Action Comics #1050 review

There are two ways to do a special number issue – an anthology of stories by creators not identitied with the series, or a big event. Here we have the latter, as Lex Luthor puts a rather powerful genie back in the bottle – public knowledge of Superman’s secret identity.

How does Lex manage the memory mangling? Via a combination of Warworld tech, fellow mad scientist Henry Bendix’s research and the mind manipulation powers of Superman’s enemy turned ally, Manchester Black. A wave of psychic energy that takes the knowledge that Clark Kent is Superman away from everyone who knows it. The British mentalist knows he won’t survive the experience, but before he goes he tells Lex ‘What he says about you in his darkest moments’.

Art by Mike Perkins and Frank Martin

Why does Lex tweak billions of brains? Because he’s come to realise the world needs a Superman, and wants the Man of Steel to lead humanity to (what he considers) a better place… and they’re most likely to do that if they see Superman as a god, not a human. In order to stack the odds of his longtime enemy agreeing to be Superman a la Lex, the bald bully has placed an unexploded psychic bomb in everyone‘s head.

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

The psychic trap has already claimed its first victim, Perry White, visiting the Kent Farm for dinner. Newly rebuilt by the JLA, the property has a barrier that stops the mindwipe affecting anyone in there – Jonathan and Martha and Jon’s boyfriend, Jay Nakamura. Perry, though, was on his way there when the event occurred, and so vulnerable. When Clark and Jon arrive after Perry, having been doing good deeds in India, they assume he knows why they’d be at Lois Lane’s parents in law.

Art by Clayton Henry and Frank Martin

Happily, Perry doesn’t die, a super-speed flight to hospital meaning the mini-stroke he suffers isn’t fatal. But Superman is very angry.

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

Lex thinks his new warsuit allows him to keep up with Superman, not realising how Warworld has changed his foe.

Art by Clayton Henry and Frank Martin

Will Superman’s upgrade stick? Probably not, but here it wipes the smile off Lex’s face in a satisfying manner.

This issue is more than satisfying, it’s great. Regular Action writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is joined by incoming Superman and Adventures of Superman scribes Joshua Williamson and Tom Taylor for a story setting up Superman’s new status quo.

And how happy am I that the secret ID is back? Getting rid of it in a madly millennial moment of ‘My Truth’ was a boneheaded idea, denying us scenes at the Daily Planet and, as Batman notes, having a negative impact on the public’s perception of Lois and her ability to carry out her work.

Art by Mike Perkins and Frank Martin

The point is significant in helping Superman accept that the re-corking of the secret ID may not be the worst thing, although he does worry about Super Son Jon’s reaction.

Art by Mike Perkins and Frank Martin

No need. Most teens like their privacy.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we saw that the secret identity shock hasn’t killed Perry; a cardiac incident, he can recover from. The business dramatises Lex’s threat to pretty much the whole world – Batman explains why some heroes will remember Superman is Clark – but really, the super Sword of Damocles is something we can do without. Let’s just accept that everyone who needs to know knows, and for everyone else it’s like they never knew at all, and move on. If this means I’m asked to accept an idea that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bronze Age, great, bring it on (and if you’ve never read Superman 330, check out this Superman Homepage piece after you’re finished here).

And the worldwide memory reset means Ma and Pa Kent should get a speedy escape from that annoying security dome Batman put them in recently – they’re no longer at risk from Superman’s enemies.

Manchester Black’s death here is a shame. Sorry, reported death…

It’s interesting that Lex’s scheme is an outgrowth of the daft Perpetua business in the Death Metal event, I fully expected his embarrassing alliance with her never to be mentioned again. But what Lex learned in that (very) extended storyline is used well here. Better yet is his mini-speech on the moon, partly explaining the enmity he feels towards Superman. And Lex even gets a funny line when telling Superman why he didn’t like Manchester Black.

The art assignment is shared between Mike Perkins, Nick Dragotta and Clayton Henry. Perkins’ darkly realistic stylist is unmistakable, while Dragotta and Henry are closer in tone. While it seems they’re both working on the centrepiece Superman/Luthor battle, I think I can tell when one starts and the other takes over. It helps that Henry has popped up regularly in my reviews, I’m a fan of his classic, clean style. As for Dragotta, his work here is a revelation, it’s stylised dynamism perfect for Superman flying hither and yon at super-speed

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

And Dragotta shows us Superman’s nimble nature in a way I’ve not seen previously, after Lex tosses a car at him.

Art by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin

Our hero is occasionally a tad pop-eyed, but overall the effect is terrific, All the artists are brilliantly supported by colourist Frank Martin (a name I’ve previously seen only at Marvel) and letterer Dave Sharpe – just look at their work here, for one.

Art by Clayton Henry and Frank Martin

Lex’s proposed Superman suit is singularly unimpressive, visually. On the one hand, why would an artist expend much imagination on what is a likely a one-off appearance; on the other, Lex is supposed to be out to impress Superman. Mind, his own new warsuit, with its massive diagonal LEX, is even more horrendous.

Quibble aside, I enjoyed this issue hugely, from Steve Beach’s excellent cover image (there are another 24 to collect… yeah, right, DC!) to the three postscripts previewing the three refreshed comics. This issue bodes well for the future of Superman.

24 thoughts on “Action Comics #1050 review

  1. 1) Great review!

    2) Lex shouldn’t know Superman’s secret. Writer’s need to stop being tempted by self-indulgent bait and stick to the fundamentals of super-hero stories. There is a secret identity for a reason and if that’s not something you can rock with, perhaps you should write a character unbridled with one.

    3) Can we Bronze Age erase Jon Kent’s missteps as well? 😉

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  2. The identity staying public forever was never gonna happen but it did lead to someinteresting and new situations for Clark and fam. I agree that Lex shouldn’t know it ever. Byrne’s Superman and company was very simplistic but Lex never being able to imagine Superman lowering himself to masquerade as a human is still valid.

    If Clark brought Lex to justice, why is he still free to try and fail to make Metallo a credible threat?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Does this comic story account for all of the *physical* evidence of Superman’s secret identity, namely the printed newspaper story of him revealing his identity (which I’m sure many people held onto}, and other newspaper stories which would refer to Superman as Clark Kent afterward, And I’m sure Steve Lombard wrote a tell-all book about his wacky adventures with his “best friend, Clark (Superman) Kent” that never actually happened…

    And does this mean the Justice Leaguers who were on Earth at the time of the mindwipe no longer know Clark’s identity, and Superman can no longer let them know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lex (who by the way is more manic cartoon villain than I like in dialog and pictures) explained that while violent reactions like Perry’s happen when actively confronted with the truth. passive reminders like stories and video will just be ignored. BTB, anyone else see Batman finally see the mind wipers were right during Identity Crisis and have either the Martian Meh-hunter or Zatanna remove Lex’s knowledge of the reveal?

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    2. Yep, psychic after effect doodah means people just don’t accept the evidence of their eyes if they come across evidence that Jon and Clark are super folk. All copies of Steve Lombard’s book ended up in a warehouse, nobody wanted it. Sad.

      And JLA etc mental defences taught by J’onn J’onzz saved the secret ID knowledge.

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  4. Couple thoughts, unfortunately grumpy ones:
    1. We may never know if Bendis was pushed off or left the Super books voluntarily. He may have had some really interesting follow-up stories about the ID reveal planned that we never got. Meanwhile it was pretty clear his successors didn’t know what to do with it. There was material to be mined there, but it would take imagination and investment, and if subsequent writers didn’t like the idea, DC could have found some who embraced it, at least for a few years, but clearly opted not to.
    2. Admittedly trying to do stories where Superman remains Clark Kent following the ID reveal could be…messy/complicated and require a suspension of disbelief on the readers’ part. But that’s what comics is all about. That’s why we don’t think to hard about the JLA ending world hunger or Batman killing the Joker, etc. So there was a way to STILL have Clark Kent stories AND Superman stories. In fact a series of issues examining Superman TRYING to maintain the Clark ID and constantly having people call him “Superman” and ask him to do Superman-ish stuff would have been fascinating! But, again, it takes some hard work that maybe no one but Bendis would have been willing to tackle.
    3. I’m 48, been reading comics for I’d say 40 years, seriously collecting for maybe 30 or so. And it makes me feel old when more and more MODERN storylines remind me of stuff that was done several years ago. Back in the early 2000s Joe Kelly and Jeff Loeb had some villains, Lex included, learn about Superman’s identity. And a key figure in that storyline? Manchester Black who, after having various villains attack Superman’s friends/family, committed suicide and made Lex forget the entire thing. It’s VERY hard for me to believe that the current creative team wasn’t aware of/inspired by that. Yes, the current plot is different to an extent. And sure, you can argue “that was 20 years ago” but given EVERYTHING is in TBP or online right now, that’s not an excuse. Come up with fresher/newer ideas, not just twists on the old ones.
    4. However, the promotion of Lois seems to be a long-time coming. So that’s a cool development.

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    1. “Admittedly trying to do stories where Superman remains Clark Kent following the ID reveal could be…messy/complicated and require a suspension of disbelief on the readers’ part.”

      Read Bendis’ “Daredevil” run and you’ll see all the messy/complicated actions that we were thankfully spared.

      “However, the promotion of Lois seems to be a long-time coming. So that’s a cool development.”

      At Perry White’s expense? She could have been made EIC of another paper and have been Perry and Clark’s competition. Much better story.

      ” Come up with fresher/newer ideas, not just twists on the old ones.”

      Agreed.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Bendis seems a lovely fella but I wouldn’t have massive sympathy had he been asked to leave, given Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason lost their Superman gig because of him, and I lost a great comic, and a great character in Jon Kent. I’ve praised lots of things Bendis did, but I’d say the negatives outweighed the positives.

      Bendis had plenty of time to explore the ramifications of the ID reveal, but chose not to. I’m inclined to think other writers, such as Jurgens, would have – Bendis seemed to want the big publicity moment and then went nowhere with it. The idea that villains wouldn’t launch long distance attacks on Clark’s loved ones is ridiculous. Good on Tom Taylor for at least having the Kent Farm bombed!

      I’d forgotten that Manchester Black business, well done!

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  5. Quick follow up to Point 1 above. I’d say the proof that DC really did nothing with the ID reveal was when Superman was promptly shifted off to War World for over a year, making the issue irrelevant. Had he been earthbound for that long, every if not most stories would have had to in some way deal with the ramifications of the reveal. Which, again, makes me think DC editorial and/or the creative team just did not want to continue what Bendis set up.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The stuff creators have mined in recent years for interesting stories about Richter and ‘Star are all post-Liefeld stories.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And I have no idea what these stories might be. I avoid the characters – Rictor never interested me when he debuted in early X-Factor and I didn’t enjoy the Longshot mini. I don’t follow them, I just see them very occasionally in an X-book.

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  6. Decent issue. It does some really admirable stuff, not least of which making the retraction of the secret identity not Clark’s decision. After having done it, I couldn’t see how he’d second guess it and put the genie back in the bottle himself. So having it be a Luthor plot is a masterstroke — giving Luthor an important win, but also restoring the secret ID without invalidating anything Clark has said about the importance of truth. Really deftly done.

    That said, I think with 3 Superman books (and a fourth, Steelworks, on the horizon), I might be pulling back from picking these up on paper. I’m enjoying these, and am really intrigued about Action’s new semi-anthology format (If I stick with any of them, it’ll be Action), but I suspect I’ll enjoy them just as much a month later, and won’t have to figure out a place to put ’em. So I might be getting my comments in even later than normal!

    As for the wasted potential of the Truth storyline, from what Phillip Kennedy Johnson said on his latest Word Balloon interview, almost everyone was gung-ho for restoring the secret ID, with him being the lone exception. He urged everyone at the summit to take a moment and think about stories they hadn’t had a chance to tell yet with the public identity, and would have liked to do some, but ultimately everyone (including PKJ) felt that restoring the ID and moving forward from there as a fresh start was more important that holding that off for more time and diving into a few more public-ID stories before reversing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must listen to that Word Balloon interview – I’m on a cruise and it’s not the easiest to download stuff. Hopefully it’s there now.

      I can’t remember what I read about the Steelworks book, time to do some research!

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      1. From what I can tell, you’re not missing a lot of info about Steelworks yet. It’s going to star John and Natasha Irons, it’ll be set in Metropolis, it’ll be out later this year. No creative team announced yet, and no firm date either.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Correction: Steelworks will be the fifth Superbook! I forgot there’s a Conner book coming out, too. (That said, New Adventures & the Conner book are both 6-issue minis, so they might not overlap with Steelworks… but there’s a decent chance Jon will get a new mini or ongoing after his upcoming one ends.)

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