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Action Comics #814

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004
By: Ray Tate



"Another Day at the Office"

Writer: Chuck Austen
Artists: Ivan Reis(p), Marc Campos(i), Guy Major(c)
Publisher: DC

Once again, after actually reading Chuck Austen's work, I'm finding the critical potshots taken at the author to be largely without merit. This is the first time in--oh, at least seven or eight years--that Action Comics has been anything more than consistently piss-poor.

Chuck Austen has a new take on Superman that's refreshing. Superman serves as not only the protector of all humanity but also Clark Kent's release from the humdrum of life. As such, Superman revels in his abilities and generates a sense of fun.

Mr. Austen provides multiple scenes of Superman in daring-do mode, and each one is worth reading. The Man of Steel stops a monorail robbery and berates the robbers' use of bad grammar. He beats the pus out of Darkseid's invading Parademons and loser villain favorite Kalibak. He saves lives even when those lives are not threatened by earth-shattering disasters. In short this is the sort of behavior that Superman often exhibited in the pre-Crisis. He actually does something super. He in fact does many things super.

The characterization of Superman differs strongly from the dreadfully dull serious incarnations--when they were actually not doppelgangers--from the post-Crisis era. Chuck Austen's Superman evokes the personality of the pre-Crisis version who very rarely was so stiff.

The pre-Crisis Superman often thwarted the pranks of Steve Lombard. With a blast of super-breath, he would steady a bucket of water balanced precariously on the edge of an ajar door from falling. Steve emulating Wile E. Coyote would check to see what went wrong with the setup of his practical joke and end up with a wet reception. Kal-El smiled and grinned. He could be seen in the Batcave learning judo from the Dark Knight or cheerfully chiding Lois Lane. It's nice to see Superman's sense of humor back in the dialogue and his actions, and we have Chuck Austen to thank for this return to the classic.

The artwork by Ivan Reis--who first caught my attention in Ghost--provides a gorgeous svelte, sinewy take on the Big Red S that almost channels the spirit of Neal Adams. Reis' talent for creating faces with depth and distinction brings a stunning realism that this book hasn't experienced in far too long. It's not ethnocentric to wish away the manga influenced art from Superman's titles. It's a matter of good taste.

Mr. Reis remembers the name of the book he's illustrating. Action Comics. Not Stand Around and Talk Comics. Not Sluggish Comics. Action Comics. Superman impresses moment after moment. Mr. Reis shows Superman using his powers in a breathtaking fashion that balks against the angst-ridden super-heroes and the misplaced realistic themes that have soured comic books for many turns of the wheel. Aesthetic realism should be in the artwork of comic books and in the feelings of the characters not in a plot which features a fantastic element such as a man who can fly. He exists in the story to contrast a realistic world. Thus, crime is stopped when a bullet ricochets off the S-Emblem. Nobody is killed by the bullet because Superman catches the ricochet. There's no brooding necessary because Superman saves the day.

Even a brief scene in Action Comics depicting Lois Lane is worth relishing. Mr. Austen characterizes her as savvy and confrontational. Ivan Reis dresses her in stylish clothing. Aided by the lush inks of Marc Campos and the splendid color blends of Guy major, the design of Lois' features and the beauty of the character issues from the panels. I cannot wait to see the new take on this character in future issues.

Chuck Austen returns to Superman an abandoned sense of fun, and Ivan Reis returns to Action Comics dynamics and anatomy. What's more, this comic book can be read by anybody at any age. It's smart enough for kids and adults.



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