Action Comics #837
Title: Up, Up and Away — part two
Writers: Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek
Artist: Pete Woods
By Joe Sergi
10 May 2006 — When we last left our hero it was one year later and he was powerless. To make matters worse, he was cornered by his archenemy Lex Luthor in an alley, given a warning and beaten to a pulp. What does this mean? Well, if you read my last review then you know; it was a great beginning. Part two of "Up, Up and Away" continues the same strong storytelling and utilizes a wonderful back-to-basics approach to the Man of Steel.
It is apparent that Busiek and Johns are fans of Superman. This can be seen by their treatment of the villains. First, there is Lex Luthor. Needless to say, his characterization has never been stronger. I like that his sense of self-importance has returned. Luthor sums this egotism up in his response when Metallo asks him what it is he wants: "I want it all. No more, no less. I want it all." This is the Lex Luthor that I want — no more, no less — which is far better than the maniacal scientist or the spoiled billionaire. This Lex Luthor could believably create and run a major corporation and the United States. He clearly has an endgame, and his eyes are on the prize. This is pure, undistilled Luthor.
Luthor is not the only villain in this story; we get an appearance from Toyman. I assume that this is not Winslow Schott, but a fairly new Toyman who's meant to resemble the doll-like Toyman from Superman: The Animated Series. I really liked the fact that Toyman makes a reference to "some kid in Japan," who can only be Hiro Okamura — the Toyman appearing in the Superman / Batman series. I sometimes wonder if that book is in continuity (possibly because of its lateness). By making this comment, Busiek and Johns are affirmatively telling me it is. Toyman plays Dr. Watson to Luthor's Sherlock Holmes, allowing Luthor to explain that the Kryptonian crystal is called a sunstone, came from Superman's Fortress of Solitude and can store more data than any computer on Earth — of course Luthor menacingly adds, "And that is only the start." Despite this limited role, I really enjoyed the return of Toyman.
Metallo also makes a brief appearance at the end of the story. Once again, there is a back-to-basics approach to the character. Metallo has returned to his human form (as seen in Superman / Batman #7) and is no longer the bulky, morphing creature (a power he received from the Demon Neron during Underworld Unleashed) he recently was. He is now back to his original form and represents a sort of a reverse Frankenstein: instead of a human in the body of a monster; he is a monster with the body of a human.
In addition to appearances by Luthor, Toyman and Metallo, there are also references to Intergang and the Prankster. I hope that these classic villains will soon make appearances; I am dying to see how Johns and Busiek treat them.
Finally, there is Clark Kent — our hero. He is in perfect character once again. Although he has no powers, he is far from powerless. He does something that Superman has not done for months: he uses his brains. Whether explaining to Lois the importance of the power of the press or knowing enough to call in Green Lantern and Hawkgirl to fight a nameless gang of thugs in Team Luthor suits, he clearly shows he is someone that thinks things through. But Clark is also a man of action: he coaches Green lantern and Hawkgirl on the battlefield, and even tackles one of the gang members himself, when they endanger a commuter train. Of course, Johns and Busiek also show us glimpses of the man underneath. For the first time in the story, Clark explains to his wife that he thought his powers would be back by now and that he has never felt so blind. Despite this, he looks on the bright side. He explains, "Without my supersenses I feel almost as if I have a different kind of super-sense. A sense of being human." John's and Busiek once again establish why he is still the world's greatest hero.
Then there is the cliffhanger. Green Lantern offers Clark a power ring and invites him to get "back in the game." Once again, this plot has been done before. Action Comics Annual #3 (1991) showed a possible future where President Superman takes Guy Gardner's power ring. There was a story in Action Comics #642 which explained that Kal-El was the first choice when Abin Sur landed on Earth, but when they realized he wasn't from the sector, they mind-wiped him and gave the ring to Hal Jordan. Finally, in Superman (vol. 2) #147, the Cogito showed Superman an alternate reality where Kal-El rocket landed on Oa and he became the greatest of the Green Lantern Corps. Once again, despite the fact that this idea has been done before, I still loved the scene. I will love it even more if / when he turns GL down.
As for the art, once again Pete Woods delivers. I especially liked the detail that he put into certain characters' facial expressions. Looking at his art, it is clear that Clark is having a good time as "Mr. Action". Similarly, we can see Luthor's initial shock when the Toyman (in a Superman Robot) breaks into the lab. Finally, I loved the full page of Luthor looking at the Superman and Superboy statues in the park. Luthor's annoyed body language speaks volumes. Brad Anderson, as the color artist, does a great job with Green Lantern's luminescence — which is a trick not easily accomplished.
My only complaint is the cover: it did not blow me away. I was hoping for something more iconic from Terry and Rachel Dodson, like they did last month. I'm not sure I even understand the cover and why the circles are there. I think I would have liked it much more without the circles, with just a silhouetted Clark Kent reaching for his glasses. Despite that, the book still gets an A.