REVIEW: Action Comics Annual #13: Father Box; A Father’s Box


Lex. Darkseid. Paul Cornell. 'NUFF SAID


Well, he’s done it again. Paul Cornell has taken his fantastic take on Lex Luthor in the pages of the monthly Action Comics series and condensed it into 2 self-contained stories, making this probably the best annual I’ve ever read. This slimly overtakes my previous favorite annual, which was, oddly enough, Action Comics Annual #2. What makes this annual better than that one is that this is entirely standalone, and probably the best DC comic you’ll read all year.

Both stories are flashbacks to Lex’s past. The first, Father Box, is the stronger of the two. A young Lex comes to Metropolis for the first time. He has no job and only enough money to pay for the first night in his hotel. When the desk clerk informs him of this, he replies “Then I’d like my key, please. I have to get to work to find some way to pay for the second night.” Hitting a bar, Lex runs into a man who he quickly deduces is Perry White of the Daily Planet undercover. Turns out, the bar is a front for Intergang. Lex worms his way in to Bruno Mannheim’s confidence, just enough to be brought to the attention of his boss: Darkseid.

Lex learns from Darkseid. Note the layouts and gorgeous colors!

Marco Rudy and colorist Val Staples paint a moody picture of Lex’s adventure, from the griminess of the bar to Mannheim’s organization to Apokolips itself. The whole thing is done in a pop-art style and Rudy plays with the layouts in a near-hypnotic pattern. I won’t spoil the end of Lex’s story on Apokolips. Needless to say, his work for Darkseid builds to a very Luthorian-climax and Lex learns a valuable lesson. I also liked how Cornell brought back (in a fashion) the post-crisis relationship between Perry White and Lex Luthor. Though Lex is now much younger than Perry, it brings back the possibilities of Alice White sleeping with Lex while Perry is reporting on a war. I don’t think it will go so far as to have Jerry White actually be Luthor’s son since they seem to want to make Superboy Lex’s only offspring (or at least, son… not sure if Lena Luthor existed in this reality), but it’s a nice touch.

The second story, “A Father’s Box” doesn’t meet the high standard of art the first one set. Lex, slightly older than he was in the last story, is apprenticing under Ra’s al Ghul. He learns of Ra’s take on the world and how to save it, he must kill most of it. Luthor decides that a better solution is to lead the world instead, and he and Ra’s have a falling out over this. Luthor fails a test of Ra’s and Ra’s actually goes so far as to murder Lex and toss him in a Lazarus Pit.

The story kind of feels forced to me. Not everything in the DC Universe has to have a “secret history” with everything else. Luthor and Darkseid make a certain amount of sense since Intergang was a big force in Metropolis as Lex was gaining power, so it follows that their paths would have crossed. But Luthor and Ra’s al Ghul is unnecessary. And the Lazarus Pit has become an overused plot device ever since Black Canary was throw into one and regained her sonic scream. The logic starts unraveling when these pits, previously only used by Ra’s to keep himself immortal, are used by everyone and everything. Also, since then Lex would have been killed and brought back, why wasn’t he one of the Black Lanterns Nekron controlled during Blackest Night? That, my friends, is the sound of losely developed plots smashing into each other.

Lex in the pit

However, the story is beautifully drawn by Ed Benes and told entirely in narration, much like an old story book (fitting Ra’s motif nicely). It is the weaker of the stories, but still a nice stand-alone tale and look into Lex’s past (of which we haven’t seen much past Smallville in this post-Infinite Crisis reality). The annual as a whole is very much worth picking up, even if you don’t regularly read Action Comics. And maybe that should be “especially if you don’t regularly read Action Comics.” If you don’t care to pick up a comic in the middle of a storyline, this annual is the perfect way to get a taste of the magic Paul Cornell is working with Lex.

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