By Dan Jurgens, Patrick Zircher, Tomeu Morey, Rob Leigh
Action Comics returns to its original numbering with some new names and familiar faces, but does it capture the spirit it once had?
Reading this issue, I had two thoughts: 1) I can finally see why Dan Jurgens gets tapped to write Superman at every opportunity and 2) I have no idea what Patrick Zircher’s style is.
I’ve seen Jurgens’ name as a writer on so many Superman books I tend to skip out on them for that exact reason. It’s not that I believe he’s bad, but his writing does tend to feel basic and old-fashioned without the polish of guys like Paul Levitz or Keith Giffen. While I admire DC utilizing older talent that have put in time with the company, it strikes me as weird to put someone like Jurgens on a title where people constantly criticize the main character as being too old-fashioned and boring. Somehow, Jurgens has found a way to completely fix all three of those complaints in regards to this issue.
The script is indeed mostly straightforward but with plot transitions and foreshadowing that feel modern. Also very compressed, the events of this issue could easily have been drawn out over the course of a year; Lex Luthor as the hero of Metropolis, Kal El’s return, Clark Kent’s return, even Superman’s return and confrontation with Lex over stealing his mantle, all of this could be fodder for many other stories. While burning through all of them gives the title the feeling of “Action”, it feels like several missed opportunities. The bright spots in Metropolis have been very brief during the New 52, partly because nothing has really stuck in that corner of the DCU with so many rewrites and retcons. I miss the days when writers would slowly build on a story over several issues, even years, laying breadcrumbs for readers to follow. However, those days may well be far behind the Big Two.
Dare I say how impressive Zircher’s art is? I’ve seen him work on Flash, Green Arrow & Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion and each time his style looks drastically different. Here he manages to channel other prominent Superman artists such as Gary Frank, Tony Daniel, Marco Rudy and Pete Woods. Several pages, even specific panels, feel as though Zircher is emulating their styles in the book. If so, he couldn’t have chosen better models. This is perhaps the best looking Superman comic I’ve seen in years. The action poses look iconic, the detail in faces is touchingly human, the environments look picturesque and three dimensional. By whatever process Zircher used to create the art, this issue feels more modern while at the same time classic than it has any right to be. I liked his art before on Rogues Rebellion with its jagged lines and kinetic energy, or the deep shadows and realism on Green Arrow, but I love his realistic and heroic hatching here. Zircher’s art really highlights the script Jurgens laid out and makes it feel more cinematic and grandiose.
Unfortunately, that almost works against the issue plot-wise. So much happens here, your mind could get whiplash from each twist or revelation that comes about. Jarringly, it also seems to intersect with last week’s Superman Rebirth #1. I can’t be sure having not read the issue, but Action Comics #957 seems more focused on finishing a checklist than creating an engaging story for fans of the Man of Tomorrow. Neither Superman nor Lex Luthor get a full chance to shine as the hero of the story, which is a shame as I was looking forward to seeing more reformed Lex playing hero. The groundwork has been laid in Geoff Johns’ Justice League, it’s seems a shame to let it go to waste. Indeed, Action may be too wrapped up in the past for its own good.