‘Hybrid part one’
By Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel
Superman is yet another DC Comics property who is in perpetual flux. Action Comics was a major hit with the New 52 relaunch and the star power that Grant Morrison brought, but the concurrent Superman series has floundered in its attempts to follow wherever the Hell Morrison was going in his run. With the departure of Morrison, a bright future of possibility loomed for DC Editorial. The creative team of Andy Diggle (Daredevil, Green Arrow) and Tony S. Daniel (Batman) raised interest almost across the board and the marketing of the next run as drastically different was pushed in the back of every DC comic book. Almost as soon as the ink dried on the preview images, Diggle was off the book. A few days later, Daniel confirmed that he would be finishing up the three-part run using Diggle’s breakdowns.
So… we are back where we started with an uncertain future for the man of steel (though a Scott Lobdell filler arch has been announced). This strikes as decidedly bizarre since a major motion picture is due out this summer and the 75th anniversary of Superman is almost upon us (April 18th, mark your calendars). Why can’t DC editorial make this character the top seller he should be? I have no idea, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at Action Comics #19 and why it is the best thing to happen to Superman in years.
The story is set a year ago (no idea why) in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Qurac where Lois Lane is overcoming a total media blackout with her usual sassiness and know how… and a smart phone. It’s a very quick moment but one that got recognized by the fan community online almost immediately. The character of Lois Lane has been all but forgotten in recent years and the newspaper reporter angle of the Superman comic has gotten lost in favor of hypertectual storytelling by Morrison. But it’s back and in full force. Kent departs to deal with some reported arms smuggling.
The ‘illegal arms’ are mecha warsuits that Superman attempts to take down gently, but in the end his hand is forced into action. The battle is costly and reveals that one of the mech pilots is none other than Jimmy Olsen (as shown on the WTF cover), but it’s not Jimmy at all and the robot simulacrum explodes. This has to be the lamest moment in the book and could be a sign of why Diggle left. The Jimmy Olsen bot was obviously forced upon him by Editorial and feels very weird.
Superman is left with what appears to be a mystery and the scene shifts to Lex Luthor being psychoanalyzed. It seems that Lex is is imprisoned, but we soon see that he has actually trapped the psyhoanalyst (who hasn’t had this fantasy) and is holding her captive until she presents him with a statement on his character that he is happy with. Given that she diagnoses him as a brilliant yet twisted sociopath, things are not looking good for her. Along with the depiction of Lois, this is the strongest version of Luthor I have seen since the John Byrne days.
Luthor reveals that the mech suit attack was orchestrated by him to infiltrate Superman’s genetic sequence and rewrite it, crafting a monstrosity. It’s a thrilling plot that leaves the readers with just a glimpse of Superman mid-transformation into some kind of horrific creature.
Let me be clear in saying that I appreciate the Morrison run on Action Comics and now that it is complete, can appreciate what it was accomplishing, a kind of modern silver age fantasy. Even so, it read poorly in monthly installments and alienated anyone who lacked the fortitude to re-read every issue and look deeply into the meaning (ignoring the filler issues and artist swaps). What Diggle and Daniel have accomplished in just one issue is stunning and uses the supporting cast to great aplomb. It also presents a modern dramatic action story without sacrificing the iconic nature of the series or enforcing any new creative direction on those concepts. It’s simply a great ripping Superman comic.
I am just sad to know that it will be over in just two issues and as far as I can tell, it is thanks to the inability of DC Editorial to work with Diggle. Sad, really. But enjoy this ride while you can.
Black and white images from Tony Daniel’s art page