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Action Comics #817

Posted: Saturday, July 17, 2004
By: Ray Tate



"Weapons of Revelation"

Writer: Chuck Austen
Artists: Ivan Reis(p), Marc Campos(i), Guy Major(c)
Publisher: DC

When last we left Superman in Action Comics, Magog, this year's Ibaac/King Kull, had stuck a pitchfork in the Man of Steel and exposed him to kryptonite. This issue mostly picks up where we left off. Superman between chapters has been shipped off to STAR Labs. Superboy and Wonder Woman have shown up at his bedside. Meanwhile outside STAR Labs, the Metropolis SCU and Black Lightning try to stave off every two-bit thug who wants to finish the job Magog started.

Chuck Austen and Ivan Reis keep the story very readable. They open up with Wonder Girl speaking to presumably Pa Kent at the site of last issue's battle. In the foreground, Ma Kent--revitalized yet again due to a Superman television series--speaks with Lana Lang. This is a logical act of writing. The people who know Superman best would be in contact and would issue extreme concern. The opening reinforces the idea of Superman being a real person an adds weight to his situation.

The story segues via Jack Ryder--whose characterization still does not sit well with me--intending to mimic the semaphore used during the O.J. Simpson Trial only in response to Superman's condition. The colors chosen are particularly tasteless. From there we enter STAR Labs where EMTs seem to have checked their brains at the door. None of them are wearing surgical gear, and they're using paddles on Superman. I mention this only because if I were to flip through the book at the comic book store, I might come to the conclusion that the writer was not paying attention. The fact is Superman represents such an odd case for a physician that you really have to consider elements you normally would not think about.

Superman cannot be infected by earth spored bacteria, and being an alien, Superman cannot infect you. So the masks and gloves really are unnecessary. Superman when he awakens--yes, he lives--exclaims "That really hurts." Clearly, these are not normal paddles that you would use on a human being. You expect typical post Crisis laziness, but Austen really has thought through this important scene.

Sometimes explanations are not needed. Superboy can be considered immediate family, and he would be allowed to stay with Superman. Wonder Woman's presence does require explanation, and Austen provides a sensible one. More so than I'd say any other author or artist, even Liefield, fans generate a lot of hatred toward Austen, but in this case, he's already leaped over some of the impediments that characterize a hack.

When Jack Black--yes, that Jack Black--enters the scene in the guise of Dr. Mohlman, the character creates some misplaced attempts at humor that hurt the authenticity of the story. He babbles through some very bad science. "An orderly molecular structure" does not indicate "a synthetic origin." It indicates a crystalline or a natural occurring fullerene state. Kryptonite cannot possess "nucleotides." Only living things have nucleotides. This jargon would seem to indicate that Austen hasn't done a thorough bit of research. On the other hand, Mohlman isn't really wrapped too tight. So Austen just may know of the facts I have related and tossed them aside for the sake of characterization or attempted to insulate himself from accusations of haphazard research through the whacked out character. Ultimately it's the character that brings down the scene not the misinformation. It's not necessarily bad writing or a bad writer. It's a mistake.

The big battle sequence truly does not work in the story and exhibits a typical attention to detail I expect from the post-Crisis era writers. Austen does not explain why Black Lightning alone is trying to aid the SCU. Are J'onn, Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern on lunch break? Superman is their flagship. If they did not feel an ethical responsibility to protect him in a weakened state, they should at least bow to a practical need, and what about the innocents slaughtered in the crossfire? Austen does not provide any explanation as to what the other super-heroes are doing. This situation strikes me as a priority, and I just don't see that kind of importance being depicted.

The story could have been tighter, but there are some real moments where Austen's ability shines through. The continuity issue of the shared DCU offers a problem that cannot easily be explained away, and in fact, it occurs to me that if the majority of the super-hero community simply stood in front of the doors to STAR Labs that they could very well stare down the opposition without a single punch thrown or a single drop of blood being spilled. "Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot."



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