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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #834

Action Comics #834

Scheduled to arrive in stores: December 14, 2005

Cover date: February 2006

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Nelson, Marc Campos, Oclair Albert

"Awake in the Dark"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

200 cycles before the rise of the House of El, a girl named Lyla hears a bedtime story from her mother, akin to David and Goliath with glass monsters.

Clark interviews a man who says he became a barrel maker, and his hospital ward hallucinated that they were back in time, or went back in time. Clark mocks him and leaves.

The Queen of Fables calls for Clark Kent as her beloved through the ages from the Daily Planet globe, putting an image of Clark Kent in the globe (I think).

She assumes a civilian identity, goes to Perry's office, and asks to buy the Planet.

Clark, meanwhile, laments his status with Perry, which is at odds, and hopes the story about the Queen of Fables will get him back in good graces.

Clark goes into the Planet and finds the Queen with Perry, who's out of it. She explains she escaped from the tax law book they placed her in by realizing how creative people get when doing their taxes and spinning a story from that.

She explains that Clark will be her husband, and that she has bought the Planet for him.

He refuses her, and she reveals that Lois is being held hostage by a murderous kid named Willis who wants to ask her to the prom.

The Queen reiterates her demands that Clark be hers, or she will have Lois killed. She then hands him an apple and makes him bite it.

He wakes up on Krypton. The snagriff, a Kryptonian dragon, attacks Superman, who is vulnerable. The Queen demands the he retrieves her scarf from her tower, and he refuses.

He rides the dragon into the crystal trees, slaying it.

He comes upon a pool that offers you your childish desires, and if you take them, you drown, complete with a troll. He touches the water, is sucked in, but is saved by the fact that his motives were selfless.

He moves on to the tower, knowing from the legend told to Lyla earlier in the comic, that at the top, once he removes the scarf, it will seal his fate and make him rule by her side.

He admonishes the Queen to keep her word.

At the top, taking the scarf, he is confronted by the chandelier beasts of the dead children who attempted the feat before him.

They throw him down, so he uses his heat vision on the crystal trees to heat them up, and then he throws a rock into them, smashing them all.

Clark retrieves the shall and tells the Queen that he's in love with Lois. She cries, and decides to let him go. But, she warns, he might be too late for Lois.

Willis, meanwhile, demands that Lois put on a dress, and tells her he's going to kill her that night. He smacks her.

On Krypton, in the past, we see the Queen of Fables influencing Lyla to be creative. The parents talk about Krypton's cold, sterile life, and the mom suggests it may come to an end.

1Story - 1: Surprise, surprise, another clunker. And how could it be, you know, with such a good villain as the Queen of Fables? Or maybe that's it.

Yeah. That's it.

I know what's trying to be done here. At least, from what I read. I went to the Byrne message boards to see if maybe I didn't get it, maybe I wasn't thinking hard enough, or maybe I was just being overly harsh somehow.

Byrne's statements about people who read events being knuckle draggers angered me quite a bit, so ever since, I've tried to be more than fair to this book and give it a fighting chance. Unfortunately, it keeps disappointing. I think a lot of this is related to the philosophy of the book, which Byrne espouses (speaking, admittedly, for two) on his web page. I couldn't find the exact page, mostly because the search function of the website is currently offline, but I remember reading phrases to the tune of the idea that the comic book storyline needs to be pared back down to single issue stories that don't require continuity, two issues max (like they're doing with this run), and that stories don't have to decompress as much, because that's what's shooing off potential readers.

Thus this run.

The above may be off on a point or two (like he might have said all books should be two issues, or only his books, but that's pretty much the gist, as I recall it), but the point remains that the philosophy that this book espouses, what Byrne did or did not say on his personal website aside, is that we need the following kind of story.




Nyah villains.

And, if you want to get down to it, repetitive plot devices that aren't utilized to their full potential. This issue was a prime example of that.

Prove it?

Short: This book never extrapolates, even with sub-plots, beyond two issues. This issue, with Lois in captivity, didn't even stretch into the last issue.

Simple: Queen wants this. Clark say no. Queen keep pushing issue. Clark say no. Queen threaten Lois. Clark say yes. Clark battle monsters in climax. Clark say no. Wowed, Queen leaves.

Stereotypical: Well, what do you make of a villain that is, quite literally, the amalgamation of the amalgamation of morality tales? Seriously. It was cliche when it was done in JLA, and now it's being done without the complexity of a couple of characters to cover up the silliness of the device.

Nyah villains: "Oh, my sweet! My betrothed! My beloved! You are nothing but dross to me! I will hire all of your serfs!" It's trying to be epic and period in the dialogue, but it comes off as one big, overbearing, hard to read cliche. I'd say it was just the character, but it extends... from Lois ("MY MAN WILL FIND ME, YOU'LL SEE!") to Clark, who, if you read, gets SNARKY with a man who's just been through trauma, turned into a cooper along with an entire hospital wing, and Clark's dialogue reply?

"I believe you, doctor. Thank you. Let me know if you decide to burn any witches or invade Scotland." This after Clark experienced the Queen HIMSELF, and later admits he's trying to write a story about it. Kind of an awful thing to say for the sake of cheesy humor.

Every page and every moment in a comic book, because you have SO FEW pages, has to mean something, has to be something, has to accomplish something. The Queen under this writing takes SIX PAGES to accomplish that she wants Clark to be her husband (something we already knew from last issue) and she goes about it by BUYING THE PLANET, then WAITING FOR CLARK then ARRANGING LOIS'S DEPARTURE. You say the guy wasn't her goon? Then why did she call him her huntsman?

If you can alter reality, why the heck would you do any of that? Why not just POOF, put Clark before you, POOF, tell him you're gonna kill Lois if he doesn't do what you want, and POOF, into Krypton. Two pages. If, you know, you want to make the story short and simple and more accessible.

For that matter, if she wants Clark to be hers, why not just erase Lois from existence or kill her? If you're psychopathic, you'd think, "Hey, she's gone, he'll want me now!"

Instead, somehow a 16 year-old kid gets the better of army-trained Lois, all so that we can see how well a feminist icon can moan for her man whenever she gets in trouble. Which is, ironically, a lot of what the Byrne reboot moved us away from. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

Why would Perry be mad at Clark? This I don't get, at all. I didn't get it in Adventures, I don't get it here. First off, he worked WITH Clark after the Luthor incident at the paper to bring Luthor down. What's causing the tension? And even if there WERE tension, why would a story about a mediocre (in Metropolis standards) incident that has no verification of even existing vault him back into good graces?

This whole story read like a hedonistic indulgence for the creators. It really did. What does it offer the reader?

I can see its appeal, kind of, if you're a fan of fairy tales. But let's put it plainly. Fairy tale stories are geared towards princes and princesses, tea parties and little girls (beyond the occasional troll, but as this story even laments, they've been sanitized and Disney-fied). I think a young girl might really enjoy this story. BUT I DON'T WANT A CUTE, GIRLY SUPERMAN STORY. I, AND MOST COMIC READERS, ARE ADULT, SENSIBLE, HELL, EVEN LITERATE MEN! (Who live in our mother's basements, by and large, but KNOW your audience). That doesn't mean deck a girl up in revealing cleavage for the sake of being prurient and titillating, but it also doesn't mean dumb down the story, make it fanciful and more emotional in its impact as opposed to character base, and it sure as heck means you don't pander Hansel and Gretel to people who have likely read Watchmen.

We want a protracted story, not so that it can be Wizard's next HOT thing, but because, as Identity Crisis, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Red Son, Ultimate Spider-Man, Cerebus, Preacher, and every other truly EPIC and MEMORABLE comic will tell you, you NEED to decompress to ever achieve character, and the days of the month to month hook them with the same gimmick again and again story days are OVER.


Is that romantic? Is that sad? I used to debate that issue, but now, I figure I can either debate it, or just move on to what I like about the new comics, which, in fact, I and most like more than the early nineties. Or the mid-eighties. Or any previous time period in comics. Otherwise, WE WOULDN'T STILL BE HERE.

The Queen reiterates, through dialogue that tries to be epic but instead seems forced and elitist, her demands. Again. And again. Repeatedly, after any idiot (let alone Supes) would know what she wants. This is time that could have been spent characterizing (even the queen) or adding more story.

That's not simplifying it so a new reader can come in. That's beating us over the head, and it fails. Miserably.

Clark trusts the Queen. A murderous, barbaric woman who can remake reality, who will likely go back on any deal. Why? What's the alternative, you say? Well, maybe putting a parameter around the villain's power somehow with skillful writing, something to give a framework? Then what, smarty-pants? Off the top of my head? How about a little visit from a magic user Superman knows, sensing her presence, and working to stop her power, realizing that they can't, but they CAN make her deal bond.

Speaking of the Faustian bargain, it would probably be less tired (though it's already tired to begin with) as a source of motivation for the character if it HADN'T JUST BEEN USED WITH SATANUS TWO MONTHS AGO!

Do what I say, or I do this, even though doing what I say is just abominably bad.

Supes: "Uh, okay Satanus."

This month: "Uh, okay Queen."

Next month: "Uh, okay kidnapper/Livewire."

Krypton, apparently, was now cold and sterile. I thought that was all changed with Birthright? Sigh. Sad.

If the crystal trees were truly magnifying glasses, and if Clark was in a weakened state, the heat's increased power and the explosion that occurred would probably kill him. And if he has enough strength to use his heat vision (the power which drains the most energy from him) he can fly. That's my take.

"Oh! You love Lois, Superman? Well, I guess I'll leave then, because I didn't really hear it the first 47 times, and besides, the issue is ending." Simplistic reasoning for simplistic characters for simplistic readers.

AND I AM NOT. It's condescending to treat the audience like this.

Most damningly, you have to realize, this takes place several issues after, because of Spectre, magic was destroyed in Metropolis.

You remember that? I did. Two months ago, that. Apparently they think we don't. There's forsaking continuity for a good story, and then there's just ignoring it. For fun.

Seriously... chandelier warriors?


There are people who would kill for a shot to write Superman, and THIS is the BEST they can do?


3Art - 3: Byrne's artwork continues to get better over the run. This issue started off very static and boring in its pacing, but for the climax and the middle section, with the action itself, Byrne does very well, moving out of the panel format, making an organic and dynamic presentation of the fights between Superman and the dragon, the troll, and even the chandelier warriors.

The downside is the leadup, with the wide-faced, gawky, awkward non-action characters Byrne's become pretty bad at creating. The cooper, Lois (who looks ugly), the Queen herself most of the time. Perry works well. Willis looks all right. And the Krypton scenes, context regardless, are really well framed.

Still, it's always bad when it's a really really good section and a really really bad section result in a three. I much prefer art that's just average all the way and doesn't stand out, because it flows better, even if it's not epic.

This is still not, by current comic standards, worth more than a three.

2Cover Art - 2: ARG! I hate to sock it to Jurgens, I do. I want him back on a main Superman book. This cover just really didn't work for me. Superman is not large in the format, he's in a scene that didn't happen in the book, there are cheesy words, and where you see Superman, he's just, you know, walking down the street. This is a cover, he should be doing more.

The extra point is for the spires themselves, which are so well covered that it really does add a sense of depth to the cover that I enjoyed.

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