DC: Action Comics #861, The Spirit #13

Man, I picked the right week to cut back on reviewing superhero comics! There was nothing out this week. Wait, I take it back — there were four Avengers title, because superhero comic publishers have never figured out balanced releases. I don’t care about any of them, though.

So what did I read? Action Comics #861, only because of my strong nostalgia for the Legion of Super-Heroes, and The Spirit #13.

Action Comics #861 cover

Action Comics #861 wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good, either. My favorite part was seeing the return of Ivy, the young plant controller, even if it was a fake out. (Ivy appeared primarily in Legion of Super-Heroes V4 #13 and #51. She was cute and had spunk.)

This storyline has the potential to be great, but it never gets there. The idea of a xenophobic future Earth afraid of aliens to the extent that they’ve rewritten Superman’s origin to make him purely human is an intriguing one with modern resonance, but although it’s frequently mentioned, it’s not often explored or tied into the otherwise-generic “battle of the planet empires” main plot. Plus, there’s the random murder/torture of having powers/cruelty elements so common in today’s superhero books, which have no sense of discretion or restraint.

We get a surprise an issue, roughly, but the pacing is standard current “drag it out to meet some specified number of issues”. And why is this story not appearing in the LSH title since it’s a LSH story guest-starring Superman, not the other way around? Is it only because this is being written by Geoff Johns? While I’m asking questions, Gary Frank’s art is stiff and vaguely unpleasant; didn’t his work used to be more attractive?

My new rating: I’ll read it if it’s in the house, but I won’t make a trip to buy it.

The Spirit #13 cover

For those of us still having trouble realizing that it’s already February of 2008, the cover of The Spirit #13 didn’t help. You could bill the Holiday this Special is covering as Valentine’s Day if it wasn’t for the Santa hats, gift wrapping, and gingerbread men. Then the first story is set on Halloween. Given the lack of coordination (and lack of theme followthrough), it looks like someone is publishing the sweepings at the bottom of the art drawer. This story is overwritten, trying too hard to be Eisner-like, and sometimes hard to follow, which is the opposite of Eisner.

The second piece, by Dennis O’Neil and Ty Templeton, is much better, as you’d expect from two such experienced talents. It’s straightforward, and I’m not sure it had to be a Spirit story (as opposed to a Batman story or any hero, really), but the look is quite good, with strong lines making a night of rainy menace and dirty work.

Gail Simone, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks end the book with a mostly wordless story where icons take the place of dialogue. I like the snowy setting and the icicle criminal queen. It’s simple, but it’s got a message (beyond good beats bad), an acronym joke, and heart. It’s ambitious and experimental, which makes it the most Eisner-like in the book.

9 Responses to “DC: Action Comics #861, The Spirit #13”

  1. Michael Rawdon Says:

    I assume this is running in Superman and not Legion because this Legion bears little resemblance to the one in the current Legion title. Also because it vaguely spins out of the (awful) “Lightning Saga” from last year.

    I agree with your review. Lot of potential, mostly squandered. Frank’s art is vaguely uncomfortable (especially the toothy smiles and grimaces his characters make).

    I can’t honestly think of anything I’ve read by Geoff Johns which was genuinely memorable. His run on Flash almost got there at times, but that’s all that comes to mind.

  2. akd Says:

    I’ve got to disagree with the Action Comics review. I’ve never been a fan of Superman before, but this story has seriously pulled me in; and I think the art is playing a large part in my enjoyment of it. I love the facial expressions that Gary Frank gives the characters. I find them SO much more expressive and less generic than the typical comic art. I also like how everyone doesn’t appear to have the face of a supermodel. Everyone has a much more average-guy-on-the-street look (other than being perfectly physically fit), and I like that. Beyond the art, I’m really enjoying the story too, but then again, I’ve loved all of Geoff Johns’ recent work.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I don’t remember Lightning Saga — what happened and why was it bad?

    I’m with you on Johns. I looked up his credits, and the only one I remembered and liked was Booster Gold, and there are two extenuating circumstances there: it’s co-written, and I’m not sure I’m enjoying the recent twists.

    AKD, glad to hear differing opinions so well-expressed. It’s true, there are a good variety of expressions, and that’s a strength.

  4. James Schee Says:

    Lightning Saga was the JLA/JSA crossover, that had LSH members popping up and that brought back Wally West, but also aided in the apparent death of Bart Allen.

  5. Dave Says:

    I used to really like Gary Frank’s stuff, about 10 years ago, but it seems like every character he draws anymore looks scary and deranged.

    IIRC, you had positive things to say about a Green Lantern Secret Files story that Geoff Johns wrote a couple of years ago.

    I generally like his stuff, but that’s with the full admission that he’s basically doing wank-off, continuity-whore fan-fiction. It just so happens that he and I seem to like a lot of the same stuff from yesteryear so it pushes all the right buttons for me.

    Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

  6. akd Says:

    When did continuity become such a “bad word” in comics? Why do you not see it in other mediums? For example, I’ve never once heard readers of the Star Wars novels complain that continuity is holding back good stories. I’ve never head the writers of said books complain that they have their hands tied when it comes to telling the stories they really want to tell. I for one think writers giving the “continuity complaint” are either showing laziness or lack of talent. If continuity is holding you back, just stop writing stories with established characters and worlds and just do your own thing.

  7. Johanna Says:

    You don’t see it in other media because there’s no comparison. The longest running movie series I’m aware of is 45 years and 20 or so entries (James Bond). Compare that to a couple of thousand stories over 70 years (Superman). And readers expect them all to somehow fit together or be explicitly explained away.

    Plus, other media are more expensive to produce, so you don’t often see people creating stories just to answer a continuity point. (The genre series novels like the one you mention may be an exception to that.) They write novels to tell an interesting story about involving characters, not to settle which Earth someone really belonged on (like that Black Canary is her own daughter in stasis story). And no other medium has universes the same way comics does.

    Someone may want to “just do their own thing”, but they might not have a career that way, given the current publisher emphasis on the shared universe over quality.

  8. Rob Barrett Says:

    My only qualm here is that people keep discussing Geoff Johns as though he was Roy Thomas–i.e., a man who *killed off* Dian Belmont in an issue of All-Star Squadron to explain why the Golden Age Sandman changed costumes when Kirby and Simon took over the character’s Golden Age book. Geoff Johns has not yet killed a character on camera to explain a costume change, so he doesn’t merit the charge that he’s writing “wank-off, continuity-whore fan-fiction.” He has a long way to go to catch up to 1980s Writing for DC Roy Thomas, my pick for the Gold Standard in Continuity Whores.

  9. Michael Grabois Says:

    This Legion story is in Action Comics and not the regular Legion title is that this is a story about the Legion that Superman (as Superboy) used to be a member of. The current Legion title is a whole ‘nother team.




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