Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 6: Superdoom hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 26, 2015

I've read a couple of crossovers lately, including Forever Evil: Blight and then the Green Lantern/Red Lanterns/Supergirl "Red Daughter of Krypton crossover followed quickly by the Green Lantern/Corps "Uprising" crossover. And I enjoyed these for the most part, more so the smaller, tighter-plotted Green Lantern events than the eighteen-part Blight.

At fifteen parts at least, plus prologues and epilogues, the "Superman: Doomed" crossover has more in common with Blight, including its flaws, that the size of "Doomed" leads to padding and a couple of issues that don't feel entirely necessary. Few of those, however, are specifically Action Comics issues, and so Superman: Action Comics Vol. 6: Superdoom reads without a lot of waste, even if the "Doomed" concept itself is somewhat subpar.

And Blight at least had going for it that all issues of the story could be read between four individual trades; certain parts of "Doomed" can only be read in the Superman: Doomed collection, which also includes all the issues in this book and most in Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 2: War and Peace. If readers are willing to sacrifice a couple of Futures End issues and sequential numbering on their shelves, probably the better for your wallet is to skip Action Vol. 6 and Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 2 and just opt for both in Superman: Doomed.

Though I've read "Doomed" in total, this review will focus mainly on the Action Comics issues collected in Superdoom, with subsequent reviews to look at the Superman/Wonder Woman, Batman/Superman, and Supergirl parts.

[Review contains spoilers]

In Action Comics Vol. 5: What Lies Beneath, writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder presented a madcap sci-fi Superman-and-Lana-Lang story that was a lot of fun, a perfect template for bright, superheroic Superman stories to come. But Superdoom starts on the wrong foot with an epilogue to Beneath and prologue to "Doomed" in which Beneath's best concepts founder. Superman arrives at the base of operations of the Ghost Soldier who harassed him last time and squares off against the Soldier's boss, Harrow; she spouts common villainous tropes about Superman being a threat and raises a ghost army to attack him, and when Superman offers the barest of resistance, Harrow gives up and lets Superman off the hook. It's terribly anti-climactic after Pak and Kuder's previous wild subterranean battles, and the disappointing conclusion casts a pall on what came before.

Action Comics apparently fell at the top of the month in the "Doomed" cycle, so Superdoom contains mostly the first part of the "Doomed" mini-events "Infected," "Enemy of the State," "Superdoom," and "Last Sun." Of all of these, probably best is "Superdoom" (Action Comics #33), in which a Doomsday-virus-infected Superman must stop a strangely-benevolent alien vampire from destroying a planet. In all of "Doomed," this is the only "Superdoom as monstrous cosmic crusader"-type story, but if you tilt your head and squint, it kind of reminds of the Triangle Titles' Superman: Exile and similar type stories where Superman would take an extended space trip and encounter various weird civilizations. "Doomed" is itself a problematic concept, but the "Superdoom" chapter is one where it rises above itself in a way that might've made interesting continued reading.

What's wrong with "Doomed," at least in part, is that it takes what might otherwise be a viable story about Superman infected with a disease by Brainiac that causes Superman to leave Earth at just the time Brainiac attacks, and shoehorns in Doomsday and all that Doomsday entails. Superdoom omits Superman: Doomed #1-2, both of which should be in here and the former of which presents the grand Superman/Doomsday fight, but the fact that Superdoom stands well enough on its own without Doomsday proper ever on the page underscores that the monster is tertiary to the story. And most troublesome is that when Doomsday is "on the page" (as imagined by Superman), Pak and fellow writer Charles Soule voice Doomsday as a slang-talking bully that calls the Cyborg Superman "Cybie" and provokes Superman to do his "damn job." That's far from Death of Superman's hulking behemoth and far less scary, too.

The general unevenness of Superdoom extends, for instance, to a mid-book appearance by Beneath's Baka, inexplicably since Baka wasn't supposed to leave his underground realm again and especially not with the Ghost Solider that tried to kill him. That's aside, even, from "Doomed"'s internal confusion over Superman's illness, in which atmospheric Kryptonite seems to have both positive and negative effects on the Doomsday infection and, in the end, Superman mostly just cures himself by force of will. Artist Kuder does a fine job in the book, especially in a couple of two-page spreads (and there especially when all of Metropolis falls unconscious), but unfortunately not all the book's guest artists hold up so well. It's hard to tell who's drawing what, but there's a perspective problem in a poor splash of Superman and Krypto fighting Brainiac's minions that makes it look like Superman is punching Krypto's head off.

I do continue to give Pak credit, continuing from last volume, for his plucky Lana Lang, who's better-depicted here than in her recent previous "pining for Superman" or "suddenly evil Lexcorp CEO" iterations. Pak still has Lana constantly remind the reader she's an "electrical engineer," which is a cute tic though nonsensical (if she said "the best darn electrical engineer around," that's a catchphrase akin to "I'm the fastest man alive"; here, Lana for no reason keeps repeating her job title, though my guess is it's in part Pak explaining to incoming readers why it is Lana Lang should be handy in space). Pak also transforms fan favorite John Henry "Steel" Irons into his best-recognized form, and in the end foments a Steel/Lana relationship, which is a nice and creative turn for two likable characters who deserve happiness. If anything I'll be glad to have "Doomed" out of the way and see what Pak and Kuder do next time with Superman, Lana, and Steel, in a story hopefully more like the team's first outing.

There's most assuredly something to be said for a giant-size Superman crossover involving, at the least, the Justice League, Supergirl, Krypto, a host of Earth's heroes, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday, Mongul, Metallo, the Atomic Skull, and a couple of Phantom Zone criminals, if not more. But as compared to old classics like Panic in the Sky or Reign of the Supermen, Superman: Action Comics Vol. 6: Superdoom and its ilk just don't hold together well enough, faltering in what should be powerful moments as when Superman emits a mega-burst of heat vision to trigger the Phantom Zone and halt Brainiac (but how did Superman enhance his heat vision, and where did the Phantom Zone amplifiers come from, etc.). And again, that's letting alone that Superman just shakes off the Doomsday virus. I do appreciate Pak and Soule trying a New 52 Doomsday story different than Death of Superman, but I'd as soon the Super-titles quit the crossovers for a while.

[Includes original covers and variant cover galley]
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  1. That's great to know! I was wondering if this was one of the few events where buying the event book would be better than the individual titles.

  2. The completionist in me had to get both. I have not read the AC trade yet, though. I just read "Doomed." I'm curious now to see how "SuperDoom" reads alone now.

    I thought the event was okay; I felt it was kind of long and some issues seemed unnecessary. But as a trade reader it's nice to have such a big collection.

  3. I just wish it really included everything, since Doomed doesn't include all of Action Comics #30. You'll be missing part of an issue if you don't buy both volumes.