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Subj: Action Comics #984 - The Man In Charge.
Posted: Sat Jul 29, 2017 at 02:18:43 pm EDT (Viewed 463 times)
Attempts to muster any enthusiasm for Dan Jurgens' assembling of old story formulaes and tired 90s character concepts has eluded me for the last three months, and with the concluding part of 'The Superman Revenge Squad' the sense of emptiness and ennui with this storyline doesn't deviate from the entirely stale feel of it all so far; and yet by way of a concession it does succeed in delivering a moment or two of (mildly) surprising tenderness, coming of all places from the person of the seemingly till now unsentimental and unyielding Zod.
With a combination of story finale' feel to it, and the immediately arresting return of artist Patrick Zircher Action Comics #984 opens with a compelling first page using vertical panel progression to show us Lois Lane trapped in a sealed Fortress of Solitude, as yet undetected by the just arrived Squad of what are amongst her better half's most powerful and ruthless foes.
The set-up is an effective one as Lois has opted to seperate and hide son Jon but has yet to find anywhere suitable herself to promise at least a degree of safety and remain undetected. It is fortunate for her that none of the Revenge Squad has any reason to suspect her and Jon's presence and are otherwise occupied with the defeat of Superman and his allies, but perhaps unfortunate that as events unfold Dan Jurgens fails to make as much as he might have out of such a dramatic and genuinely engaging circumstance for Lois and us readers and instead moves on to following Superman and friends trapped in the Phantom Zone and the scheming of the mad General as he gradually shows his true agenda to his co-opted allies.
It all reads as rough contrivance. An interesting and plausible idea for a new take on The Superman Revenge Squad on paper struggles to find much conviction on the printed page as despite their shared hatred to one man and his dynasty it is patently clear from the start that at least two of these players are utterly incompatible with the others presence and a third is presented so far out of character one wonders why Jurgens didn't replace him with someone else. For his part though Zod does retain a surprising level of consistency during all of this apparently aimless events. Having entered Superman's Fortress what seemed to be misfortune is revealed to be a ploy by Zod to get Superman and the Cyborg-Superman into The phantom Zone and therein have The Eradicator lead them to something which Zod... requires. The motives are deliberately opaque, Superman himself assumes that the aim is for The Eradicator to locate Zod's people, and in hindsight "A Man Who Needs An Army To Be Whole... Isn't A Man At All." can be taken to be as much a lesson on never to merely presume in as much as it is Jurgens' signal that in lieu of this story's apparent raison d'etre in fact the purpose to it all is nothing less than the importance to onesself of having family. A sense of belonging and immediate purpose to ones life. For as we come to discover Zod's aim in allying himself with the Revenge Squad and taking them to the Fortress of Solitude is surprisingly not some strategic move to recover arms or foot-soldiers from the depths of the Zone, but rather locate and retrieve the missing Ursa and their hitherto unseen Son. His family. A detail he has kept secret, until now.
None of this is to be taken as being an example of fine characterwork from Jurgens, it isn't. Rather the finished result of this meandering storyline is to represent one of Superman's most challenging, and yet too often one-dimensional, arch-rivals in a new framing as Superman's own exact opposite number - a fellow Kryptonian with his own like-for-like family but with little of the compassion or sense of values that drive the General and his militant family to pursue the harshest of Kryptonian doctrines. As the issue closes the point is spelled out, as with his mission accomplished wife Ursa successfully makes the plea to leave and we watch the newly reunited family arriving on some other planet out there is deepest space and far from following the example of Kal-el their unhesitating reaction to this new opportunity before them is of subjugation and rebuilding the memory of dead Krypton. The symbolism and reversed imagery isn't at all subtle no, but as a promise of future story possibilities and personal challenges for Kal-el and his own family the return and freedom of General Zod and his family is a welcome addition going forward...
Regrettably however this one development is not in itself enough to raise the issue's story beyond the inherant troubles that have been self-evident from its start. The lack of substantial explanation for the return and status of Hank Henshaw is allowed to pass, as the Cyborg-Superman is unsurped by the induction of General Zod and whatever aims he was pursuing are left unaddressed and open ended as Superman willingly opts to leave him in The Phantom Zone, partly due to the circumstances and partly in answer to the many crimes and genocides of which Henshaw has never adequately answered for. In itself the actions of Superman are logical, after virtually no prison could hold as formidable a being as Henshaw, and yet is the Cyborg's threat and crimes of any less weight than those of a Blanque? Or of a Mongul? The judgement seems sound in exiling Henshaw indefinitely but also a story convenience. Rather than deal with the Cyborg-Superman as decisively as he he dealt with Mongul and Blanque Jurgens effectively places his own creation on ice and in limbo until ready to address his story once more. So while Superman's decision is logical in the moment presented within the context of this storyline itself it feels something a cheat, a cop-out. Perfectly in keeping however with what was a decidedly flat and underachieving storyline... full compliments to Patrick Zircher then, for helping to raise this offering and delivering some solidly tight and effective layouts and design. The Phantom Zone sequences in particular are strikingly vivid and among the most memorable to be used in recent years when visiting this formless limbo.
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