986

Lightray and Orion head to Apokolips. Superman is being tested by Granny Goodness, telling him that he is the son of Darkseid. Looking on, Amazing Grace wonders if the testing is safe, as Superman has lost some of his strength along with his memories. Darkseid reveals the extent of his plans, pretending not to recognise Superman as Clark Kent, ensuring that he meets and trusts Grace, Glorious Godfrey’s sister, and then manipulating Superman into giving the Hunger Dogs a taste of hope before crushing that hope. Darkseid questions if Grace has fallen in love with Superman.  Darkseid restore Superman’s powers and sends him off to fight for him, acknowledging the risk in doing so, as he has also restored Superman’s full brain functions and risks having his memories returned.

Superman flies above Apokolips and encounters Orion and Lightray. Lightray uses his powers to distract and confuse Superman whilst Orion prepares for battle. When he is attacked, Orion claims the right to single-combat, and the two fight. Orion quickly realises that Superman believes that he is the son of Darkseid, and removes his helmet to show Superman the true cost of being Darkseid’s progeny, hoping to shock Superman back to his true self.

Meanwhile, Lightray encounters Amazing Grace, who uses her seduction powers to sway him to her side. Realising what is happening, Lightray emits a bright burst of light, blinding Grace and breaking her spell. Returning to Orion, he finds that Superman has been cowed. Orion uses his Mother Box to restore Superman’s memories and costume. Realising what had been done to him, Superman lets out a loud yell, alerting Darkseid to the failure of his plans. Darkseid sends his omega beams, this time to destroy Superman. Superman leads the beams across Apokolips to the palace, where he tricks them into striking Darkseid. Although he survives, Darkseid is weakened, and the two fight. As soon as Superman gains the upper hand, Darkseid opens a boom tube and returns Superman to Earth. He then allows Orion and Lightray to leave Apokolips.

The final part of this Apokolips trilogy both delivers a strong ending to the story yet at the same time feels unfinished, thanks to its commitments to the wider Legends crossover. We have some fantastic battles here, including the first time Superman goes toe-to-toe with Darkseid, and the issue really lives up to the title of the series. Yet the ending also feels rushed, with Darkseid sending Superman back to Earth in a boom-tube when the book is about to run out of pages, rather than because his encounter with Superman has reached a natural ending.

This book is trying to do too much, which this is evidenced on the cover. The already busy Action Comics cover format, with separate banners for the guest-stars and creators, also has to take the Legends banner and two chunks of cover text. Orion and Superman’s fight barely takes up half of the cover, and as great as the image is – I particularly like the way the outline of the ‘S’ shield survives the full force of Orion’s attack – it is drowned out in the mass of words and logos all fighting for prominence.

Another way in which it is clear that this issue is trying to achieve too much is the inclusion of Lightray. His encounter with Amazing Grace is nice, but takes up space that is desperately needed by Superman. His presence has no real effect on Superman’s story within this issue, save as a mild distraction at the start of combat. As someone whose experience with the Fourth World is all from the post-Crisis era, Lightray is known to me as the guy who shows up here and who dies in Countdown to Final Crisis. Based on his appearance in this book, he appears to me to be a flying Dazzler, and whilst I am sure his role in the wider narrative of New Genesis is more substantial, I have never encountered this in my Superman reading. His brief usage of his power is good, but he doesn’t have the space in the narrative to make any real impact on me.
Orion has a much stronger role in the book than his companion. If this was your first time reading Orion, I feel that you walk away from this book knowing everything you need to know about the character. In particular, the dichotomy of the character really comes through. Although he struggles to control his Apokoliptian heritage, what really draws him into the battle is Superman’s claim to be Darkseid’s son. The art doesn’t quite convey the full horror of Orion’s un-muted appearance – let’s face it, there are scarier looking people out there who are not sons of the universe’s most evil being – but it does convey the idea of someone physically scarred by their ancestry.

I wrote last time about how I felt it was a missed opportunity not to have Superman deal with his actions whilst under Darkseid’s control. We’ll Superman see in the next instalment of Legends later in the same day as his return to Earth, and he is calm and rational enough to debate Darkseid’s plans with the President, implying that he has fully recovered and come to terms with his actions (in fact, that scene strongly implies that Superman’s entire stay on Apokolips occurred within a few hours, which would make the uprising of the Hunger Dogs the universe’s fastest revolution). Here, he lets rip at Darkseid, his anger driving him into his most physically combative encounter to date. Superman outmaneuvers the  omega beams, causing them to strike Darkseid, and Byrne’s artwork here portrays a damaged, hurt and pissed off Darkseid with a simple effectiveness that doesn’t diminish the character.  Darkseid is a mean fighter, and this first of many great clashes between these two characters is a strong one. This is the first time Superman has gone toe-to-toe with someone of equal power and prowess since he confronted his clone in Man of Steel #5, and the artwork again lends great weight and power to the blows that are landed.

The problem with this issue is how everything resolves, or doesn’t. All of a sudden, Darkseid opens a boom tube and deposits Superman back on Earth. He then exchanges some brief words with his son before letting him go. The entire Orion/Darkseid scene feels very underwhelming, with both characters departing to suit the scope of the Superman story instead of following the wider story of the New Gods. Yes, there’s a reference to their final battle that is yet to come (sadly, and spoilers here, it occurs in Countdown to Final Crisis, and the warm-up bout is Darkseid vs Jimmy Olsen…), but it does feel like Byrne has written himself into a little bit of a corner, with not enough room in the issue to resolve the non-Superman story, instead just letting it grind to a halt as soon as the main character is removed from the action.

The Geeky Bits: Orion and Lightray are both familiar with Superman, but their first meeting has as yet gone unrecorded. This is presumably the first time that Superman has entered direct combat with Darkseid, but if there have been other occurrences before now, they have gone unrecorded.

Next on World of Superman: As Superman starts to take a larger role in the main Legends series, we drop down to one issue per post and take a look at Legends #5.