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Trouble with Comics

Action Comics #900

Writers - Paul Cornell, Various

Artists - Pete Woods, Gary Frank, Various

Publisher - DC Comics $4.99 USD

Is “pretty good” really good enough for the longest-running superhero title’s 900th issue? I guess we’ll have to take what we’re served. Cornell and Woods wrap up the Lex Luthor “Black Ring” storyline with Lex gaining ultimate power but losing it because of his fatal flaw—his need to beat Superman. Cornell has done a terrific job the past nine months or so depicting Lex as the complicated genius he’s meant to be, his “evil” due to his intellect overriding personal sentiment. And as this issue emphasizes, he never really had a fair chance to be a nice guy, lacking the parenting Clark Kent had. 

At the same time, Cornell made Lex’s villainy enjoyable; you rooted for the guy to overcome less interesting bad guys like Vandal Savage and Larfleeze, even though you knew a Lex with godlike power would be a very bad thing for the DCU. 

Early in the run, Lex explained that he had created the robot Lois Lane, in part, to provide a different perspective. It was about the first time I can recall Lex essentially admitting he could be wrong about something, or that he could use some help, and it was refreshing. But in this issue, with the robot Lois revealed as a pawn of Brainiac, Lex abandons these ideas, and defaults to his need to best Superman, even though there’s no real need at this point. This would be fine (we all know someone gifted who can’t seem to get over some weakness or other), but Cornell chooses maybe the wrong method: Lex forcing Superman to see the depths of human emotion. It totally backfires, since Lex doesn’t really understand human emotion, even less so now that he’s a god. It doesn’t make any sense. If pale, redheaded chef Bobby Flay achieved godhood, methinks he would take on his nemesis in something cooking-related, right? Not…tanning.

It’s okay, but considerably diluted by a subplot continuing this “Reign of Doomsdays” story that has wound its way through a Steel one-shot, Titans, a Superman/Batman annual and elsewhere. It’s forced into the Lex story as if he had something to do with it, plus it makes Doomsday a less impressive villain, plus nobody likes Cyborg Superman, plus there are too many other artists on deck.

It would have been nice if this 900th issue finished off the Lex story in a stronger, more concise fashion, leaving out the Doomsday story and leaving more room for shorts by some of the biggest talents in comics. Instead, we get a clever, restrained taken on Krypton’s last days written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and some other stuff.

Paul Dini is a talented guy but no longer a guarantee of good comics, and his space parable doesn’t work. But comics fans are forgiving and loyal, which may explain the presence of Richard Donner, who is here for directing a good Superman movie over 30 years ago and not much else. Donner has forgotten more about what makes Superman work than most of us will ever know, and in this storyboarded script, he proves it.

David S. Goyer writes the instantly newsworthy story about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship so that he will no longer be seen as a symbol of U.S. policy. This results from a hamfisted attempt by Goyer at mixing superheroes with real-world troubles, when Superman shows support for rioters in Tehran by standing still for a long time. Okay? And when did this alien with a fake name ever become a citizen, anyway?

And of course, it couldn’t be a notable DC superhero comic without Geoff Johns showing up. He’s like Snoop Dogg. Do either of them ever turn anything down when they’re not feeling it? Johns’ story isn’t terrible; there’s just nothing to it. Lois invites the Legion of Superheroes over for a party, and they sit or stand around and eat. As nice as Gary Frank draws Lois’ butt, or Timber Wolf eating pizza, it’s not much of a story. As colossal anniversary issues go, it’s okay.

—Christopher Allen