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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