In Metropolis, criminals try to stay hidden from an all-seeing, all-hearing hero, while at the bottom of the ocean, a reanimated but foggy assassin undertakes a recovery mission that will haunt him. In New York, champions of justice gather with thieves and killers to discuss the fate of the universe, and in a different version of New York, comrades in arms gather for a reunion that turns into a rescue mission. I examine them all in this latest collection of capsule reviews.
by Brian Michael Bendis & Patrick Gleason
Bendis continues to impress with his examination of just how the world would work if there was an all-powerful, all-seeing and pure-of-heart caped messiah flying overhead. At the heart of the book is the inherent contradiction of Superman’s impossible powers and his grounded personality, fostered in the heartland of America. I love his interactions with the boy who’s falsely accused him of arson; the Man of Steel is both firm yet gentle with him. The organized crime ring’s methods of avoiding the hero’s attention is inventive as well, and the armed robbers’ panicked reactions to him in the opening scene are hilarious but so close to plausible that the scene rings true despite its ludicrous tone.
Gleason’s more stylized art brings a darker edge to Action than Ivan Reis’s realistic-leaning artwork in Superman, and given the role of the secret criminal organization serving as the antagonists here, it works well. Gleason’s more exaggerated elements work with Bendis’s humor, and I loved how the artist conveyed Superman’s speed in the opening scene as he catches bullets. 8/10
by Michel Fiffe/Paul Maybury
I’ve never been a big fan of Rob Liefeld comics (though I thought the original Hawk & Dove limited series in the 1980s inked by Karl Kesel looked sharp), but in recent years, Liefeld has taken to tapping indie comics creators to revive his Kewl 1990s characters and breathe a completely different kind of life into them. The Prophet and Glory relaunches were particularly compelling and unconventional, so the return of Bloodstrike piqued my curiosity. I have absolutely no familiarity or attachment to the property (though that was the case with those other titles as well), but I’m definitely pleased I got to sample this latest effort to bring an experimental and underground sensibility to the most mainstream and superficial concepts from a quarter century ago.
Michael Fiffe’s story about a memory-addled super-assassin is fairly accessible but rather ordinary from a plot perspective, but the artwork really sets it apart. The distorted yet organic look of the art is fascinating, and it exhibits a lot of influences, from Erik Larsen to Jae Lee, from Sam Kieth to Bill Sienkiewicz, and more. Oddly enough, one of the most mesmerizing visual aspects of the main story were Fiffe’s letters – highly unusual but eminently readable. Paul Maybury’s backup story, featuring Chapel, also boasted a plot (such as it is) that’s rather extreme and superficial, like the source material, but the offbeat, weird artwork is fascinating. It’s so interesting to see these Liefeld designs altered and presented in such different ways. Both stories reminded me of the weird interpretations we’ve seen at DC and Marvel, such as Tom Scioli’s “Super Powers” backups in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye and Ed Piskor’s mutant history in X-Men: Grand Design. 6/10
by Gerry Duggan & Mike Deodato
I’ve only read a couple of the Infinity Countdown comics that led into this latest event book revolving around the Infinity Stones, but fortunately, I wasn’t completely lost as I made my way through this new story. My familiarity with the characters (from decades of reading super-hero comics) made it accessible enough, but I can’t say I found it all that interesting. There’s a new villain trying to collect the Infinity Stones; writer Gerry Duggan endeavors to make her identity something of a mystery, but it’s painfully obvious who she is from the moment one sees her. Her motivation is a compelling one, though. Ultimately, what keeps this story from working is the haphazard collection of characters participating in the drama. Turk leading a Mind Stone contingent of street-level super-villains just doesn’t work in the mix. Another flaw here is that the big shock ending here makes it abundantly clear this plot doesn’t matter. It doesn’t feel as though anything is on the line. Furthermore, using a similar title and branding as Marvel’s giant mega-blockbuster, which is about to be released on home video, makes little sense, as the story doesn’t connect with the movie in any recognizable way.
Deodato has clearly adapted his style here, and I did find it intriguing. He plays around with how he illustrates panel borders, and there’s a looser quality at play that adds to the darker, brooding and sullen atmosphere of the plot. His figures sometimes reminded me of the grittier style of Dan (Slots) Panosian here, and I found his design for the heroic, alt-universe Loki to be striking (and in keeping with his original Silver Age look). Colorist Frank Martin also experiments more than a little here. Not only is the palette she employs appropriately dark and moody, but he employs effects clearly designed to replicate vintage Ben-Day dot textures and color patterns. However, I have to note that for a cosmic crossover book, I found it to be overly dark and lacking in the sort of energy and wonder I’d like to find. 5/10
by Rob Williams & Sergio Davila
The good news is that Dynamite’s latest foray into its revival of Golden Age heroes in a modern setting is pretty accessible. I’ve perused the pages of past Project Superpowers comics, but I honestly have little memory of what they were about. This new series doesn’t seem mired in the stories that came before; it simply offers the notion that these many obscure but classic characters have gone into retirement but are prompted back into action by a new threat. Williams’ script doesn’t make a lot of sense, though. We’re told these heroes are completely retired, but all show up costume, ready for action at an unexpected moment. The dialogue dwells on how the time for heroes is past, but that dissipates all too quickly. I did appreciate how Williams explores how the divisions in America and a brazenness among those willing to flaunt civility have cast a pall over the country, and I hope the examination of such themes continue.
I’m not familiar with Sergio Davila’s work, but he does a competent job with the visuals here, though there are few moments that really grabbed the eye. The opening moments both dwell on Masquerade, and it’s unfortunate that just about every depiction of her associated with this comic be it in costume or civilian attire, is aimed at objectifying her. Even the script focuses the audience’s attention on her sex appeal. At best, I think this can be described as merely ordinary, and I didn’t feel anything that made me want to see what happens next. 5/10