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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #841

Action Comics #841

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 26, 2006

Cover date: September 2006

Writer: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Pete Woods
Inker: Pete Woods

"Back in Action"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

In space (presumably) alien machines speak techno-babble about valuable commodities, centering on one ship of particular value. The commander, in shadow, tells them to pursue it.

In Metropolis, Superman battles Carapax, a person stuck in a living suit of armor. The police nearby are unsure of whether to assist, not knowing if it's the real Superman or not. Superman's heat vision fails with Carapax's new armor. He dukes it out with Carapax until a blast hits Carapax from behind, courtesy of Firestorm.

Firestorm changes Carapax's wires, rendering him unconscious. The police rush to take Carapax off, but take Firestorm's help over Superman's. Superman flies off, concerned.

The Auctioneer, still in shadows, receives reports that the ship he's seeking is not observable on Earth, but that other valuable items are present, including a priest and the Golden Gate Bridge (presumably). The Auctioneer gives them permission to acquire the church and the bridge. (Note: The Auctioneer is not named at this point, I'm just using his name as a frame of reference as opposed to eighty ways to say "man in shadows.")

Firestorm goes back to check it out, chasing the disappearing church.

At the Daily Planet, Lois tells Clark that she's been offered a Newstime cover story about whether the returned Superman is real or not. On the monitors, they see the aliens taking monuments all over the world. The reporters disperse, with Clark heading for New York.

In New York, Nightwing tries tossing a polarized batarang into the data stream to stop the aliens, but it fails. Superman catches the batarang and hands it back. Nightwing asks him to check out the data streams.

One of the robots, acting on their own initiative, steals the aggression of some nearby soldiers to sample back to the Aucioneer.

Superman, taking the communications device from the disabled commander, is told to drop the line by the White House situation room. The leader there, General Hastings, berates him for breaching security.

In San Francisco, the Teen Titans arrive on the scene to try and stop acquisition of Alcatraz. Wonder Girl is hit by a pacification unit. Robin swoops to save her. Ravager swoops out to stop unleashed explosives, and after she stops them, she is saved by Superman.

Superman destroys the "pacifier" and the acquisition unit. This angers The Auctioneer (still unnamed), who drops in for a visit, dwarfing the Golden Gate Bridge and putting Superman into a very long shadow.

2Story - 2: Yeesh!

I'm hoping this is just a fluke, because Busiek's work has been quite enjoyable so far, at least to me, but this is probably my least favorite work he's done so far. Mostly because this issue felt so arbitrary, forced, and stereotypical.

First, there's the villain. "The Auctioneer," who takes stuff of value from planets and presumably sells them. I know that's an interesting concept, it is, but really, it's just taking a villain and creating it in the Disney style. "What? You have a story about an ant colony? Let's call it ANTS! Talking ants! What a winner!" "What? You have a story about a group of cars? CARS! It's ingenious!" "What? A story about toys...talking toys? A Toy Story!" "What? A guy who steals stuff, then auctions it! Brilliant! The Auctioneer!"

To be honest, it SMACKS of Joe Casey, which makes me shudder to this day. THE POLITICIAN! THE HOLLOW MEN! THE EVIL MXY TWINS! Etc.

It's not really that bad, but it kind of smack of the old style comics. Maybe that's intentional, but I'm not really a big fan of backwards thinking in comics beyond homage. The reason that the single-issue concept villain comics went the way of the dinosaur (or at least should have) is because, unlike Up, Up, and Away, it lacks epic scope. It reads like a periodic monthly that's trying to scam your bucks on the same story over and over again, and this issue was no exception.

It might not have been so bad had it not been for other mitigating factors. First, the insanely annoying and continual unnecessary guest stars. First, Firestorm shows up. Maybe it's because he was essential. Maybe it's to plug Firestorm. You be the judge. Then, Nightwing shows up. Maybe it's because he was essential even though he didn't do anything but watch the proceedings. Maybe it's to plug Nightwing. You be the judge. Then, the Teen Titans show up, get their butt handed to them, and then didn't do anything but watch the proceedings. Maybe it's because they were essential to the scene. Maybe it's to plug Teen Titans. Or maybe they're pandering to the idea that guest stars sell comics.

Either way, all of the above options reek of looking backward as well, and I expect better after previous work put out, as a reader.

Carapax was interesting, if a Full Metal Alchemist kind of ripoff. Maybe he's been around before. I don't recall seeing him, but he's neat. He's definitely a warm-up villain, and I don't necessarily see what he added to the comic beyond a neat little moment.

I don't buy people doubting that it's Superman...not after he saved a whole city from an army led by Lex Luthor. I can understand after Coast City the paranoia, and it's a fair plot point, but honestly, this plotline has been done to death with Dead Again, Return of Superman, people losing faith in's an old staple, not a new one. Again, backward thinking.

Superman IS acting like Superman, though. I love that. He's not stupid, he's smart. Tactical, not easily led. He wants to call in the JLA, but can't, so he tries the government, and when he can't, he does it himself. He's also concerned about civilians first, foremost, and primarily. Great character work there.

The Teen Titans scene was pretty abysmally bad on a couple of levels. Not just because it was a blatant plug, but because it didn't really show what the Titans can do while it was plugging them, beyond Ravager.

Get this. The Titans all arrive on a floating glider. Cassie goes ahead and gets smashed to near unconsciousness. She's invulnerable, but Robin, the regular human kid, swings out on the skids of a helicopter risking his life to rescue her. Why? Who knows. Especially given that he's on a FLYING GLIDER.

Then Ravager leaps at the beast, all the while spouting her powers and how they work (seriously, look at it. It's just like reading Crisis on Infinite Earths, when every character that appears says their name and what they do, with a winking plug, plug).

Cyborg stands there, watching on his FLYING GLIDER, wondering who, oh, who will catch Ravager. On his FLYING GLIDER.

And yeah, Superman saves her, but I kind of hoped she fell and died while Cyborg watched on his FLYING GLIDER. Just to make a point, I guess.

Superman hits the acquisition machine which is, I kid you not, supposedly composed of "Anti-particles, tau leptons, anti-higgs, bosons, and more!" If it explodes, it'll crack the Earth in half!

So let me get this're trying to make money by stealing stuff from a planet, and if anyone damages your machines, they'll crack the planet in half? Now THAT is Enron business sense.

The whole issue also fairly reeked of obscure and ridiculous techno-babble the likes of which I haven't heard since Geordi in 1991.

All in all, a pretty archetypical story, and very disappointing after such a great few issues. I'm hoping the next issue picks up the pace a bit.

I also had the hope (given the villain's look) that this might be a bit of Kanjar Ro, since I just read my first Ro story a little while back in the JLA Showcase, but alas.

5Art - 5: Still very good work from Woods, and fitting into the new artistic mold for Superman nicely. All of the characters are very vivid and personal, the action is defined and dynamic. I'm really liking his work.

The only thing that really stuck out as weird is the way that the bugs looked like the hive bugs from Attack of the Clones (I forget their names). Kind of weird. But Carapax, all of the guest stars, even The Auctioneer dwarfing the bridge, all excellent, very cool artistic endeavors.

2Cover Art - 2: I tire easily with both words on covers and fake news story covers. 52 skirts the line on it, but usually makes up for it with a great image. This issue has an archetypical few images, the plug of the guest stars (blatantly pointing out the failing of the issue), and mostly it's like one of those freebies they give away that nobody reads at the comic shop, like the Daily Bugle or Pulse stuff that's only cool when Bendis puts some comedy into them.

After the last few issues, I'd expect better in particular.

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