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.

My Picks, Week of 12/2

Here’s my anticipated comics for this week. Reviews will start once I have them in my hot little hands. NOTE: Due to Thanksgiving, new books won’t be out until Thursday.

Adventure Comics #521
LEGION. Need I say more? How about LEVITZ. I should elaborate? Ok.
With the first flashback arc of the Legion’s adventures wrapped up, the Legion feature focuses on the present day and one of the big mysteries floating around the 30th Century: Who will be Sector 2814’s new Green Lantern? The feature promises to be a nice merging of Green Lantern and Legion, and will set the tone for the new Corps.
Also, Jeff Lemire’s Atom backups continue, with a continuation of the Atom’s investigation into shrinking suicide bombers. Always an enjoyable read!
She-Hulks #2
What can I say, I’m a sucker for strong women. Lyra is one of the more interesting things to come out of Hulk in years, and throw in everyone’s favorite non-Orion green gal Shulkie and you’ve got my attention. The first issue was straight up fun from Harrison Wilcox and the art was clean and gorgeous. We’ll see if the second issue stand up, but I have a good feeling it will.
Action Comics Annual #13
If you didn’t notice, I’ve had nothing but good things to say about Paul Cornell’s take on Lex Luthor. Well, while we wait for the upcoming Secret Six/Lex Luthor crossover (remember, Lex was Mockingbird in Villains United!), Mr. Cornell gives us an annual with some flashbacks to Lex’s meetings with other villains. We’ll get a look at a younger Lex’s dealings with Darkseid and Ra’s Al Ghul, and I, for one, am certifiably JAZZED.
Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet
This one’s a bit of a wildcard. Written by comedian Scott Thompson, this graphic novel takes his Kids in The Hall character to a Robert Howard-esque world where “his average looks and demeanor make him an exotic, and highly-sought after individual.” I’m a big fan of KitH and Thompson, so I anticipate this to be pretty damn hillarious. It’s an odd choice, but one I think will pay off.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #39
With news of a new, Joss-less Buffy movie, it’s good to know that Buffy and Angel will continue on in comic form under Whedon. He’s pulling out all of the stops for the finale to Season Eight, and with Georges Jeanty in place and guest stars Angel, Spike and The Master, I can’t wait for the next chapter in “Last Gleaming.”

We want to hear from you! What are you looking forward to this week?

REVIEW: Action Comics #895 – The Black Ring, Part 6/Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week, Day Three

Action Comics #895, Cover Art by Pete Woods

If you’re not reading this book, you are missing out. Paul Cornell has taken one of the most complex characters in comics (and also one of the easiest to screw up) and is handling him masterfully. In case you’re unaware, while JMS is putting people to sleep with Superman’s walkabout, Cornell has made Action Comics Lex Luthor’s domain. Following his taste of the Orange Lantern’s power in Blackest Night, Lex has become obsessed with regaining actual power to go along with his political, social and financial power.

Lex’s quest for power has taken the form of Black Lantern energy left over after Nekron’s attack. The energy has collected into a series of spheres around the Earth. The past issues have taken Lex from Metropolis to Antarctica, Uganda, Australia, deep within his own psyche and even (temporarily) into the afterlife. He’s fought Mr. Mind, Deathstroke and Gorilla Grodd and even met Death herself (the Lois Lane robot Luthor travels with remarks “–That’s gotta be a hallucination. Your ‘Death’ didn’t even have skis!”). Note this makes Luthor only the third mainstream DC character to meet Death, after Element Girl and Captain Atom.

Death, fresh from her tanning bed, helps Captain Atom through purgatory

Luthor’s encounter with Death leads him convinced that, because major powers are watching him, major power will soon be his. His plan is very quantum mechanics: by scanning the black energy spheres, he’s changing their nature. As soon as he scans all of them, he’ll unleash their power. While Lex plans to scan two spheres relatively close to each other, we see in flashbacks that Vandal Savage has had a premonition about Luthor’s quest and has been planning to get in on the action for hundreds of years. We even get a nice use of previous comics where Luthor and Savage happened to be near each other as Savage tries to subtly convince Luthor they should team up: Flash 124 (1997), Salvation Run and a scene where Vandal teaches his daughter Scandal about the premonition just before he goes on to try and kill Aquaman (obviously this is “behind the scenes” as Scandal is a newer character, but if anyone knows the issue with Savage and Aquaman, drop a comment!).

I won’t give away the ending, but, needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the next issue. Cornell has clearly made this the best, currently published DC Universe book, trumping (in my mind, at least) Morrison’s Batman books, Simone’s Secret Six and even Sterling Gates’ Supergirl. Pete Woods continues to operate at the top of the art game, with a clean, almost-cartoon approach that still looks very realistic.

But wait, there’s more! The backup reveals DC’s best kept secret: Jimmy Olsen comics are fun!

The Jimmy Olsen backup has been a throwback to classic Jimmy “Mr. Action” stories but set in the modern continuity and with Chloe Sullivan (of Smallville fame) in the Lucy role. The plot is simple yet fertile: Jimmy’s girlfriend Chloe is stolen by a young Lexcorp executive, Sebastien Mallory, and while Jimmy is trying to think of a way to get her back, aliens invade. Pretty hacky, huh? Except the aliens aren’t invading, they’re here to party (apparently the oxygen acts as alcohol for the aliens). So Jimmy is trying to get the scoop while he’s reigning in an alien starlet (think Paris Hilton with Na’vi ears) and her five-hundred pound brother.

This time around, Jimmy’s plan is to show the aliens that Metropolis is a really dull, quiet, Smallville-esque place, and they should settle somewhere else. Some good scenes with Supergirl, Perry White and Martha Kent occur. It’s quite funny and the art from RB Silva and Dym fits the mood perfectly. The slightly alien lettering Rob Leigh uses for their dialogue adds a nice touch to lines like “Later, dorkballs!”

Another one of the modern Kara Zor-El's dark secrets is revealed...

One of the nicest things about the Jimmy backups is that they’re fairly episodic. Some backups are so serialized that by the time the next month’s rolls around, you’ve forgotten what happened the previous month. The Atom backup in Adventure comes to mind (as much as I like Jeff Lemire’s writing). Or, even worse, they take a page (1/10th of that month’s story) to recap, so even less happens issue to issue. Nick Spencer does a great job of making self-contained stories that also work well as an over-arching plot. I’ll be sad to see to see this “Second Feature” end.

The only downside to both these stories is the lack of Superman. Lex and Jimmy have proven to be more than interesting enough on their own to carry these books, but you definitely do notice a Superman-shaped hole in Metropolis. For years, I’ve been lamenting the lack of use of the Metropolis cast as there’s been a Superman/Lois focus since about 2003. Now we’re getting a lot more of the supporting cast (though still no Pete Ross, Professor Hamilton or Bibbo, I sadly note) but it’s only because Superman’s tied up boring us to death by walking around the country. I certainly hope that when Grounded ends, we don’t see the needle flip all the way back to the Superman side.

This book: straight 10/10 for me.

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