Sunday, February 28, 2010

Johns in Action

Another month, another look at a series run by a given writer. As regular readers know, Geoff Johns has been a writer I've been following for awhile now, though I've come to the conclusion it's not in my economic interest to buy everything he writes for DC. Too damn prolific. And with Chris's Invincible Super Blog recently taking on (more like lambasting) the Smallville episode/movie that Johns wrote, why not take a look at some of Johns's Superman work in the comics?

I started reading with Action Comics 844, a way back in '06, when Johns was teamed with Richard Donner and Adam Kubert. Of course, this lead to the usual problem of Kubert delays in getting the art done, which was too bad because I thought Johns and Donner did a good job on this arc, which told the story of Chris Kent's arrival in the DCU. Still, after going along well in issues 844-846, there was a hiatus on the conclusion of the story all the way to issue 851 and Annual 11. The story used Zod, Ursa, Non and Bizarro to good effect, with a particularly heroic turn by Mon-El, as well as Chris. Kubert's art is great, of course, but, man, does it kill the flow when there's a 4 issue break to get to the penultimate issue, though I think it was bumped an extra issue for the issue 850 special that was created by Kurt Busiek, Johns, Fabian Nicieza and Renato Guedes.

The issue 850 special was a nice bit of work, too. I'm sure Jim liked it, as it used the Legion as the device to look at Superman's history and incarnations on other parallel worlds. It also developed Supergirl more than other appearances, at least based on my second hand knowledge of what's been going on with the character, aside from an appearance in Brave and the Bold that was just in left field. Her often whiny tone is taken down a notch through her viewing of life through Clark's perspective growing up and as a man on his own. A very good one and done tale.

Skipping ahead to issues 855-857 (as I'm skipping the non Johns stuff), we come to my favorite of the Johns run. Escape from Bizarro World was great fun. Johns teamed up with Donner again on the writing, and Eric Powell, of The Goon fame, on art. In fact, after reading this and the opening arc, I'm think Donner might be one to read if he writes something on his own. I was never all that impressed with the Superman movies, but his contribution here was great.

Bizarro kidnaps Pa Kent and takes him to Bizarro World, which is a cubed planet Bizarro has created for himself by forcing asteroids together. It circles a blue sun that gives Bizarro the power of vision that creates whatever Bizarro dopplegangers he thinks of. As a result, Bizzaro World is populated by odd knockoffs of the people we know from Superman's world. Superman flies there in a ship so he'll be able to bring Pa back, but the blue sun has its own unpredictable effects on Superman's powers. For a time, Pa has the same powers as Superman as a result.

The best part, though, is when Bizarro creates his own JLA. Batman is dumb as a stone. Flash is fat and slow. Wonder Woman ties herself up in her own lasso, a fitting homage to the character's bondage origins. Best of all, though, the Green Lantern is a Yellow Lantern of the Sinestro Corps, totally inept as he is, and he's called away by his ring to fight in the Sinestro Corps War. Superhero comics with humor. Gotta love it. And Powell's art is perfect for this story. Easily the best Bizarro work I've ever read, and some of the best Superman.
Which is not to say the next arc in issues 858-863 wasn't great in a totally different way, though it too was written by Johns. Along with Gary Frank, who's art is so great at capturuing a realistic feel, Johns took Superman to the 31st Century for a story with the Legion of Superheroes battling an Earth run by Nazi types who were either rejects from the Legion or villains, so long as they were born on Earth and willing to eject, kill, or impound any aliens on Earth. To their leader, Earth Man, they were acceptable to the Justice League of Earth.

Johns was overtly political in this one, going after the anti-immigrant sentiment prevalent in the US now. While he made the anti-immigrant crowd a set of straw villains, it doesn't invalidate the fact that the perspective he challenged can only lead to the same logical end, if followed through to its end. There's even a similar attempt to re-write history in this story, as is often done when anti-immigrant proponents conveniently forget our own heavily immigrant origins (and the chimera that is the distinction between legal and illegal immigration in most of US history). I liked the touch of having the Earth born Legion substitutes being the key to defeating the Justice League of Earth.

Issue 864 was a one off story with Joe Prado that went into the Time Trapper's involvement in the preceding arc and that tied into the Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds story, without any requirement of knowing what happened in that story. Unfortunately, it was mostly forgettable. Hell, I just read it in the last week and have already forgotten most of it.

Issue 865, though, was a stand alone with Jesus Merino that was far more memorable. I've never been a follower of the Toyman stories with Superman, not having been much of a Superman reader before picking up on this run of Action Comics stories (with the exception of John Byrne's re-launch of the character back in the '80s). I really like this issue, though. After the Bizzaro World Story, this may have been my favorite story. It wrapped up some disparate presentations of the Toyman into a logical continuity. 'Course, it may have seemed more logical to me than someone steeped in all the stories that had gone before. Merino's art is great, and the Toyman is a sympathetic, if psychologically damaged, villain. I particularly liked the Toyman's objection to being locked in Arkham with Batman's various damaged nemeses, 'cause he's not a Batman person.

Issues 866-870 were a Braniac story, told again with Gary Frank on art, along with Jon Sibal. Again, a fittingly realistic depiction for the story told. Supergirl came across as heroic as I've seen the character since her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. This arc had more of the traditional supporting cast of Lois, Jimmy and Perry than the preceding ones had, at least since the opening arc with Chris Kent. Johns had the characters well formed and well used, including Braniac and the more minor supporting cast at the Daily Planet. Nothing tops the death of Pa Kent in this arc, prosaic as that death was.

The final arc of issues 871-872 were less enjoyable, in large part because they were part of the larger New Krypton story that ran in other titles, which I think I bought at the time, but didn't re-read in the course of this retrospective. Pete Woods did the art this time around. It was a heavier style, with a blockier format. It was sometimes distracting, but really, the great melodrama that unfolded in this arc was so distracting in its own right, I don't think the art made a differencde. Too much of what's carried forth into the internicine politics of New Krypton stories going on currently, which I'm largely skipping. At least Zod didn't show up as ally of Lara until the end. This arc seemed more editorially driven to shake things up in the Superman corner of the DCU and less an organic strory as created by Johns.

All and all, a good run of stories that I enjoyed, despite the petering out at the end. The non Johns fill in issues were passable, but largely forgetable. At least the New Krypton arc introduced Nightwing and Flamebird, whose stories I've enjoyed in the subsequent Action Comics issues.

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