So…full disclosure, I haven’t been keeping up with Action Comics.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the idea of Brian Michael Bendis writing Superman and using Action Comics as a way to focus more on Clark Kent, his journalism, and the supporting characters. However, justifying the purchase of individual issues has been more difficult for me.
All that to say, “House of Kent”, a new arc, starts in this issue. I decided now was a good time to try and jump back in. How did I fare?
Well, reading any Brian Michael Bendis is always great if not for the fact that his style is so distinct. It’s comforting in its assuredness. Nobody else can write quite like this guy in terms of cramming Tarantino amounts of dialogue into comic pages. And I must reiterate, I love how relatively mundane he writes Action Comics, especially compared to the flagship Superman title.
The problem with BMB and trying to jump into any issue or arc of his, even if it’s the first issue of a new arc, is that he loves dense, some might say convoluted, plotting.
The issue opens with a character I was completely unfamiliar with: Connor Kent, who’s a mix of Lex Luthor and Clark Kent. Admittedly, a very intriguing idea. Apparently he’s been introduced before, although it was easier for me to digest because #1022 opens with Superman trying to ascertain who Connor is.
Oddly enough though, this cold open doesn’t actually tell us anything important about Connor. That’s the biggest problem with this issue: scenes drag on way too long and accomplish little, basically equating to filler. Most of the scenes here are just characters saying: “Well, it sure sucks that the thing I’ve been trying to do isn’t working out the way I planned. Might as well keep trying.”
Even when Brainiac and Jonathan Kent swoop in for a crossover, there’s very little impact. Scenes contrasting the Daily Planet with the scheming baddies only serves to remind us that these opposed forces are still angry at each other and planning. Actual plot relevance or movement is minimal, if non-existent. I understand that for every action there must be a reaction, but reactions are supposed to tee up the next round of action, not drag things on in a mire of exposition and waiting.
Eventually things pick up when Superman calls together the smartest minds in the universe to meet and figure out who Connor is. Without spoiling anything, we thankfully get some answers — or at least developments — when they visit Ma and Pa Kent.
And that homely scene almost made me forget all of my problems with the issue. Clearly, as seen throughout his career, BMB loves and has a talent for family gatherings and dynamics. He doesn’t rush the “small things” by treating them as almost more important than any cataclysmic plot-centric problems. Beyond threats and reason and plots, hugs are what matter the most.
In the middle of all these costumed goofs trying to exposition, Ma Kent shuts them up with: “Then stop apologizing and keep hugging. I feel I am allowed hugs. Jon, hug your grandma now.” Moments like these make slogging through comics all worth it.
That being said, if this issue really dug into any of these characters’ emotions and specific thoughts about all this upheaval, that would have been infinitely more interesting. While, yes, critiquing a piece of media for what it could be isn’t the strongest avenue of criticism, I’ve seen BMB delve into Clark and company’s psychologies plenty of times before on his very title and linking it to theme. So it’s a shame he’s so focused on exposition hinting at plot to come in #1022.
Another delight was seeing John Romita Jr. come back to form. He’s been in a desert of mediocrity across the 2010s with art that’s been either malnourished or blocky and lifeless. But since working recently on huge DC titles like Batman and now Action Comics, his style has been getting back to the muscular solidity of his greatest work of previous decades.
Granted, there are unintentionally comical moments regarding anatomy, like a panel where Superman has tiny chicken legs compared to his lanky upper body. Scenes with multiple characters standing side by side can be a perspective train-wreck. Faces also come across as rubbery and eerily stretched over their blocky bones.
But all that being said: JRJR and Klaus Janson’s work is all around solid. The right amount of detail and dynamism is put into every scene, which has always been a core tenant of what’s made JRJR so fantastic. With a distinct but rigorous style and sensibilities, he’s once again able to set himself apart yet also stand toe-to-toe with any other, as Ed Piskor would call them, jobber artists across the Big Two.
While messy and simultaneously confusing and unnecessary, Action Comics #1022 redeems itself with return-to-form work from the art department and heartfelt characterization from BMB.