EP0018: Superman: Action Comics, Volume 4: The New World

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Superman barely has time to adjust to his latest retcon before a team of malcontent supervillains form the new Superman Revenge Squad and declare war on him.

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Superman faces his revenge squad and we take a look at it in Superman Action Comics Volume Four: The New World.

The return of Superman has been one of the big pluses of the DC Rebirth Event. The DC Universe was rebooted in 2011, more than a quarter century after the last full Universal Rebirth in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In the 1990s Superman married Lois Lane but the younger Clark Kent under The New 52 Universe was a single man, allowing writers to explore the possibility of things such as a relationship with Wonder Woman. In The New 52 event ‘Convergence’ it was revealed that the post-Crisis Superman had actually survived along with Lois, and that they had had a son. In the eight-part mini-series ‘Superman: Lois and Clark’ written by Dan Jurgens it’s revealed that they made it to The New 52 earth, but that Superman didn’t want to tread on the territory of the Superman of that world. However, The New 52 Superman went out literally in a blaze of glory, which meant the world needed a Superman and he took over the job full time after spending years fighting in the background. And there were a great many plotlines around people getting used to this new Superman and how they reacted, and those were interesting stories, but that bit of backstory probably wasn’t something that was ever going to last. And so in Superman Reborn many questions that have been hanging over particularly the Action Comics title were answered, and at the end of the event The New 52 Superman and Lois emerged and they merged with their post-Crisis counterparts, creating one unified timeline and thus the title of The New World. It reveals what that unified timeline was and provides a retelling of Superman’s origin stories, something that they’ve never done in comics again. And of course we’re going to soon get another retelling when Brian Michael Bendis writes his new Man of Steel series, though I’ll talk about that after we finish talking about this one.

This book, ‘Superman Action Comics: The New World’ collects issues 977 to 984, and 977 and 978 begin with Superman somewhat unsure about what’s happened to him, and so he goes back to The Fortress to get a unified view of his timeline and concludes everything is fine – not even remembering where the big difference occurred. It’s a good enough retelling, it provides some interesting details. Instead of Superman operating at night undercover in a black costume to stay out of his younger self’s way, we’re told that he and Lois took a sabbatical from The Daily Planet – though given the number of years involved that’s a pretty big sabbatical. [He/It?] does a good job of holding the timeline together that there are some problems, particularly when you consider The New 52 Superman’s relationship with Wonder Woman, this was never going to be perfect. And then we get into the Superman revenge squad. This is a concept that dates back to the Silver Age but it’s been nearly a decade since we’ve had any active teen. And this one is an impressive one with Blanque – a shape-shifting alien, Metallo, Eradicator, Mongol; and it’s initially led by Hank Henshaw as the Cyborg Superman, not to be confused with the one that Supergirl defeated earlier in DC Rebirth. They decide they have to spring General Zod from the Phantom Zone when they’re able to do that by breaking into Belle Reve, home of the Suicide Squad. And the story features a good confrontation between Superman and Amanda Waller. The Squad then falls more or less under the leadership of General Zod with Henshaw being usurped, and Zod has a single target in mind. In order to get access to the Phantom Zone generator he leads them in an assault on the Fortress of Solitude itself[?].

There are some fairly good action bits. Jurgens’ heyday as a writer was in the late 80s and early 90s, and there is that feel to the book with a very strong action basis. After August it’s called Action Comics. I did feel like the first story arc for Jurgens on Action Comics, this one dragged on a little longer than it probably needed to. But there are also some more elements introduced that make it a bit more interesting than that earlier arc. You get to discover a little bit of the type of hero Superman is and Zod also makes for an interesting villain as he really becomes a dominant force in a revenge squad which, despite its firepower, is more forgettable than it probably should be. There’s also some really cool action for members of the family. John who is Superboy and Superman’s son gets to play a good role despite his dad trying to keep him out of harm’s way, and there are actually a few twists in the story, particularly in the end as to what Zod’s plan is. I’ve been enjoying all of the DC Rebirth Superman books, and so I’ve enjoyed this book. It was not the best in the series but it was certainly enjoyable. I will give it a rating of “Somewhat Classy”. It had its flaws but it was a fun read.

Now as to Brian Michael Bendis, the news came out recently that he will be taking over writing both Superman and Action Comics, as well as doing a six-issue mini-series prior to that called ‘Man of Steel’ to retell Superman’s origins. For his part he’s promised not to just totally whop away everything that Dan Jurgens has done on Action Comics and Peter Tomasi has done on Superman. Except for that, his plan is almost identical to John Byrne’s take on Superman in terms of the six-issue mini-series ‘Man of Steel’, and taking over Action Comics and Superman, and continuing the numbering of Action Comics, beginning Superman with a new Number One.

Now I’ll admit I have mixed feelings on the move. Bendis has had some really good stories written but he’s probably not the first choice I would make for Superman. I’ve read a lot of his Spider-Man with Miles Morales and it’s pretty good; yet I tend to associate Bendis with darker and depressing stories like his run on Daredevil, as well as talky-dialogue heavy tales. He had one issue of Daredevil, for example, which was all people in Hell’s Kitchen expressing their opinions about Daredevil. It could be that he’s ready to go another place in his career with Superman or it could be that this turns out to be a really awful idea. Only time will tell. I’m definitely going to look forward to seeing what he puts out and I’ll be giving him a chance because it’s the classy thing to do.

Before we go today I have a listener email from Neil. Neil writes in, “Hi Adam. I’ve listened to your other podcast, The Old Time Radio Superman Show’ which just ended and the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio for some time now, and my ears pricked up when you said you were starting a new comics-related podcast. I’m not a big comics reader but I would like to read more comics and get a feel for the good stuff that’s out there. Like you I’m not a fan of the grim dark joyless comics that seem to be all the rage these days. I’d like to recommend two comics that I enjoy that you may or may not be aware of, and that you may want to discuss in future episodes. One is the Loose Usagi Yojimbo series of graphic novels by Stan Sakai, and the other is The Red Panda Comics series written by Greg Taylor and drawn and lettered by Dean Kotz’.

“Usagi Yojimbo is Japanese for ‘rabbit body guard’ and describes the continuous adventures of Miyamoto Usagi, a ronin[?] min or samurai without a master in seventeenth century Japan. Usagi was supposed to protect his Lord in battle but he failed, and his master was betrayed and murdered. Now Usagi wanders to Japan, coming to the aid of anyone who needs his help. He has a very strong ethical code that will not allow him to stand by while innocent people are being oppressed or exploited. In that way he’s almost like a Japanese version of The Lone Ranger. He has a past filled with secrets, regrets, a lost love and powerful enemies, but in the course of his travel he also acquires friends and allies who comes to his aid when he needs them. He’s called a rabbit bodyguard because he is drawn as a rabbit. All the characters in the series are drawn as anthropomorphic animals: rabbits, cats, bats, snakes, rhinos, pigs, etc. The character’s essential personality is usually suggested by the type of animal they are. Usagi’s earliest adventures have been collected in a special two volume set published by Fanta Graphic Books. It’s a perfect introduction to the character and all of the supporting cast. Jumping into comic you’ve never heard before can be daunting because you don’t know any of the characters or the relationships or back stories. But this set starts the very beginning. Current volume in the series are being published by Dark Horse Comics.

“And one of the things I love about the series are the ways Stan Sakai is able to vary the tone from one story to the next. Some stories are very light-hearted and comedic, almost slapstick while others are full of drama, political intrigue and swords play, and still others are full of pathos and a real emotional heart[?]. It’s not the same thing all the time and that keeps the story fresh. Another thing I admire is the way Stan Sakai does everything himself: story, artwork, lettering, inking, the whole deal- and he’s done it for more than thirty years. to me it’s a really classy comic.

“The Red Panda comics written by Greg Taylor and drawn by Dean Kotz grew out of the Red Panda adventures podcast produced by Taylor’s Decoder Ring Theatre Audio Acting group. The Red Panda as Canada’s greatest superhero is a wonderful blend of old school radio and pulp heroes like The Shadow and Green Hornet. Millionaire August Fenwick and his beautiful wise- cracking lady chauffeur, Kit Baxter, who later becomes his wife, assumes the identities of the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel as they defend the city of Toronto against a host of mobsters, monsters, and malefactors during the period from the earliest days of The Great Depression, all the way through the end of World War II. The Flying Squirrel, The Red Panda, the chauffeur/sidekick/wife is a terrific blend of Kato and Margo Lane. The graphic novel ‘The Night of the Red Panda’ is available in paperback from IDW and Monkey Brain Comics, and a series of digital comics in two part installments is published by Monkey Brain and available at comicology.com. The Red Panda Adventures podcast was originally supposed to be a spoof or parody of Golden Age radio serials, but Greg Taylor said he got tired of that quickly and wanted to tell a straight or at least straighter action adventure story. There’s still plenty of humor in the podcast, in the comics, but it comes out of the relationships and interactions between the characters just like it does in real life. This is another Classy comic – I only wish there were more of them. And he says, “I hope you enjoy these recommendations and will consider them for future episodes. I’ll keep listening to your show too. I’m particularly interested in comics collections that start at the very beginning with characters because I’m a relatively new comics reader and don’t know all the backstory and longer running, more established series. Best regards, Neil.”

Well thanks so much Neil. In answer to the question on the Usagi series it sounds like an interesting read and I will add the first volume. I think my library has the original first volume, the one that’s Fanta Graphics. It’s about 400 and some pages which is quite a bit to commit to, but I think they’ve got the very original opening story.

In terms of The Red Panda Adventures, I did read the graphic novel for IDW and I liked it fine, and I will probably look at doing that again. Mostly I’m going through stuff that’s kind of on my shelf and I may go back to review some books that I found particularly interesting. I think with the Red Panda it makes sense to wait because, even while I enjoyed it, I’m just getting started in the series. I’m only up to the second season of the radio series and it felt like I was kind of missing a little bit because I hadn’t even gotten to the point when I read this that he was dealing with some of the forces and enemies that he was facing in the graphic novel. So, I might have better perspective. I’ll keep in mind the requests for first appearances – that is always a bit of a challenge that you will like that I did actually receive the first appearance of Gambit in comics form, and so I will be in reviewing that in the coming weeks.

Alright, well that will actually be all for now. Thanks so much for that letter. Thanks for the great recommendations and those both sound up my alley. Alright, that’ll do it for now. If you do have a comment email to me at classycomicsguy@gmail.com; check out my website, classycomicsguy.com; and follow me on Twitter @classycomicsguy. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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