Saturday, January 6, 2018

REVIEW: Action Comics #994 (2017)

ACTON COMICS #994 (2017) — Reg.
cover by Dan Jurgens and Trevor Scott
©DC Comics
DC Comics, $2.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 27, 2017

“Booster Shot, Part II”
20 pages, Read Time – 10:15

by Dan Jurgens (story & pencils), Art Thibert, Trevor Scott, Johnny Desjardins, and Joe Prado (inks), Hi-Fi (colors), Rob Leigh (letters). Edited by Paul Kaminski.

 BOTTOM LINE: Basically, a middle chapter that wouldn't've lasted two panels of plot in Mort Weisinger's day. And, as an alternate timeline flashes by, also a missed opportunity for something that might've knocked your Silver Age socks off!

Well, I don’t really have a ton to say about this one. It was pleasant enough. Not particularly spectacular, but also not overtly displeasing in any way.

Basically, Superman and Booster Gold, having gone back in time to Krypton before it exploded, are discovered and spend the entire issue trying to evade capture by Jor-El and General Zod. Seems the timeline has somehow been altered by the presence of our heroes and, in this version of events, Zod and Papa-El are besties. Also, Krypton is no longer space-phobic and has a fleet of interstellar ships.

This part doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I’d think whatever chain of events transpired to make that the status quo would’ve happened long before Big Blue & Booster showed up. Yeah, they may have "broken time,” but they couldn’t have broken that part of it.

There are some oblique references (not by name, of course) to Dr. Manhattan resetting the DCU, so this broken time may or may not be the new normal going forward. But mostly our heroes decide they have to set things right before the changes become permanent. Before they can do that, however, they are attacked by Zod and a squad of Eradicators.

We then get two-pages of a talking heads subplot that’s all Lois something, General Lane something, estranged relationship something-something, investigation into the General’s unauthorized something, Jon-is-sad something. It doesn’t add anything to the main story, but doesn’t district from it for too long either. So, whatevs.

Back to Krypton, the heroes escape back to the Time Bubble and Booster insists on skedaddling back to the present. But Superman wants to stay, and help the Kryptonians use their space fleet to escape what he knows is coming. 

But Booster wins the coin toss, and as they speed though the time stream, we see a scene from new history, ‘cause it looks like they did the Battlestar Galactica thing after all. We then get a full-page splash and some text to tell us that in this reality, Superman, as Kal-El, goes on to grow up on whatever planet the Kryptonians settle on next, where he marries and has a daughter, as well as a younger sister.

But then the bubble crashes and it appears to have overshot the present, landing instead on Earth in Booster’s native time, the 25th century. Worse, one Eradicator managed to somehow follow the bubble and emerges from the timestream declaring its intent to kill our unconscious heroes.

Superman, we can presume, is knocked out in the crash because he was depowered by Krpyton’s red sun and has not yet been under a yellow one long enough to recharge.

So, that’s about it. Kinda meh. But I don’t hate it. Basically, the entire issue is reduced to movie logline — Superman and Booster find themselves on Krypton, are pursued by Zod and Jor-El, and escape into the future. That’s it. That’s the entire plot.

But I could not help wondering after I read this issue how in might have been done in the Mort Weisinger era. After all, Superman going back in time to before Krypton exploded was a pretty standard trope of the Silver Age.

PRESENTING: An alternate plot from an alternate timeline for ACTION COMICS #994!

First off, Unca Mort would’ve tossed the Lois subplot. Better to focus on the story at hand. Whatever this General Lane thing is, that’s the next tale. Besides, I promise you, not one person who bought this issue is at home right not thinking, “Man, I have got to make sure I buy the next issue to find out what goes down with Lois and her dad!”  

Then, the business of our heroes figuring out where and when they are, getting discovered and pursued by Eradicators, and escaping back into the time stream, would be the work of two pages, tops. But maybe the Eradicator’s manage to get off a shot that damages the Time Bubble, and instead of merely seeing one full-page splash of New Krypton, we actually land there, and meet the House of El as it would have existed in this timeline.

This way, we don’t just see a single drawing of some blond woman who is supposed to be Superman’s alt.wife — we meet her, learn her name and history, including how she and Kal-El me and fell in love, and discover something of her personality. She becomes a REAL person. And maybe Superman kind of falls for her. Oh, she’s no Lois Lane, to be sure, he’ll think. But he’ll add wistfully that he certainly chose well in this timeline. And so we do us Unca Mort would have had us do — we add to the mythos.

And, to further that addition, maybe we say this woman, let’s call her Lana Lor-Van — See, kids, Superman did marry Lana! Just in a different timeine. And a different Lana — and let’s have her be from Krypton’s artist guild. She’s an amazing musician, and, being a couple of years younger than Superman, was one of the first children born on New Krypton.. And maybe at some point she gives Superman a music box with a tune of her own creation, which he takes with him at the end of the story. And maybe in future stories, from time to time, Lois will see the music box on a shelf and ask Superman where he got it. “Oh, just a gift from an old friend,” he’ll say.

But anyway, after taking the first couple of pages to effect their escape, our splash page would have the heroes crash-landing on New Krypton. And, what’s more, New Krypton is actually Venus in the year 2063, where everyone has super-powers, albeit at Earth-2 Superman levels, because of the cloud cover and atmospheric pressure

Let’s imagine the Kryptonians used their super-science to terra-form Venus to fit their needs, but retained the perma-clouds to obscure discovery of them from Earth. From the Kryptonian perspective, we Earth folk have only the most primitive technology and have barely managed to get to our own moon. Plus, we don’t seem in much of a hurry to go venturing even that far again for the time being. And, having sent probes to Venus already, we’ve kind of declared it beyond our means and of no further interest. So, the Kryptonians, having cannibalized their fleet as the basis of their first cities and having eschewed a return to space in order to rebuild their society, figure they are safe from discovery by Earth for a couple of centuries, at least.

Well, as the Time Bubble crashes, let’s say Booster has a space uniform on board and gives it to Superman, who puts it on even as New Krypton Science Police save them from certain death as they plunge down through the Venusian clouds. It is the SPs job to literally police science, to make sure no one does anything that would bring New Krypton to the attention of Earth. Wondering if this might be where the SPs of the 31st century got their name, Superman remembers his old pal Mon-El and, thinking quickly, tells the Krypto-cops that he and Booster are members of the Daxamite Star Patrol. Obviously, they had some mechanical trouble, but if they can be taken to a lab for repairs, they’ll be on their way.

At the lab, Jor-El remarks at how much one of the Daxamites look like his own son. Zod, meanwhile, is suspicious. They remind him of the mysterious crooks in a similar ship he once chased off Old Krypton, many decades ago, although he only saw them from the back and it’s hard to tell. Those might well have been rogue Star Patrol officers, Booster says. They did have a few problems with bad apples back then, although that’s only what he heard, because it was long before he himself, Jym-Krk, or his partner, Bob-Cobb, were even born. Still, Zod suspects.

But no time for that now. Booster, not wanting Jor-El’s science geeks to discover the Bubble is actually a time machine, says Daxam has an SP policy of its own, and can’t have anyone else messing with their tech, for the safety of all concerned. He and Skeets will have to work on the machine themselves, and Skeets says it’ll take a couple of days anyway.

Well, this gives Superman some time to see the sights. He meets his alt.self and they become fast friends. Let’s say the Kal-El of this timeline is a chief engineer on the machines that keep Venus hospitable, and this gives us an excuse to spend a couple of pages touring the many fantastic sights of New Krypton. And make it really crazy cool stuff — jewel mountains, sulfur geysers, whatever would seem gosh-wow cool but still not conflict to much with quick check of Venus’ Wikipedia entry. I imagine one Easter Egg might be the revelation that there was actually microbial life on Venus, which the Kryptonians evolved to do various tasks, and some of the beasts might look like Tellus, or Gates, from the Legion.

During these few days, Superman meets his alt.daughter and decides she’s simply a delight. He even wonders if he and Lois should try for another child and hope for a girl.

And he meets his alt.sister, let’s call her Lena Jor-El. And where Kal-El is a maintenance tech in this timeline, it’s his younger sister who is the crime-fighter. She’s a real spitfire, reminding Superman so much of Lois and her innate sense of justice, he thinks, and, interestingly, she works alongside other young adults in a very Legion-like organization. We also learn that Lena yearns to explore among the stars she cannot see, just as soon as she’s conquered all the amazing sites of her native world. She even confides in Superman her secret — she has been working on her own personal space ship. It’s not much, but it’ll be powerful enough to get her to Earth, to see what their sister planet is all about. And since there is really so little crime on New Krypton, where everyone has powers, she’ll use the even greater and comparatively unique abilities she’ll have on Earth to protect the weak and defenseless there. She won’t just e a hero, she’ll be a SUPER-hero. But when she goes, she wants New Krypton to remain safe, so she’ll disguise her identity, maybe even her gender. She’ll arrive on Earth and fight crime there as the Unknown Spaceman.

Ah, but all good things must end, and one day a new probe from Earth comes crashing through the clouds. Jor-El, daughter Lena, and all their cohorts quickly spring into action and, using their powers, build a giant super-telescope and, employing Lena’s secret rocket, get it into orbit above the clouds. What they see on Earth amazes them. The planet has advanced far quicker than anyone suspected, but it also has depleted itself of natural resources and is getting ready to strip mine the other planets of the solar systen. And Superman sees more still — the absolute ruler of Earth is Lex Luthor. Superman can well image what happened. Without his own presence to act as a check on Luthor, and to inspire an age of heroes, Earth has fallen to rampant crime and unmitigated greed. All of the heroes who might have been either never came to be, or else were quickly dispatched.

And now Superman finds himself mulling extra layers to the choice he must make. Not only must he choose whether to correct the new timeline before it solidifies and thus allow Krypton to explode taking most of its population with it, he knows that if he does not make that choice, he’ll essentially doom Earth to a dystopian, despotic rule under Luthor. But, if he does fix time, he’ll also prevent all of these wonderful, cherished relatives he’s met from ever existing.

But then Superman’s choice is sort of made for him as Zod announces that New Krypton must rebuild its fleet and attack first. Under Luthor, Earth is too dangerous, too warlike, and too liable to come up with weapons that will destroy the Kryptonians, even with their powers. After all, there are 7.5 billion people on Earth, and only a few hundred thousand on New Krypton.

Under the Venusian cloud layer, Superman is at half-power and cannot just fly to Earth to protect Krypton. But the Bubble is near enough ready that he and Booster can ready a take off, to go back and prevent this potential Worlds War I from ever coming to pass. But Zod has managed to collect DNA samples of Booster and Superman. He knows Booster is from Earth, and presuming Superman to be as well, doesn’t even bother to check that sample. As far as Zod is concerned, they’re both Earth spies who are really taking off to warn Luthor.

A battle ensures, and in the commotion Superman confides the truth to Jor-El and his alt.self, who back him against Zod’s Eradicators. Lena, meanwhile, overhearing the confession, intercedes as well, and ends up sacrificing her life in a way that allows Superman and Booster to get away.

But, as it turns out, the Bubble is not 100 percent after all, and it ends up getting buffeted in time, coming out on 25th century Earth — and with an Eradicator in tow!

Finally, as an epilogue to this entire multi-part tale, once we do whatever happens in the 25th century, and everything has been set back as it was, Superman would return to Venus, where he would build on Lena’s favorite mountain, or valley, or whatever geographic locale, a monument to the memory of the sister who never was, who saved his life. It will be a statue dedicated, “To the Unknown Spaceman who first explored Venus.”

Now, all of that is just one of about a bazillion different options. But my point is this — take out the Lois pages in this issue, boil down everything else to two pages, and use the other 18 to tell a tale that really adds to the mythos! I mean c’mon, the idea that Superman is only around because his life was once saved by a sister who never existed . . . that’s PURE Weisinger! And the idea that Superman keeps on his bedroom bureau a music box from a wife who never was? That, too! That’s the kind of stuff readers will remember and other writers will refer back to. But nobody is going to say a few years from now, “Hey, you remember BOOSTER SHOT: EPISODE XIII: THE LAST EL, when Superman spend the entire issue running away from the First Order? Wasn’t that cool!”

But whatever else this book’s creators might have done, they at least should have given us more than one splash page of people from Superman’s life in an alternate timeline. Introduce us to those characters! Let us get to know them, and become familiar enough with them that we long to see them again, somehow. Because that one page of people from Superman’s alternate life — talk about burying the lede — THAT was the story that should have happened in this issue! And all that other stuff that did happen, all that running from Eradicators and debating just how broke time must be? Dude, in a less decompressed tale, that ALL could have been reduced to a couple of pages. Heck, a couple of panels, even.

But with all of that being all the creators chose to give us, I got to the end of the issue and was like — as I said at the top — meh. Nothing much of anything really happened. And I’ll tell you, if this had been a $3.99 title, this would have been my last issue.

But is it is, I’m just, like, okay, it was what it was.

But what it was, was a tremendous missed opportunity for a classic Superman story.



COVER: 8.25 | PLOT: 4.25 | SCRIPT: 7.75 | LAYOUT: 8.00 | ART: 8.25 | EDITS: 3.50

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