REVIEW: Action Comics #864

Action Comics #864 coverWriter: Geoff Johns

Artist: Joe Prado

Publisher: DC Comics

“Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”
Serving as both the epilogue to his recent “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” arc and the prologue to the upcoming Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, Geoff Johns’ new issue of Action Comics attempts to explore the friendship between Superman and Lightning Lad, deal with the fallout of Countdown to Final Crisis, and develop a firm distrust on Batman’s part towards the Legion. In addition to all that, it has mysterious narration that directly sets up Three Worlds in the same way that DC Universe: Zero set up Final Crisis. So how does Johns attempt to accomplish these goals in a one-shot issue? Well, mainly with a lot of talking.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of comic fan who demands action above all else. I don’t need Big Things to happen all the time, and I prefer books that center on characterization over plot. Much of what’s done in this issue, however, was accomplished better in the “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” arc, especially the importance that particular story placed on the Legion’s involvement in Superman’s adolescence. It made a great case for the necessity of the Legion in Superboy’s history by positioning them as the only group of friends he could be entirely himself with, and in doing so made the idea of the Justice League even more logical and inevitable; it also did so through interspersing actual scenes from Clark’s teenage years and initial meeting with them, which were expressively drawn by Gary Frank and perfectly conveyed the void in Superboy’s life that the Legion filled. While there’s some enjoyable Superman/Lightning Lad conversation in this issue, it really amounts to two friends literally reminiscing over sodas and a speech by Garth at the issue’s end about what Clark means to him that sounds like a yearbook dedication. It seems like Johns is aiming for a certain poignant nostalgia, a sense of lost friends coming back together and knowing how far apart life has taken them, but he already managed that for six issues while still telling a story that moved and twisted.

Batman’s involvement in the book is mainly to bear bad news and generally act contentious and belligerent – someone’s deposited the bodies of Una and Karate Kid (who were killed in Countdown to Final Crisis, for those who gave up on the series) in an alley, and they have to investigate. Along the way, Batman and Lightning Lad argue a lot, and excessive points are made about Garth’s fiery temperament and Batman’s emotional repression. This is one of the more abrasive Batman appearances we’ve seen in DC’s main line as of late, and a scene in which he complains about the incredible nerve of time travelers, his constant scourge, reads somewhat like a parody (intentional or not) of Frank Miller’s paranoid Übermensch Batman. Johns hints that Batman feels marginalized as Superman’s friend by the Legion and fears that they’ll end up betraying Clark’s friendship, and it’s an intriguing premise – just about everyone’s had moments where they’ve had to bring together two different groups of friends, and the kind of discomfort that can cause is definitely fertile ground for stories. It’s just that between Batman’s posturing and the sometimes overbearing sentimentality on display there’s an awkwardness to this issue that makes it feel like a superheroic high school reunion.

Probably the most important part of this issue is its narration, which serves to reveal the hidden villain and master plan behind the upcoming Legion of Three Worlds, and it also reveals that said villain secretly set into motion the events of Johns’ recent Legion arc in Action. This has similarities to the reveal of the forces behind Infinite Crisis, although here it’s handled far more deftly – the villain’s subtle machinations in changing the future’s perception of Superman don’t require much of an imaginative stretch to match up with the plot we’ve already seen, unlike some of the actions taken by Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime in the previous work. It also serves to reveal the mastermind behind the upcoming miniseries before it starts, which eliminates the need for much backtracking and fill-in exposition when that hits, and ultimately promises a tighter, more focused narrative than the strong-but-flawed Infinite Crisis.

There’s a possibility I’m being more harsh on this book than it deserves, but it’s Formula Johns. It clarifies logical gaps in past stories (there’s still another one of Una’s selves left, it seems), sets up future ones, features narration heavily invested in one character’s perception of other characters, and juxtaposes specific characters in order to highlight their similarities and differences. None of this is bad, and it does accomplish some useful and necessary things. It’s a solid read, but I can’t help but feel that most of this could’ve been accomplished in the middle of a more energetic story, or at least the creepy, labyrinthine mystery that the discovery of the dead Legionnaires’ bodies seems to suggest.

Rating: 6.5/10

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