Superman faces off against alien invaders and saves the solar system in Action Comics #23, and it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.
Written by Scott Lobdell
Illustrated by Tyler Kirkham
Superman battles the constructs of an immense alien civilization that has built a feudal system based on pure evil! Plus, in the backup story, Jor-El and Lara try to save the Science Council from the colonel who seeks to make all of Krypton kneel before him!
Ever since Grant Morrison’s nineteen issue run on “Action Comics” ended last spring, the title has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. New writer Andy Diggle walked away after one issue, forcing illustrator Tony Daniel to finish the arc and leaving DC scrambling to fill the void. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the book has suffered a loss of stature at DC, as recently the New 52 hype has faded away, and the big Man Of Steel publicity push focusing on the Snyder/Lee “Superman Unchained”. After Tony Daniel made it clear that he couldn’t commit to anything beyond the first Diggle plotted arc, the responsibility to continue ”Action Comics” until a new permanent team could be installed fell on the shoulders of ”Superman” title writer Scott Lobdell and frequent “Green Lantern” illustrator Tyler Kirkham. While Kirkham appears up for the challenge, the rushed schedule seems like it has stretched Lobdell a little thin.
This issue of “Action Comics” finds Superman caught in the crosshairs between a group of interstellar warriors and a rampaging space monster, and both are very casual regarding the possible destruction of Earth. Superman has just been summoned into space by foe Hector Hammond, after the deadly space weapon Hammond was building was destroyed by an even bigger deadly space weapon. Hammond has been attacked by member of the Pax Galactia, who are “presumably some order of cosmic justice or such stuff” as Superman himself quickly deduces. The Pax are preparing for a final battle with Lexus, an enormous monster made from evil magic and pieces of destroyed worlds. If Superman doesn’t do something, Earth will be stuck in the middle.
The work of Scott Lobdell with Superman has been the subject of much critical discussion, with the majority of opinion falling on the negative side. In this issue, Superman spends the entire time off Earth, facing a cosmic level threat in space. This of course not the first time that Superman has faced an extra-terrestrial threat to the world, but that doesn’t mean that he should sound like an unimpressed teenager as he does it. Clark’s dialog is quippy and punny as he beats up the bad guys, coming off more like a certain web crawler than the man of steel. It’s as though Lobdell is hoping to disguise a by-the-numbers Superman plot with snappy dialogue, and it just seems odd.
Where Lobdell makes his big mistake is by linking the story to his own “Superman” arc, and therefore the present time frame of the DC universe. Previously, “Action Comics” had been telling stories set in the past. At first the stories where set in the early days of Superman’s career, while the recent Diggle/Daniel arc was set one year before the present. This allowed for a Superman who was a little brasher, more full of himself, and overconfident in his abilities. Lobdell has kept the hubris in the series but ditched the past setting, and one doesn’t work without the other. When reading “Justice League” or “Superman Unchained”, which ostensibly occur at the same time as this “Action Comics” arc, Superman has already become the self-assured and measured leader that readers expect. Of course it makes sense that someone with awe inspiring powers that Superman possesses would be confident in their abilities, but Superman uses this confidence to calm the people around him, not to be cocky and full of himself.
If there was any reason to pick up this book, it’s for the art of Tyler Kirkham. The book is filled with splash pages and big spreads that really allow Kirkham to play with scale and detail. When Superman is dwarfed by a vaguely mechanically space dragon each section of its body appears to be constructed from millions of little tiny pieces, and Kirkham’s attention to detail really adds to the feel of realism. The book is firmly grounded in the DC Jim Lee-esque house style, but at least the issue’s thin plot of new-space-invaders gave Kirkham the chance to bring in some original designs.Continued below
Kirkham gets another chance to shine when the first of several action scenes begin. As Superman surprises his enemies with his attack, the panels begin to stretch diagonally across the double page spread. Superman speeds across two pages and throws an alien invader back the same distance, greatly adding to the sense of scope. As the fight continues, the diagonal panels coalesce around one centre (and rather badass) image, will showing snapshots of the fights best moments. It creates an enormous amount of kinetic energy on the page and gives the book a great sense of momentum. Kirkham’s past experience illustrating “Green Lantern” and other books in the GL family is put to particularly good use in this issue, as he clearly has the talent and experience to pull off epic space battles.
This particular arc on “Action Comics” is not shaping up to be an especially memorable one. In defence of Scott Lobdell, however, he inherited a bad situation. For the next couple months he is essentially acting as DC’s pitch hitter for Superman, and he gave them what they wanted: a not terrible Superman story. It’s unfortunate that his way of doing that was by moving the setting to the present and linking it to the “Superman” title, instead of allowing ”Action Comics” to have its own unique feel.
Final Verdict: 5.0 – A perfectly standard Superman story. It’s not bad, there’s just nothing to get excited about.