Monday, May 2, 2016

The Red Capes Are Coming

Action Comics Volume 5: What Lies Beneath (2013-2014/Collected 2014): written by Greg Pak; illustrated by Aaron Kuder, R.B. Silva, Mike Hawthorne, Scott McDaniel, and others: Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's Superman stories in Action Comics formed one of a handful of truly fine pieces of work on the Man of Steel during DC Comics' soon-to-end 'New 52' era. Pak writes a sympathetic, funny, and humane Superman. Kuder draws everything with a palpable sense of joy and wonder. It's great stuff that a lot of people missed.

This volume contains one short story arc that brings Lana Lang back into Superman's life as the two of them investigate a mysterious underground threat in Venezuela. Superman must also deal with the growing threat of Harrow and the Ghost Soldiers, government operatives who want Superman out of the picture because they view him as the greatest threat humanity faces. It's all a lot of fun, even the flashback story in which a young Superman tries to duke it out with a hurricane. Recommended.

Action Comics Volume 6: Superdoom (2014/ Collected 2014): written by Greg Pak; illustrated by Scott Kolins, Rafa Sandoval, Karl Kerschl, Jed Dougherty, Julius Gopez, Ken Lashley, Aaron Kuder, Cameron Stewart, and others: Completism in today's reprint market means that this volume exists even though it doesn't contain an entire story arc. Instead, it's the chapters of the multiple-book crossover series Doomed that appeared in Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's Action Comics. The story's fine as it goes, though there are a lot of art fill-ins. But's it's roughly 25% of the story, collected elsewhere in its entirety. So buy the Doomed collection instead. A reborn Doomsday causes Superman problems -- but not the normal slug-it-out problems normally associated with Doomsday. Recommended for completists.

Dr. Strange: Into the Dark Dimension (1984-85/ Compilation 2011): written by Roger Stern and Peter B. Gillis; illustrated by Paul Smith, Mark Badger, Bret Blevins, Terry Austin, Steve Leialoha, and others: Roger Stern's great run of writing Dr. Strange in the 1980's ends in this collection as Strange is gradually pulled into civil war in the Dark Dimension, the vast, magical abode of magical tyrants Dormammu and Umar. This volume also collects most of Paul Smith's brief, stellar time as the artist on Dr. Strange

Stern keeps the story-line moving quickly without sacrificing plot density. He also cleverly offers an 'origin' for Dormammu and Umar that has the virtue of being conditional -- it's a piece of propaganda used by Umar to dupe her own people, so its veracity is suspect. Dr. Strange is hyper-competent without being boringly omnipotent or omniscient. This being the early 1980's, Smith does give Strange's old girlfriend/pupil Clea an extraordinarily period-specific haircut and a rockin' headband in several scenes. Even in the Dark Dimension, they were feathering their hair and doing aerobics in the 80's. But besides those period-specific moments, Smith seems to have a great time depicting the time-and-space subverting vistas of the Dark Dimension. A monster that comes out of a space warp is especially nice.

The last story, in which new writer Peter Gillis and new artist Mark Badger take over the book, offers a brief coda to the main story before Gillis and Badger try to make the even-more-1980's-looking, company-wide villain Beyonder more interesting than he generally was. They succeed, but it takes a lot of heavy lifting. Recommended.

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