Comic Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1021

The Man of Steel fights to save Metropolis from total destruction…

Action Comics #1021

Cover art by John Romita Jr (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  John Romita Jr / inks by:  Klaus Janson / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

“Metropolis Doom!” Conclusion : as Metropolis crumbles, Superman faces-off against a supervillain team-up of seemingly unbeatable proportions – but help is at hand…

In review

A good but by no means great issue of Action Comics, issue #1021 concludes the “Metropolis Doom” arc which began back in issue #1017.  The good is furnished by writer Brian Michael Bendis with an entertaining, if packed, script and solid characterisation whereas the not-so-good is the result of the underwhelming visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Brian Michael Bendis produces some challenging stakes for the Man of Steel as he confronts the combined threat of Leviathan, the Invisible Mafia and Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom.  Luckily, Superman has some help as the Justice League and Young Justice join the fight to save Metropolis from annihilation.  Bendis continues to demonstrate his passion and belief in the values of Superman in a classic take on the character that is both reverential and relevant, bringing strength and hope in a time of bleak crisis.  The support of the likes of Justice League comrades Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern in addition to Young Justice heroes such as Conner Kent’s Superboy, Impulse and Wondergirl enhances the hopeful and upbeat aspects of the story.  It’s certainly ambitious and epic in scope but can also make thing seem a little overcrowded at times, there are some fun quips from the likes of Flash and Conner Kent in the heat of battle and there’s a lot of strong dialogue for Supes himself, maintaining the determination and morality we’d expect – even when the odds are stacked against our hero.

In terms of adversaries, Leviathan continues to be an intriguing and well-defined antagonist with an idealistic nature and identifiable motivations.  Bendis also continues to develop the increasing threat of the Invisible Mafia and the Red Cloud which has been building since the beginning of his Action Comics tenure, but perhaps it’s time to bring things to a head with Red Cloud/Robinson Goode and seek some resolution to that particular arc.  Once again though, Lex Luthor (in his ‘apex’ form) is the most formidable of opponents and the climactic showdown between Luthor and Superman is suitably tense and richly dialogued.

What really diminishes the quality of this issue – and indeed this arc – is penciller John Romita Jr who’s blocky, cartoonish characters and overuse of linework to accentuate shading is something of an acquired taste (it’s a shame that Romita Jr has maintained this style in recent years as some of his earlier work is actually pretty good).  It’s not totally awful, the visuals are improved by legendary inker Klaus Janson and veteran colourist Brad Anderson and to be fair Romita Jr does help construct some intense action sequences and is able to bring out the emotions of the various players, but it irrefutably pales in comparison to the exemplary work Ivan Reis is doing over on the also Bendis-written Superman.  Fans of John Romita Jr will likely be satisfied but one can only wonder how much more appealing and effective the story could have been if drawn by someone like Jim Lee or Jason Fabok.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis writes a fairly enjoyable, if overstuffed, issue of Action Comics that’s let down by some unremarkable visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Action Comics #1021 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1012

There’s mystery and intrigue as Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman work…

Action Comics #1012

Cover art by Jamal Campbell (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Szymon Kudranski / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

As Superman faces the threat of Leviathan’s attacks, Daily Planet reporter Robinson Goode investigates the rise in criminal activity in Metropolis…

In review

Following the recent launch of the Event Leviathan mini-series, Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman run with the latest issue of Action Comics.  Building on the previous arc, “Leviathan Rising” and the ‘Invisible Mafia’ storyline, Action Comics #1012 is a slow but interesting read – it’s lack of action (ironically there’s much more of that in the main Superman book, also written by Bendis) made up for with some intriguing character work.  Despite the comic’s cover, there’s actually not a lot of Superman – or Clark – in this issue, which makes sense given he’s busy with what’s going on in Superman and Event Leviathan.  Bendis does however provide some enjoyable moments between Clark and Lois in the Fortress of Solitude, where there’s some sweet and playful dialogue as the couple discuss their first meeting before Clark speeds off to deal with a crisis or two.

The bulk of Action Comics #1012 focuses on the Daily Planet’s newest reporter, Robinson Goode a.k.a. Superman’s new adversary known as the Red Cloud – who seems to be having trouble controlling her ‘red mist’ powers (as her ambiguous secret meetings with the Invisible Mafia’s ‘Queenpin’ continue).  Bendis gives Goode an appropriately snarky quality and her often dismissive attitude towards her colleagues, specifically Trish, adds to that although there’s a little bit of fun as the pair ponder over a photograph of Lois Lane locked in an embrace with Superman…a moment that could have consequences?  Shifting the narrative forward, Goode meets with Rose Forest who reveals that she has been fighting the underground criminals of Metropolis as the meta-vigilante ‘Thorn’ and believes that there’s a conspiracy within the city’s police that’s linked to the increasing Metropolis crime-wave.  This is where the story begins to get interesting and more so as it builds ties to Event Leviathan – that series can be enjoyed separately, but Action Comics also functions as a companion piece whilst still fleshing out its own ongoing story arcs.

Part of what works well with Action Comics is that Brian Bendis brings a more grounded, street-level quality to the book (saving the epic scale and spectacle for Superman) with a tighter focus on characters such as Robinson Goode, the Daily Planet and an investigative angle that’s all in evidence here and whilst there is less of Superman, his presence is still felt throughout the story.

Szymon Kudranski’s art is rather excellent – there are a couple of odd facial expressions but it’s generally strong and full of detail, with an extra grittiness employed in the brutal sequences depicting Thorn’s violent encounters with Metropolis gangsters.   Colours by Brad Anderson are especially effective in the contrast between the darker, more sinister moments and the brighter, clearer scenes elsewhere.

The bottom line:  A slow yet intriguing issue of Action Comics with which writer Brian Michael Bendis continues to build a solid run for the Man of Steel whilst neatly tying into Event Leviathan.

Action Comics #1012 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #1

In Darkest Knight…

Written by:  Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello / pencilled by:  Andy Kubert / inks by:  Klaus Janson

What’s it about?

The Dark Knight has returned once again and his mysterious and brutal attacks on the Gotham City Police set him on a collision course with Commissioner Yindel…

In review

The long awaited continuation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight saga is finally here as The Master Race is unleashed upon the DC Comics readership who have anticipated this title with both excitement and trepidation.  The sequel to Miller’s seminal masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and the not-so-well received and downright bizarre The Dark Knight Strikes Again, The Master Race sees Miller team up with celebrated comics writer Brian Azzarello – known for having penned numerous standout DC Comics stories including Batman: “Broken City”, Superman: “For Tomorrow”, Joker and Lex Luthor (as well as a highly regarded run on Wonder Woman for DC’s New 52).

Whilst Miller’s contribution to comics cannot be understated and both Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are definitive Batman stories, his later work was found to be less so and it’s clear that Azzarello has worked with Miller to refine and filter his ideas to deliver something more cohesive and classic that both harkens back to those aforementioned masterworks and simultaneously brings the world of The Dark Knight up to date.  In terms of story, very little actually happens in this opening chapter of The Master Race but this simply follows the slow-burn approach that was a key part of the structure of The Dark Knight Returns.  Instead, readers are reintroduced to Miller’s world and his chosen cast of characters including the likes of Commissioner Yindel, Wonder Woman, Lara and a frozen (undoubtedly soon to be thawed out) Superman.  As with previous Dark Knight instalments there are a wealth of newscast talking heads delivering much of the exposition (as well as conveying commentary on the social and political lanscape) and the Batman’s appearances are kept largely in the shadows before pulling the rug from underneath the reader with a killer final page that will leave many reeling – and counting the days – until the next issue is published.

Much is relinquished to the visuals in this first issue and Andy Kubert’s pencils are the star of the show, enriched by the inks of Miller’s long-time collaborator, Klaus Janson.  Kubert refrains from wholly mimicking Miller’s style in favour of simply peppering his own with subtle hints of Miller-isms.  This is unmistakably the world Miller depicted in The Dark Knight Returns with Kubert delivering panel upon panel of intricate detail that together with Janson’s inks and Brad Anderson’s appropriately muted colours presents an epic, cinematic and nourish visual feast.

The Master Race is obviously Frank Miller’s idea but it’s through his collaboration with co-writer Brian Azzarello and penciller Andy Kubert that this eight issue series is likely to succeed where The Dark Knight Strikes Again failed, time will tell but this feels like it has the potential to be the “next” classic Batman story.

The bottom line:  The Master Race has a lot going for it, despite little narrative progression in this first issue there are hints of big things to come and Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson’s art is nothing short of sublime.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for DC Comics' 'The Dark Knight III: The Master Race'#1 by Andy Kubert.

Cover art for DC Comics’ ‘The Dark Knight III: The Master Race’#1 by Andy Kubert.