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Sunday Slugfest: Action Comics #893

Posted: Sunday, October 3, 2010
By: Thom Young

Paul Cornell (Lex Luthor), Nick Spencer (Jimmy Olsen)
Sean Chen (p, Luthor) & RB Silva (p, Olsen)
DC Comics
Lex Luthor, continuing his search for residual traces of Black Lantern ring energy around the world, challenges the hyper-intelligent Gorilla Grodd in the jungles of Uganda. In the back-up feature, Jimmy Olsen loses a girlfriend and gains a nemesis.

Ross Haralson:
Chris Kiser:
Dave Wallace:

Ross Haralson:

In the last ninety days or so, Action Comics has quickly moved from “obligatory purchase” status (it is the longest running series in the industry, after all --though not chronologically the oldest) to a new position as one of my single most anticipated titles each month.

This issue story begins in medias res as Lex, robo-Lois, Lexcorp scientist Spalding and a handful of “red shirts” are trekking through the jungle where they soon find themselves set upon by the forces of Gorilla Grodd. While things immediately seem dire, a chilling flashback and some wily maneuvering from Luthor reveal that all is not as it seems.

Though the issue’s twist comes at the expense of originality--something that author Paul Cornell has Luthor note within the story--this lack of originality is mostly a void concern given that the dialogue is the real star of what is essentially the first “bridge” installment of Cornell’s stellar run. However, such labeling is not meant to imply that little of consequence occurs in this issue.

Luthor is seemingly one step closer to his goal of reconstituting a Black Lantern ring after the events of this story, and there is a significant and possibly transformative scene involving robo-Lois toward issue’s end. Additionally, the last page reveal promises a fantastic new direction for the story beginning next month--which, of course, offers little surprise for those who frequent DC’s “The Source” spoiler blog.

Cornell’s pitch-perfect characterization of Luthor never disappoints; Lex remains a compelling and occasionally relatable protagonist--though readers lulled into a false sense of security are soon reminded of the character’s villainous nature.

While Action Comics may now be a “bad guy” book, featuring appropriately questionable (and sometimes nefarious) behavior from its lead, there is no deficit of humor within its pages--from the subtlety of Luthor’s line to Cardington (“I’m sure you’ll go down very well”) to Grodd’s overt effort to eat the brain of “Lois Lane,” Cornell continues to deftly weave much-welcome humor amidst the book’s scenes of intense action and occasional horror.

It is also worth noting that the supporting cast is just as strong as Luthor himself. The aforementioned Spalding is a fun character who complements Lex nicely--simultaneously transcending the genre’s typical “henchmen” role and offering readers a character in whom they might quickly identify (particularly during Luthor’s more monstrous moments).

Meanwhile, Robo-Lois adds an interesting layer of depth to Lex by virtue of her very existence. She grows increasingly more interesting (and independent!) as the overall story progresses.

Sean Chen provides the guest pencils for this issue, and in a move that defies the normative rules of “fill-in artistry,” he proves equally qualified for the role. His character designs are clean-but-textured, and he obviously excels at conveying emotion.

From Grodd’s bemused expression on page 2 to robo-Lois’ exasperation on page 7 to Lex’s looks of mischief and horror on pages 13 and 19, Chen’s artwork never once seems overshadowed by the excellence of Cornell’s script. Hopefully, should Pete Woods need an additional break to catch up later during Cornell’s run, DC will again seek Sean Chen to provide guest art.

I suspect that just as much of the issue’s artistic consistency should be attributed to the presence of regular colorist Brad Anderson, whose work is as outstanding as ever. The Ugandan jungle seems lush and inviting (despite its hostile tenants), while nuances birthed from shifts in setting or timeline are appreciably varied.

For all of the praise that I may offer the lead feature, I must admit my slight disappointment regarding the new back-up feature starring Jimmy Olsen.

Up-and-coming writer Nick Spencer (of Morning Glories fame, among other series) provides an entertaining script and strong characterization--and R.B. Silva’s art is absolutely delightful. However, the long-delayed and much-publicized debut of Chloe Sullivan into the DC Universe comes across as muted and irrelevant.

Lexcorp junior executive Sebastien Mallory, introduced as a foil for Olsen, proves more engaging in a single panel than Chloe manages in the chapter’s entirety due to Chloe’s clichéd dialogue (“You used to be exciting, Jimmy!”) and eventual relegation to “arm candy” status.

If Chloe’s inclusion had not been one of the feature’s primary selling points, I would be far less critical of Spencer’s use of the character. However, given this is her first in-continuity appearance, it is virtually impossible to ignore the utterly wasted potential. Nevertheless, “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week: Day One” does manage to instill more interest in “Superman’s Pal” (in a mere ten pages, no less) than the summation of the past decade’s worth of comics that have featured the character--and for that aspect Spencer warrants a great deal of approval.

My complaints regarding the story itself, however, are almost completely washed away by Silva’s heavily stylized and gorgeous artwork. While I was tempted to dock Action Comics #893 a full bullet due to the treatment of Chloe Sullivan, Silva’s exemplary performance easily justifies a more forgiving approach. I look forward to more from this team.

Chris Kiser:

Once upon a time, the notion of transforming DC’s longest running title into a series of hilarious and quirky adventures starring the publisher’s biggest villain would have been laughable. Then, along came Paul Cornell to devour our preconceptions like a telepathic gorilla with a giant spoon.

Three months since Cornell took over, readers have come to expect a wildly unique reading experience within the pages of Action Comics, and the latest issue doesn’t fail to deliver. Nowhere else among the Big Two can you find the eccentricities of flagship characters exploited for a maximum dosage of in-continuity fun.

That is, without devolving into the self-parody of something like Deadpool, a misstep that Cornell’s Action Comics has deftly managed to avoid. While featured player Lex Luthor’s greed and arrogance is amusingly turned up to 11, there’s still a real story being told here, complete with genuine conflict and thrilling twists and turns.

It’s the perfect environment to allow a character like this month’s guest antagonist, Gorilla Grodd, to flourish. Rarely have the absurdities of this sinister brain-munching simian been able to coexist with his supposedly fearsome reputation as a formidable foe, yet they do so with ease in the world Cornell has crafted.

Putting this issue over the top, however, is the arrival of a backup feature in these pages that meshes perfectly with the main story’s witty flavor. Nick Spencer (of Existence 2.0 and Morning Glories fame) makes his mainstream comics debut with a serial starring Jimmy Olsen, and the fit couldn’t be any more suitable.

I’ve never read an issue of the Silver Age Jimmy series, but I think it’s safe to say that Spencer concocts the perfect blend between that era’s zaniness and a modern storytelling sensibility. The clever pop culture references fly as Jimmy finds himself neck deep in outlandish situations of the sort only possible in the world of comics.

You might even say that the backup outshines the main story this month, if for no other reason than the bold and expressive cartooning provided by R. B. Silva. It’s an attribute that the Luthor segments would normally share but end up missing this time around with Sean Chen’s merely adequate fill-in work for the absent Pete Woods.

While J. Michael Straczynski works full-time to depress and frustrate Man of Steel fans over in Superman, Action Comics is delivering a celebration of the franchise the likes of which were last found during Grant Morrison’s work on All-Star Superman. Now, with Spencer on board, it’s a double shot of entertainment every 28 days.

Dave Wallace:

After a run of winning issues of Action Comics in which Paul Cornell has made the character of Lex Luthor just as compelling a protagonist as Superman has ever been, this story--in which Lex must do battle with Gorrilla Grodd--is the first issue of Cornell’s run that didn’t completely win me over.

A big part of the problem is that it feels as though the issue exists less to tell an interesting story in its own right, and more to build up to the next issue (#894), setting up the following chapter’s widely-publicised guest-appearance of Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

To whit, throughout the issue we get more than one “death” scene for Lex Luthor, which apparently exist more to tease the reader than because they’re essential to the story at hand. Yes, it’s quite fun to see the battle of wits between Gorrilla Grodd and Lex play out, with a couple of unexpected twists and some (presumably intentionally) tenuous explanations for exactly how Lex has managed to pull the wool over Grodd’s eyes in order to get his hands on the Black Lantern Ring energy that the sinister simian is jealously guarding. But there just doesn’t feel like there’s that much of a story here, especially compared to previous issues of Cornell’s run.

Perhaps another part of the problem is that I don’t find Gorrilla Grodd to be a particularly compelling antagonist: I’ve never read any stories involving him in the past (aside from the “Flash” strip in Wednesday Comics), and I didn’t really get any sense of his character (aside from the broad strokes) or of his relationship with Lex Luthor here. In fact, aside from Cornell’s stated desire to put Lex up against some enemies that he wouldn’t usually cross paths with, there doesn’t really seem to be any good reason for the two to clash at all.

Still, their confrontation(s) are fun enough to make for a fairly readable and entertaining issue (with absurd details like Grodd’s “combat spoon” adding some extra life to proceedings), and I can’t deny that I’m intrigued to see what follows the issue’s closing splashpage. It just feels as though, in order to get to that point, Cornell has turned in one of his weaker efforts since taking over the book.

The backup strip by Nick Spencer, featuring Jimmy Olsen, is reasonable enough--but equally, it’s not anything to write home about. In fact, its biggest draw for DC fans (and Superman fans in particular) is its incorporation of a character from the TV show Smallville into “official” continuity. Combined with the significance of the closing splashpage of Cornell’s lead story, it makes me wonder whether this issue might be worth snapping up just in case it rises in value as a result of these two historic events of minor importance to the world of DC comics.

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