This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse and Graeme McMillan talk about Action Comics #900 and The Mighty Thor #1.
DOUGLAS: Action Comics #900 is a mess, and the regrettable thing is that it didn’t have to be this way.
I’d been enjoying Paul Cornell’s run on Action enormously–he took an impossible remit (writing a Superman series without Superman), and turned it into a totally convincing inside-out Superman series, a serial about Lex Luthor as someone who’s a great hero in his own mind. And with his lead feature here, he totally blows the landing. It actually reads like three stories piled on top of each other. One is the resolution to the Lex story (in which he becomes “several with the universe,” in the words of that old Martin Pasko E-Man story, then learns that he can’t do anything “negative” with his new power, and… well, fill in the rest; there are no surprises here). Then there’s the setup for “Reign of the Doomsdays,” which fills me with a slow sense of despair: it’s as if every possible Superman storyline has already been done, and therefore somebody decided that the next big Superman initiative should simply be reshuffling the elements of a couple of stories that kind of worked before (“Reign of the Supermen” and “The Death of Superman”). And finally there’s what the credits call the “memory lane” sequence, the pro forma flashback montage: Remember when Krypton blew up? Wasn’t that a time? And do you remember when Pa Kent died? Good times, good times. Also: that Death appearance a few months ago worked out nicely, so howsabout we bring her back for a few panels? And so on. This isn’t a story that can be enjoyed; it’s a story that keeps trying to remind you of how you used to enjoy this comic book in the hope that you won’t break up with it.
(More on TIME.com: The First Superhero Comic Book Hits #900)
The backup features read like what they are: brief filler pieces for a series’ anniversary issue that reflect on its history instead of expanding its possibilities. I will say that Ryan Sook’s artwork for his piece is really nice-looking; too bad Damon Lindelof’s script goes over such exhausted territory. Two different stories end with Superman declaring that he’s “only human.” Geoff Johns and Gary Frank give us cheesecake and another callback. David Goyer’s story (the one that extremist loons seem to be freaking out about) gives us one of those “oh man what if Superman had to deal with real world issues?!?!?!” scenarios, and ends up with an untenable conclusion. And the Richard Donner piece–or rather the piece with writing co-credits to Donner and one of his associates–is a disaster on multiple levels. I realize that it’s very difficult to say no to Donner, but seriously: this thing is printed as a storyboarded “screenplay,” which makes it look even more like limp fan-fiction than it already would have. (“Cliff catches up to Superman and does the one thing we all know you shouldn’t: he tugs on Superman’s cape!”)
EVAN: Once again, you’re all in my head, Douglas. This issue felt more like an obligation than a celebration, like going to mass/temple once a week. Most of what I enjoyed from Action #900 was the art. Pete Woods has evolved into a supremely confident artist, able to work big, bombastic action, engaging camera angles and strong facial expressions into his pages with ease. Gary Frank is great as always, even if everyone’s clothes seem uncomfortably tight, and Sook’s art just feels curvy and smooth and luscious. That Donner story is just an insult to readers, though. Shunt that off somewhere until it’s ready to be seen, and don’t pass it off as a finished work. And the Goyer short actually worried me, because if this self-important tone is an indicator of where the Nolan/Snyder movie is heading, then we might be in trouble.
(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: “You’ll Never Know” and “Action Comics”)
GRAEME: Yes! That was my thought exactly about the Goyer story – A sense of “THIS is the guy who’s writing the Superman movie? Oh, man, that’s not a good sign.”
(Agreed on the Donner story, as well. Ouch.)