Thursday, March 14, 2013

Action Comics #14

"Superman's Mission to Mars"


Grant Morrison Writer
Rags Morales Penciller
Mark Propst Inker
Brad Anderson Colorist
Steve Wands Letterer
Wil Moss Associate Editor
Matt Idelson Editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster

I'm going to be perfectly honest: I have no idea when this story takes place. Traditionally, Action Comics takes place before the "now" of every other comic in 2011. But once Superman started fighting the fifth-dimmesional demon Vyndktvx, Morrison has played fast and loose with the timeline. In issue #15, Superman says he has memories of going to Mars, but won't actually go there for two more years. So I'm assuming that this two-year jump puts it right in the middle of normal continuity. But I could very easily be wrong. Once Morrison finishes his run, we might be able to piece everything together and put all the stories in the proper order. Or worse, Morrison might create a big event that negates everything that happened in Action Comics. Anyway, here is Action Comics #14.

The cover is by Rags Morales and Brad Anderson. It's not a bad cover — it's nice to finally see the Multitude, which was built up for quite some time, and it's kind of neat to see them as vicious angels with fiery swords. But the image itself doesn't strike me as particularly dynamic, and maybe that's because of Superman's weird face. It looks like he was just flying along, ran into these angels, paused and looked at them for a second, then went his way. I think he should have been fighting them, or at least looked a little more concerned. Also, the blue sky and cover text are very misleading. The Multitude in actuality does not visit Earth — at least in this issue (I don't know, I haven't read any Action Comics after this one).

The variant cover is by Steve Skroce and Jason Keith. Now this is the kind of action I want to see on my comic book cover. I do think Superman's cape is ridiculously too big, but other than that, this is a solid cover.

The main story sadly does not include the Flash, but if you want to buy this to read just the backup, then you might as well give the main story a glance. So that's what I'll do here.

The story starts with Superman hearing a distant cry for help, which he follows to a scientist colony on Mars, which is being attacked by machine-aliens called Metalek.

Superman fights them for a little bit, but ultimately ends the conflict by talking to the aliens and negotiating a truce. But as soon as that fight ends, the colony is attacked by the Multitude — a never-ending army of feral angels. With the scientists' help, Superman is able to defeat them. But at the end, he realizes the Multitude was merely a tool being wielded by Vyndktvx.

That was a shockingly brief recap, but really that's all that happened. A couple of fights that ended very quickly and conveniently. Luckily, we do have a backup story that does have the Flash (if only for a little bit.

"Star Light, Star Bright ..."

Sholly Fisch Writer
Chris Sprouse Penciller
Karl Story Inker
Jordine Bellaire Colorist
Steve Wands Letterer
Wil Moss Editor
Matt Idelson Group Editor
Special thanks to Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Jose Shuster

The story starts with Superman and the Justice League battling N'rrssshk't the Conqueror and his army of reptilian aliens armed with thought canons, multiphase quantum blades and encephalobots. Superman shields Batman from a big blast, and Batman actually thanks him, but asks, "Don't you have somewhere to be?" Superman is hesitant to leave his comrades, but Cyborg and Flash assure him they're fine.

Finally, Wonder Woman is able to convince him to leave by simply saying, "Go." So Superman flies to the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

He meets with some astronomers who show him pictures of his trip to Mars last week, but more importantly, they prepare him for the moment he's waited all year for — a chance to see Krypton. The planet is 27 light years away, so they normally can't see it, but on this night, when the orbit brings it closest to Earth, the astronomers have arranged for all the planet's major telescopes and satellites to focus on it. With all the devices working together, they are able to essentially use the Earth as a giant mirror, and Superman is able to process the enormous amount of data on their supercomputer to create a clear image of Krypton exploding.

The Good:

Real-world application. One of the astronomers, Dr. Tyson, is a real astronomer, and he gave DC the real coordinates of a star 27 light years away. So now budding astronomers can look up in the sky and see where Superman came from, which is pretty neat. The backup story also featured a lot of scientific background and explanation that I imagine will inspire a few kids to pursue astronomy. I also enjoyed the bittersweet ending here. On the one day Superman is able to see his home world, it explodes.

The Bad:

Limited Flash exposure. He really didn't even need to be here, and was probably thrown in as an after-thought. Although I am always happy to see the Flash in another title, I'm a bit saddened when that appearance is nothing more than just one panel.

Sloppy art. The backup feature had a good story, but unspectacular art, especially for the opening fight, which should have been really cool. Think about it: if you're an aspiring artist working for DC, and your editor tells you that you get to draw the Justice League fighting dinosaur aliens, wouldn't that be a dream come true? Wouldn't you go all out with your best stuff? But sadly, Chris Sprouse's work did not reflect that. Maybe that was his absolute best. Who am I to judge? All I can say is I didn't enjoy it. I also didn't enjoy Rags Morales' work in the main story. That especially felt sloppy to me, considering how much time he had to work on it. He had a lot of help on issue #12, then took off #0, the annual and #13, only to turn in #14 at a lower standard than what he usually does.

Uninspiring main story. I think there were a number of people who picked up this issue just for the backup. There was a fair amount of press around the "discovery" of Krypton, and then there were guys like me who just wanted to see a particular Justice League character. In this day and age, I think DC should offer these backups as separate, 99-cent digital comics. What if I loved Shazam, but couldn't stand the Justice League? But right now, the only option is to pay the full $3.99 and hope the main story is halfway decent. But that wasn't the case this time. It was just Superman jumping from fight to fight and resolving his problems in rather unsatisfactory ways. I'm not against having him negotiate a truce — but I would like to hear that conversation. I'm also not against him soliciting help from others, but I think the Multitude was too great a threat to be beaten so quickly. Basically every adventure in Action Comics was somehow tied to the threat of the Multitude, and when we finally get to see them, they're only there for half a comic book.

Final score: 3 out of 10

Next time: Well, the Flash has had enough fun beating up N'rrssshk't the Conqueror, and now it's time for him to go back home and tell everyone Barry Allen isn't dead. Perhaps he should visit his girlfriend, Patty. I wonder where she could be ...

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