Monday, July 27, 2009

Action Comics #879

Superman has stepped away from the action, both on the planet Earth and in his headline billing within DC's second longest-running publication. Yep, ol' Supes has left our soil to take up residency on New Krypton, leaving the future of both the planet and this series up in the air. But the uneasy focal points of Action Comics during Kal's exodus, armor-clad fellow Kryptonians assuming the roles of Nightwing and Flamebird, haven't had to look far for a sense of purpose in his absence. With a renewed, camouflaged onslaught from General Zod in play, the planet's newest defenders have set out to eliminate every last one of the villain's sleeper agents, scattered across the globe.

Of course, with all that backstory a requirement to understand just what the heck's actually going on in this issue, the continued lack of a recap page in DC's ongoing catalog has never been more painful. If you've been keeping close track of the proceedings, Greg Rucka has organized a deep, relevant storyline here. In the missteps and miscommunications of Thara Ak-Var and Chris Kent, the two new heroes in question, there are a lot of obvious similarities to the days of Superman's own heroic coming of age. The two new faces are making a lot of mistakes that I have to imagine Clark made at some point, too. They're stepping into traps, being forced into tough decisions despite their good intentions, proving that especially at the start of their careers, nobody's perfect. Yet, without doing the appropriate online research, I'd have been left scratching my head and wondering why Dick Grayson was flying through the sky aboard a pair of built-in rocket boots. Shouldn't he be holding down the fort in Gotham City?

In his pair of new leads, Rucka has given us a pair of genuinely likable faces. Are they a bit too shiny, genuine and naïve? Maybe. But much of that can be written off as simple inexperience with this world, having been raised in a much more utopian society. Clark Kent is routinely seen as the world's biggest boy scout, and he was reared on Earth from his infancy. These two are experiencing the darker hints of our planet for the first time much later in life, and it's only natural that they'd be more out of touch than Superman was.

The latest in a series of fill-in artists, Diego Olmos performs decently enough. His layouts and storyboarding in particular are very strong, but lose some of their charm when brought into closer detail. As a result, his best work comes on pages with a broader scope, where the characters require less detail and the strength of his compositions can be better appreciated. In his finest moments, Olmos displays nice restraint and an excellent sense of movement, but his work often feels generic and agonizingly bland. As a whole, he's fundamentally sound if not especially exciting or original. At this point in his career, he seems content to merely fade into the background, filling a role but not taking it over. He needs something to set himself apart from his peers and I don't see it here.

I have to admire this issue's dedication to doing things a little bit differently, even though it doesn't always work. The constant Kryptonian dialect and accompanying subtitles throughout the issue are perfect examples. In theory it's a unique way to remind the readers of how detached the protagonists (and their targets) are from the world, but in execution it's clunky, providing more of a hurdle in the way of smooth reading than an aid to help us better understand the cast. The creators' hearts are in the right places, but the end product is always a few steps short of being a resounding success. Flip through it, see if you can keep up with it, and only then give it a closer look.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

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