The last chapter of the second Grant Morrison "Action Comics" storyline ends with an oversized issue. Excluding the back-up and devoting the space to wrapping up the story provides for an easier read, at least from the point of the script. With three pencillers and four inkers there is much less visual consistency, which has been a problem since the book launched. Both Cafu, Brad Walker and Rags Morales are accomplished superhero stylists, but their styles don't mash together too well. Yet, at this point the reader is already trained to avoid at looking too close to the art when it comes to the rushed jobs that the editorial has seen fit to publish in this title.
The main conflict of the issue, between Superman and Captain Comet, the Forgotten Superman, reminds the reader of plots of "All-Star Superman". The iconic character is faced with another one of the faulty versions of himself, and it is through the battle that he is reminded just what makes him the first and best superhero.
Unfortunately, Commet is written as a sterile, inhuman figure, serving highly evolved space intelligence, and as such makes for a rather bland villain. What he lacks in personality, the Forgotten Superman makes up for in the powers department, with Lois being a clear victim of his rampage on Metropolis. A flashback outlines the villain's tragic past, closely mirroring Superman's own, except for the crucial part the Kents played in his upbringing.
Superman pays no heed to the veiled references Commet makes about the eventual fate of Metropolis and his role in it, which will hopefully be elaborated upon in one of the remaining Morrison issues, before the writer departs after #16. Throughout the issue, Superman is helped by Lois' super-powered niece, but in retrospect her role becomes superfluous, with the writer chiefly using her a commentator on the clash between two super-powered characters.
The final ten pages prove crucial for getting over the issue, though, as they serve as a much more humane reminder of both the extant of the "New 52" Superman's powers, as well as his inherent goodness. Seeing Superman's efforts to save Lois, no matter how idealized, feels like another reminder of the thought that went behind the relaunch. The subsequent two page sequence featuring Batman helps round out the Johnny Clark/Clark Kent subplot, that reminds the character of the specific perks of his secret identity.
All of these are familiar superhero tropes, and they never really elevate the uneven bulk of the issue, but they certainly serve as the reminder that of the promise that accompanied the much maligned relaunch. Morrison finishes with a three page sequence hinting the developments of the forthcoming #0 issue, with another barrage of names that tease the players in the upcoming story. Hopefully, he'll have told most of his stories by the time he exits the title, wrapping up a run that was always interesting, even if it never truly lived up to the promise of the follow-up to his and Quitely's work with the character.
THE BOYS #69
The former leader of the Boys has hatched a genocidal plan that will enable him to destroy everything that has to do with superpowers, and Hughie is continually behind when it comes to piecing together the information. Most of #69 is spent conveying this information over the phone, before the Butcher makes his move.
Aside from a single page subplot concerning the Seven's financial backers, Ennis shies away from regular dialogue scenes until the very end of the issue. Thus, Braun is given the unenviable task of drawing the characters holding cellphones, and conveying information, which frequently deals with the specific logistics of a planned airplane operation. The talk about hangars and hired pilots is punctuated by a real feeling that these characters are dealing with the fallout of the recent events, but Ennis still feels like the details are pertinent and must be straightened out on panel.
The latter telephone conversation between Hughie and the Butcher is much more accomplished, using the medium to tease a much more foreboding terror, but it still serves largely the same purpose. The newest member of the Boys is frightened about the rapidly decreasing chances of him actually stopping the Butcher's monstrous plan, which finally climaxes in an extended sequence reminding the reader of the threat Billy poses to his own people.
The purpose of the chilling, yet bitter-sweet sequence is to drive home how outmatched the protagonist is, before returning to him in the last issue to save the world of the Butcher's plan. Once again, #69 works splendidly as a chapter in the story of "the Boys", but in concentrating on the information conveyed, Ennis purposefully slows down the plot to achieve the desired pacing. There is every indication that the pay off in the next month's final issue will be worth the meticulous scripting and the hard work of both him and Russ Braun that set the whole story up.
Two weeks after the last issue, Marvel provides the epilogue to the Latveria storyline, featuring the Avengers helping Matt out of the after effects of his predicament. It comes as no surprise that Mark Waid would choose to depict the particular grouping of characters featuring some of the oldest Marvel heroes. In fact, drawing a parallel between Matt and Ant-Man in this particularly retro rendition of the title feels surprisingly apt.
Even for the reader unfamiliar with the character, the writer provides enough of the context to appreciate the comparison, as well as feature Hank in a unique action hero role. Seeing Ant-Man battling nanite bugs in Matt's nervous system actually feels both amusing and reasonably tense, even if the parallel never amounts to something more than an amusing juxtaposition between two characters that shared very little previous history. Despite some of Samnee's rushed layouts, there is a very homely feeling once Matt resurfaces in the Avengers lab.
Reading Waid's narration of how Matt feels around Tony Stark and Stephen Strange feels as adequate as the previously established visual descriptions of Matt's senses. The creative team knows when to cut away from the Avengers, and in returning Matt to the law offices of Nelson & Murdock, features a tense confrontation that has been several issues in preparation.
With a grisly twist added to the supporting character's critique of the secret identity dynamic, Waid and Samnee present the recent development as just as sudden and unfair as it seems to Matt. Despite the skill involved in the conversation sequence, the quirky artist's work feels the strongest in the superhero portions of the issue. Several issues into the run, the penciller/inker really feels like he's getting used to the title, and hopefully he'll use the time granted by the Mike ("Madman", "X-Statix") Allred's fill-in to return with even stronger work the next time around.