REVIEW: ACTION COMICS #865- SPOILERS BELOW

Action Comics #865

Back in late 1993 I remember being somewhat shocked at what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman in Superman (Vol. 2) #84.  It was a complete departure from what had come before.  Sure the Toyman had been a killer.  John Byrne set that up in the character’s first Post-Crisis appearance in Superman (Vol. 2) #13.  To Byrne’s mind  Winslow Schott was a brilliant toy maker from England but whose ideas on what children want were declared outmoded and after getting fired from the John Bull Toy Company he went a little crazy and went on a killing spree that started with Walter Dunhill (the man that had fired him) and continued on with other stockholders in the company.  The British super-hero Godiva got involved but proved to be no match for Schott’s deadly toys. 

Superman became involved when British Intelligence warned the Man of Steel that Schott might be in Metropolis to kill Lex Luthor because LexCorp owned John Bull Toys and Luthor had initiated the changes that resulted in him getting the boot.  Toyman and Superman never actually met in this story.  After dealing with an army of deadly action figures Superman tracked down Schott’s hideout and found that the Toyman was gone and signs of a struggle.  On the last page of that issue Schott wakes up and in confronted by a man in shadows who declares that Schott now works for him.  There was something glowing on the man’s hand, which made the audience think that it might be Lex Luthor in the shadows and that the Kryptonite ring he wore at the time was the glowing thing, but it turned out to be Morgan Edge and Schott went to work for Intergang.

Superman and Toyman faced off a few more times after that.  Schott hatched a plot to kidnap the children of LexCorp executives but ultimately let them go.  He also had a hand in building the Happyland Amusement Park but after discovering that the creature from Apokolips called Sleez had intended to harm the children from the park he teamed up with Superman to put an end to the monster’s plan.  Toyman even tried to blow Sleez up real good.

So the Toyman was a killer and he was a bit off when it came to kids but wasn’t bat @#$% crazy.

Until Superman (Vol. 2) #84, when he went completely insane, started hearing voices and killed Adam Grant, son of Cat Grant.

It was a real turning point.  Some have suggested that it was just a reflection of the dark times comics were going through at the time and there might be some truth to that, but Dan Jurgens was pretty upfront about the fact that he just wanted to give Superman something else to deal with besides bruisers and men in suits.  I didn’t have a huge problem with the transition.  It was very dramatic and put something into the Superman books that hadn’t been there before and in the overall soap opera it provided some solid character moments for Cat Grant. 

The character popped up a few times after that and at one point in 1999 Jurgens even tried to redeem that character in Superman (Vol. 2) #164 but mostly Toyman was relegated to the background.  He was brought back during the Up, Up and Awayarc that kicked off One Year Later for Superman and at first I was under the impression that Johns and/or Busiek had just revamped the character in the wake up Infinite Crisis. He looked a bit like the Toyman from Superman: The Animated Series, which was fine.  I wasn’t too put off by it because I liked that version of the character but the full story behind the Post-Infinite Crisis Toyman had not been told.

Until now.

Action Comics #865 was an incredibly well-written issue.  Geoff Johns has been knocking this title out of the park recently and the only stories he has written for the title that I have had issues with were the Bizarro story (just didn’t care for it) and the ending to Last Son, which was very dramatic but brought up too many questions regarding continuity, which is a minor quibble but one that is important to me.  Still, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes was great and the previous issue was very enjoyable.  I have written and said this before, but it is nice to be in a position where I’m looking forward to the next issue of Action Comics.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Johns’ run on the Flash was his ability to take the Flash’s rogues gallery and really get into their heads.  Geoff would have these spotlight issues where he would re-tell the character’s origin from a new perspective.  When I read the Previews Solicit that he was going to be writing this Toyman themed issue of Action I was hoping that this was a sign that he would be doing the same for Superman’s villains and, hope against hope, that he would amp up Superman’s rogues to the level he did the Flash’s.

Well, all signs point to the fact that Superman’s enemies are going to receive some long overdue attention and as for living up to my expectations (shouldn’t everyone, he joked) Geoff gave me one of the most enjoyable single issue Superman stories in years.

Yes, years. 

I haven’t been this happy with a writer and Superman since Greg Rucka was on Adventures of Superman.

From cover to cover this was a joy to read.  It had a good amount of characterization and managed to use the supporting cast to good effect.  The opening scene between Toyman and Jimmy was handled well and the exact opposite of the recent Toyman story in the now-defunct Superman Confidential.  Geoff is good at sneaking in the fan’s perspective into his writing, such as having Superboy Superman Prime act like a petulant fanboy.  In this issue he brought up the whole, “What are you; a Superman fan or a Batman fan?” debate.  This brought up an interesting quirk to Toyman’s personality and something that could be carried over to other Superman villains.  As evil as most of these guys are there are probably some of them that like Superman on one level or another because that’s the feeling the character inspires.  Lex Luthor aside there are people who just plain like the Man of Steel and I can see some of his bad guys being in that camp.

The fact that Batman took him into custody at the end was a nice wrap-up to that theme.

Toyman’s origin was also handled well.  Given the state of Superman continuity, which is nebulous at best, it was amazing to see the John Byrne origin for Toyman get referenced, but there it was with the Geoff Johns tweak of bringing the wife into it.  The fact that John Bull Toys was a front for a weapons manufacturer plays into Byrne’s origin even more considering that LexCorp owned the company, so I can see Lex Luthor being behind getting Schott to come on board.  I also dug the hints that it was Walter Dunhill that was repsonsible for the death of Schott’s “wife”.  It made the man more evil in my opinion.

All of that aside the major revelation towards the end had me all kinds of happy.  Not only did it redeem the character by having the Psycho Toyman turn out to be a sophisticated robot but the fact Johns threw in every interpretation was awesome.  Sure there’s questions of how sophisticated were the robots and could they have fooled Superman but sometimes, just sometimes, you can overlook that if the story is good enough.  I didn’t even mind that the Hiro version of Toyman was a robot considering that not much was ever really done with him. 

Now normally I am not big on retcons of this nature, but Geoff Johns has continually gotten a pass from me on this because he does such a good job of handling them.  If a writer can come along and present a good enough case for the change and not completely undo the past I will buy into the new status-quo.  There was never a feeling here that it was changed because Johns didn’t like what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman.  It is entirely possible he hated it, but I never saw that in the work and believe me there are times that writers can make their feelings known in their stories.  This story doesn’t negate the power that the death of Adam Grant had.  It also says that while there were some changes and the Byrne origin is no longer the “official” one there are bits and pieces that are still there and I like that.

So yeah.  This was a great issue.  The future is looking pretty good too with the Brainiac story coming up, James Robinson on Superman and the fact that the books are going to be linked soon for the big, huge, Sinestro Corps War type story that’s coming up.

All in all things are definitely turning around for the Superman books.

I hope.

REST IN PEACE: ALEXANDER COURAGE

It has been noted elsewhere but I would be remiss if I didn’t write something about the passing of composer Alexander Courage, who died on May 15th of 2008.  While the man had a prolific career and as a Superman fan the most direct connection I have with him is the fact that he scored Superman IV: The Quest For Peace his most famous piece would be the theme to the original Star Trek series.

Like many Superman fans I went through a long and protracted period where I openly scorned and mocked the scores to the second, third and fourth Superman films.  Having recently purchased the big, honking Superman: The Music (1978-1988) CD box set I have found a new appreciation for not only Ken Thorne’s work on Superman II and Superman III but also Courage’s work on the fourth and sadly worst of the Superman film series.  I am particularly fond of the music that played under Superman’s speech to the United Nations.  It’s a great piece that builds nicely and has a wonderful pay off where not one but three different themes come in at once; the Superman theme, Lacy’s theme and Jeremy’s theme.  While the film still has problems and plot holes you could drive a monorail through the score has some great moments to it, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Courage’s passing got me thinking about why we as Superman fans (in general, I’m sure there are those that feel differently) used to be so down on the scores to II, III and IV and I think it comes down to this; it wasn’t John Williams.

John Williams gave my generation a Superman theme (just as Leo Klatzkin did for children of the fifties and sixties with his theme for the Adventures of Superman series) and I think his not coming back to score the second, third and fourth film irked a lot of us.  This is to be expected because in this sense we were cheated.  Williams did all six of the Star Wars films as well as the sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark and because he didn’t come back I think we unfairly judged the composers that followed.

This line of thinking really hit me when I realized that most of my favorite music cues came from the second and third installment in the Christopher Reeve franchise.  Sure I love the Williams score to Superman: The Movie, particularly the main theme and the helicopter sequence, but I equally love the piece where Clark changes into Superman for the first time in Superman II and the piece where Clark rips open his shirt after defeating himself in Superman III.  In fact my favorite version of the Williams’ Superman theme is from the second movie.  You could argue that Thorne just re-used the Williams work in his Superman films and you would be right but at the same time the fact that he did do that really united the movies beyond having the same cast and Thorne took the Krypton theme and made it dark and sinister for the Phantom Zone villains.  Courage actually did a lot more of his own thing in the fourth film and because of all of that I really need to take back a lot of the bad things I’ve said about the two composers over the years.

Wow, that went off on a tangent, didn’t it? 

Oh well, rest in peace, Mr. Courage.  My deepest condolences to his friends and families.

More to follow…

SUPERMAN HOMEPAGE REVIEWS FOR 05/28/2008

I did two reviews for the Superman Homepage this week.  You can find them at the links under the covers.

Superman/Batman #48

Superman/Batman #48

Justice League #21

Justice League of America #21

The Superman/Batman review seems to be getting some good traffic, which is nice.  Too bad I pretty much hated the issue.  It seems some people enjoyed, which is cool.  I may have written this before but I actually like the fact that people dig on comics I hate because I know that there are books that I love that other people think are the sign that the fourth seal has been broken.  So if you liked this issue more power to you.  I thought it was ass.

Hope you enjoy the reviews and leave some comments here and/or at the Homepage.

More to follow…

CONNECT THE BOOKS, LA LA LA LA

Superman (Vol. 2) #51

In November or so of 1990, starting with Superman (Vol. 2) #51, something changed with the Superman books.  Actually two things changed.  The first change was of a monetary nature.  While the bulk of DC’s books had gone from seventy-five cents to one dollar since mid-1989 the Superman titles stayed at the three quarter rate.  At the time they were the only books I bought on a monthly basis, so this was rather nice especially since I was thirteen, fourteen years old at the time and didn’t have a whole lotta money to spend.  In the letters pages of the Superman books cover dated January 1991 someone, either Mike Carlin, Dan Thorsland or Michael Eury, put in something that was originally published years before when DC had made one of their periodic cover price changes, which went kind of wild there in the seventies. 

Price Change Thingie

Amusing, isn’t it?

The other and more important change was the little triangle under the Superman logo.  A triangle that read, “1991/1”.  The triangle’s presence was explained at the beginning of the letters page.

“ATTENTION, ATTENTION! Starting this month, we’ll be helping guide through the cross-continuity of SUPERMAN, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS by numbering the year’s Superman stories in sequence within the little pentagon that now appears on each of our covers.  That’s right–if you’ve been confused over the order in which to read out titles, we’re now spellin’ it out for ya!  SUPEMRAN #51 starts off 1991 as #1, with ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #474 as #2, ACTION #661 as #3, SUPERMAN #52 as #4 and so on.  So that’s what the little S-shield on the cover is for!”

The reason the powers-that-be-at-the-time felt the need to do this is that starting in late 1987/early 1988 the Superman titles became more connected.  After Marv Wolfman left Adventures of Superman with issue 435 and John Byrne started writing all three and then both books (after Action Comics Weekly began) the stories taking place in the Superman titles began to sync up and after awhile it was like there wasn’t two Superman books a month but a bi-weekly book with a different creative team on each and this resulted in the first mega arc for the Superman books Exile.  At the end of that storyline Action Comics was no longer a weekly and eventually there were these three great Superman books all connected by sub-plots and supporting characters and at the time I thought it was the greatest thing ever.

So when they started what has been called both the Triangle Numbering System and the Never-Ending Battle system I was all for it.  I even started filing my Superman books in that order as I assume many Superman readers did.  For years this kind of storytelling worked.  As a reader I liked the soap opera feeling the comics had and there were times that it was hard to wait for the next issue, especially after they way the writers left the characters and especially after those cryptic remarks in the next issue box.  Later in 1991 Superman: The Man of Steel was added to the schedule and suddenly Superman was a near weekly comic except for those pesky skip weeks where no Superman books could be found.

The zenith of the Never-Ending Battle era was reached during the Death and Return of Superman.  Here the books were firing on all cylinders.  The majority of 1992 was kind of spotty for the Superman books but all was forgiven when Superman died and then returned.  The books used that momentum to soldier on in 1994 and 1995, even adding Superman: The Man of Tomorrow as a quarterly to deal with the skip-week problem.  Eventually, as in all creative endeavors, the wheels starting coming off the track.  I never thought that they became a train wreck, but from 1997 to 1999 the Superman titles were kind of…off.  Forgetting the whole Electro Suit leading into Superman Blue/Superman Red leading into the God awful Millennium Giants the books began to meander and it seemed like supporting characters were more important than Superman, Clark and Lois.  In the fall of 1999 a new editor took over the Superman books and brought in some new talent mixed with some holdovers and made a go of it. 

I’m rather conflicted about that era.  Some of it was great.  Some of it, particularly making Metropolis a true city of tomorrow, irked me for years.  Eventually in 2001 the Never-Ending Battle/Triangle Numbering system was retired and the books were more or less kept separate.

I was sad to see it go and not sad to see it go.  I didn’t lose my freaking my mind as some apparently did and question how I should file my comics…ok, I went back and forth on that but at the same time I didn’t lose sleep over it.  On the other hand it seemed at the time that the idea had run it’s course and maybe they should try a different path for a time.

The fact that this was the era that gave us Joe Casey creating utter crap in Adventures of Superman, Steven T. Seagle pretty much making Superman unreadable (was having a caption telling us what power Superman was using at the moment really necessary in every freaking issue) and the…how to say this politely…poorly written issues of Action Comics that Chuck Austen should have been a sign, but you also eventually had Greg Rucka on Adventures of Superman and Gail Simone eventually on Action so it wasn’t all bad.

Over the past two years the Superman books have been kind of frustrating.  I haven’t hated what has been published but I haven’t been jumping up and down in excitement either.  Part of that comes from becoming an older, jaded comic fan but it also comes from realizing what I liked about the Superman books I read in my teens and twenties and one of those likes was the books being connected.  Yeah it might have been kind of hard for the creative people to write somewhat by committee but the stories that were produced were, on the whole, good.  More than that we as the readers were given something to care about and a world to get into.

Well, apparently the creative folk behind the Superman books think that maybe things should get back to that. 

Geoff Johns made rumblings of this in the past few months and upcoming Superman writer James Robinson confirmed that not only are the two Superman titles going to get tighter as far as continuity but that Supergirl was going to get drawn into the mix as well.  No word on Superman/Batman but frankly that title has been so argh lately I think leaving it out might be for the best. 

This has me excited.  I am really looking forward to seeing where Johns and Robinson take the characters.  I know it won’t be like it was when I was younger and frankly that’s a good thing.  I am not one of those people that constantly needs to have everything be the same way it was when I was sixteen.  Last year Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons made The Sinestro Corps War my favorite story of the year.  If Geoff and James Robinson can do the same thing for Superman, my all-time favorite character, then I will once again be in that position where I can’t wait for the next issue. 

Of course given the Internet and Previews I won’t have just the cryptic next issue box to go on as far as what is going to happen, but it’ll be nostalgic just the same.

More to follow…

I AM STILL ALIVE

I am still here, just feeling like crap again.  Apparently my allergies were so bad this year that the gunk in my head has dried up into my sinuses and I am on this kind of bizarre regime that I have to go through to hopefully break that stuff up. 

I will get back to posting regularly next week if everything works out and I feel human again.

To tide you over, here is one of the best Krypto covers ever.

Krypto

The amusing thing is I have a five pound poodle who can be just as vicious as this picture makes Krypto look.

Awesome cover.

More to follow…

FAVORITE COVERS: 05/13/2008

Sorry that I haven’t posted all that much lately.  Real life has been very busy over the past five or so days leading me to lose my will to livedo much of anything so posting on my blog was one of the casualties.  I was going to try and get caught up on everything yesterday but Rachel (my wife if you weren’t aware) fell while getting out of the tub.  Thankfully nothing was broken (Rachel has a condition known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta, the thing that Samuel L. Jackson had in Unbreakable, that makes her bones soft and break easily) but she was banged up pretty bad and needed some care.

I have a pretty basic rule to life; the wife comes first.  It’s just that easy.

I wanted to catch up on my reviews today, but I’m just not in the right head space for that sort of thing so I figured it was a good time to roll out another Favorite Cover post.  Many amazing covers have graced the Superman books over the years and DC even put out a book of them back in 2006 titled Superman: Cover to Cover, which I think is one of those few “must haves” for fans of the Man of Steel.

So it’s 1989 and the majority of comic book fandom (and the real world as well) was gearing up for the release of Tim Burton’s Batman film.  I was too, but I was also (and still am obviously) a devoted reader of the Superman books and at the time Superman was going through a storyline called Exile that had him leaving the Earth due to circumstances that I won’t get into here because I want to write something more in depth about that arc later.  In short the storyline had Superman visiting other planets, running into an old enemy and making a new one in the form of a Post-Crisis Mongul while the world tries to deal with Superman’s disappearance and the supposed death of Clark Kent.  Exile is my all-time favorite Superman arc and probably always will be because it was the first time in terms of being both a comic fan and a Superman fan that an extended arc really meant something to me.  I had only been reading comics full time for two years in 1989 so when Superman left Earth I was left with this feeling of, “Is he…Is he going to come back?”  If that story happened today I would be like, “Ok, he’ll be back in six months to a year, let’s see how this works out,” but it was a different time and while I don’t think I ever want to go back to that I do think that much like remembering what it was like to be a kid during the holiday season it is important when you’re an adult comic reader to occasionally remember what it was that made you a regular comic fan and Exile was that story for me.

As Exile was wrapping up it was announced that Action Comics (which had become Action Comics Weekly in 1988) was becoming a monthly again and that some guy named George Perez was going to be writing and drawing Superman.  Now I write “some guy named George Perez” mainly as a joke but in all honesty I didn’t have my ear to the ground of fandom at the time and while I was aware that there was this guy named George Perez and boy could he draw I wasn’t aware who exactly Perez was and why he was already a legend.  In any case, the book was coming back to the monthly grind.  That happened in Action Comics #643 and this was the cover.

Action Comics #643

Superman #1 from 1939 has one of those covers that have been re-done to varying degrees of success but this one knocked it out of the park.  Perez’s recreation is probably my favorite though.  He brings that iconic quality to the piece and that can’t be easy considering that Superman is so pervasive in comics and pop culture that just about everyone has a sense of what Superman should look like even if they don’t particularly like the character. 

If I was to sit down and make a Top Five All Time Favorite Superman Covers this one would definitely be on the list.  A few years back a buddy of mine traded me the promotional poster that DC released to pimp the new direction the Superman books were going in that used this cover and it got kind of banged up to the point where I had to take it down, which was my own fault because it wasn’t in the best of shape when I got it and moving it from one spot to the other didn’t exactly help.  Luckily I managed to secure another one for a very reasonable price (under ten bucks) and will most likely have that one framed.

I don’t know where I’ll put it since the Fortress’ home office has plaster walls and you can’t exactly put nails into them, but I’ll figure something out.

More to follow…

FAVORITE COVERS- 05/08/2008

Here is the first in a series (hopefully) of posts where I showcase some of my favorite Superman covers.  A lot of fantastic covers have graced the various Superman books over the years and DC even put out a book of them back in 2006 titled Superman: Cover to Cover, which I think is one of those few “must haves” for fans of the Man of Steel.

McGuinness Cover

When Jeph Loeb began writing Superman full time in 1999 he quickly became my favorite of the new regime that came in with editor Eddie Berganza.  Ed McGuinness, on the other hand, took some getting used to.  I can’t for the life of me remember what my problem was with Ed’s art, but that turned around pretty quick.  Jeph and Ed are one of best teams to work on Superman and this issue, Superman (Vol. 2) #155 (April 2000), was where Superman and Superboy first really connected and where Conner started becoming more of a part of the Kent family.  During the “Hyper-Tension” storyline that ran through Superboy’s title the previous year Conner re-encountered a more Silver Age version of himself and found out that the Superboy he hung with was also Clark Kent.  Loeb played around with that in this issue to good effect and made it one of my favorite of his and Ed’s tenure.  This cover embodies all of that in one striking image.

And I dig it.

More to follow…

THE NEW STUFF: 05/07/2008

Very light this week.  Not so much a money issue as trying to control myself.  Plus the wife and I have the trip to Metropolis coming up, so I’m trying to put a little aside so we can have some spending money. 

So, what came out this week?

Action Comics Annual #11

Well it finally came out.  After numerous delays we finally get the conclusion to “Last Son” , which I sure as shootin’ have things to say about.  I am behind on my reviews but hopefully over the next week I can get caught.

Of course I always say that, but overall I’ve been pretty good when it comes to this blog.

Supergirl #29

Month two of giving this book another chance.  Hopefully it will continue on an upswing because I found the previous issue to be very strong.

Plus, I couldn’t really turn my back on this title.

Infinity, Inc.  Now there’s a book I could turn my back on.

Finally…

All-Star Superman Free Comic Book Day

Sure I own both covers of the original but it was free.

Still don’t have the hardcover of the first six issues, though.  I need to pick that up at some point.

Hope y’all had a good week at the shop as well.

More to follow…

SUPERMAN: NEVER-ENDING BATTLE AUDIO ADAPTATION

Superman Never Ending Battles

A few years back Pocket Books and DC Comics released a series of novels based on the various members of the then JLA.  One of these was Superman: The Never-Ending Battle by my all-time favorite Superman writer Roger Stern.  It was a good read and overall I enjoyed it.  Much to my surprise and delight I discovered that Graphic Audio is releasing an audio adaptation of the book in September.

Here are the particulars.

I’m looking forward to this.  I was very impressed with Graphic Audio’s adaptation of Infinite Crisis and so far 52 is good as well.  What they did with those two projects is combine a book-on-CD of Greg Cox’s novelizations of both series with a radio drama so you have a narrator doing the…uh…narration, actors supplying the voices of the characters as well as music and sound effects.  I am working under the assumption that Superman: The Never-Ending Battle will be presented along the same lines.

While you are at the site check out the other DC projects Graphic Audio has coming up.  It looks like they may be doing a full line of those DC novels, which may be a good thing or may be a bad thing depending on how you felt about those books.

And I recommend both Infinite Crisis and 52.  Each is a two part set and they’ll set you back about $68 total but each set has twelve discs, so that’s well worth the money. 

More to follow…