When the news first came out that “Action Comics” #890-899 would star Lex Luthor instead of Superman, there was understandably a bit of a kerfluffle. But now, six issues in, I suspect I’m not the only person reading the book who finds that they aren’t missing Big Blue that much.
Don’t get me wrong, part of what makes “The Black Ring” in “Action Comics” work is that we know it’s a limited story; Paul Cornell’s plotted it out for ten installments as Lex tries to hunt down remnants of Black Lantern energy to somehow give himself absolute power. So we know there’s an ending in sight, and that this is building up toward something.
More importantly, though, is that Cornell’s script is a lot of fun. The various villains of the DC Universe tangling with Lex could have felt like a big gimmick, but instead it’s come across more natural. After all, if there were pockets of great power scattered across the planet, it makes sense that other power-hungry villains would have also snagged some, right? And with the latest issue, adding Vandal Savage into the mix, Cornell has taken a decidedly different tactic as Lex finds himself at the center of a prophecy that Savage seems determined to enact even while Lex is oblivious. From Savage’s multiple attempts to drag Lex into his trap over the course of comic book history, to Savage’s own comments as the years progress, there’s a sly sense of humor running through the issue that makes “Action Comics” a lot of fun. (“Good. Now what were we doing? Ah, yes. Killing Aquaman.”) With each new scene, it’s hard to keep from cracking a smile. This is easily my favorite of Cornell’s “Action Comics” issues to date, and he’s settled in quite nicely.
Peter Woods’s art this issue also looks its best to date; a couple of the early issues had him tweaking his style, and while I didn’t mind it, Woods seems to have brought back a bit more of his earlier approach to the pages and it looks fantastic. From the increasingly peeved expressions of Savage, to Lex’s raw lust for power, everyone in the book sells what’s happening, and that’s not even including the panicked chicken. Woods is one of those artists that I’ve always thought of as a comics superstar, and it’s nice to see him getting these plumb assignments that let him show off his skills.
The backup Jimmy Olsen story by Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva is also probably at its best to date, and makes me that much more sad that the second-feature option is going away shortly. Jimmy deliberately plotting to bore a group of aliens into leaving the planet (as set up last month) has a lot of great comedy potential, and Spencer and Silva deliver just that. And while I’m not sure a monthly Jimmy Olsen series would fly, served up in 10-page increments is the perfect length, letting us dip into Olsen’s insane world just long enough to keep the humor going and then cut back out. Silva’s beautiful art carries the humor of Spencer’s script quite well, from Ma Kent pretending to be clueless about technology, to Lois Lane’s well-placed smack with a newspaper. Great stuff.
“Superman” might be having problems with fill-in writers and additional scripters getting added to the mix these days, but “Action Comics” is on fire. If you haven’t already, check it out; this is a great place to start as “The Black Ring” enters its second half. Here’s to Cornell and Woods being around for “Action Comics” #900 and beyond, because this pair have a great synergy going on here.