Action Comics 40

action comics 40

Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Action Comics 40, originally released March 14th, 2015.

Spencer: In preparation for the premiere of its final season next month, I’m currently in the process of rewatching Mad Men from beginning to end. Meanwhile, my best friend just got into House of Cards, and has shown me a few episodes in hopes of getting me to watch it as well. I guess it worked — the first episode hooked me right away — but I already know that there’s no way I’ll be able to go straight from Mad Men‘s unending cycles of dysfunction to House of Cards‘ cynical wheeling and dealing; it’s simply too much darkness back-to-back. I need some sort of comedy as a palette-cleanser between the two series, and I get the feeling that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder were dealing with a similar dilemma when they came up with the idea behind Action Comics 40. After the angst of the massive “Doomed” crossover and the horror-centric Ultra-Humanite story, the title was in dire need of a fun, goofy story to lighten the mood, and Bizarro’s story here certainly succeeds in doing just that.

The plot is actually quite simple; Superman is somehow swept away to Bizarro world, a square planet of opposites that thrives on the destructive antics of Bizarro, Superman’s opposite. While there Superman bears witness to Bizarro dealing with absurd, parodic recreations of some of his most recent adventures. Hilarity ensues.

That last bit there isn’t sarcasm; Action Comics 40 is laugh out loud funny, and generating laughs seems to be the main goal of Pak and Kuder this time around. That doesn’t mean, though, that there’s nothing meatier to grab onto here; Pak still finds plenty of room to characterize Superman with the same inspiring humanity he always does. Even when faced with such a ridiculous world, Superman still cares about every citizen, but also has the clarity to realize that his definition of “saving them” might not exactly suit these Bizarro-people’s needs.

who are we?

While it’s doubtful that anything Superman experiences in Action Comics 40 will ever come into play in future stories — at least, outside of losing his beard (which I had come to quite like) — I still think it’s important that Pak takes the time to humanize Superman even in the midst of all the chaotic humor sequences. While Superman’s presence isn’t necessarily vital to the plot, having him there in all his heroic glory is a wonderful contrast to the humor, and perhaps even the grounded element necessary to make the laughs happen at all.

After all, broad humor like this can often get out of hand without something to ground it, either to our reality or the reality of the story. Comedy is probably Ant-Man‘s biggest asset, but it has Scott and his daughter’s relationship at its center to give the jokes stakes and heart; The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl never has to worry about stakes (Doreen will always win), but it still gives Doreen a life and goals outside her costume for the readers to invest in. Bizarro and his world has almost none of that; it’s full of characters who barely seem cognizant of what’s going on around them, and seems to operate on some sort of Looney Toons logic. But if Superman can become invested in something this strange, then so can the readers; if Superman can laugh off their eccentricies instead of getting caught up in them, then so can we.

fire breath

In a way, Superman is so vital to this story that I worry about what the upcoming Bizarro title will be like without him. Will it simply be too zany to handle without Superman there tethering the story to reality? Maybe Metallo will fill that role? It’s hard to say, but I’m certainly interested in checking the book out to see for myself.

Despite all my serious musing here, this is still a mostly funny, lighthearted issue, and as far as I’m concerned, the biggest laughs are the ones Pak and Kuder make at their own expense. I nearly lost it when Doomsday infected Bizarro and I realized that Pak was parodying his own role in the “Doomed” crossover. I don’t think this is Pak expressing displeasure in the story; in fact, these kind of self-deprecating jokes take a special kind of confidence to pull off, which makes them even funnier, at least to me.

Perhaps even more important, though, is the level of detail Kuder throws into this scene, as well as every other moment in the entire issue.

hug the bunnies!

The last third of this issue is largely made up of splash pages and spreads that Kuder crams with detail and jokes, and I could probably spend twice my word count just dissecting these pages alone. I love the way he draws the Bizarros — their gaping mouths and jagged teeth are somehow simultaneously humorous and disconcerting — and every sight gag here is a winner (I don’t know which gags are Pak’s and which are Kuder’s, but on Twitter Pak does credit most of them to Kuder). Colorist Wil Quintana is equally on fire this month, filling the pages with perfectly offbeat hues, be they the bombastic colors early in the issue or the gorgeous pastels of this spread.

After the grimmer tone of the past several storylines, it must have been a relief for Quintana to again extend his palette, and I get the feeling that the sentiment extends to Pak, Kuder, and the rest of the creative team as well. I have no idea where Action Comics will go after this story, but now I’m ready to follow it no matter what form it takes.

Of course, I know humor can be quite subjective, so Mark, I’m eager to see what you thought of this issue. Were you ready for a lighter issue? Are you interested in checking out the new Bizarro book? Does the humor here work for you? If so, what was your favorite joke? I’ve gotta say, I’m quite partial to Bizarro-Aquaman beating people with a narwhal like it’s a baseball bat.

Mark: Yeah, after the “Doomed” crossover event and the Ultra-Humanite arc (neither of which I particularly cared for), Action Comics 40 pushed all of the right buttons for me. Some of my favorite bits happen once the Injustice League are all freed and successfully bring ruination to the city.

Lamentation

“Lamentation” is such a weirdly specific word choice that it made me laugh, and I’m in love with the drawing of the woman on the left proclaiming her “hatred” of Bizarro as she and an oven plummet to the ground. The whole issue is a great marriage of Pak’s words, Kuder’s art, and Quintana’s colors. It’s like being un-yolked from the duty of delivering a serious story — allowing themselves to be playful — brought out their best work.

I put a lot of value in whether a comic book is fun or not, to the point that I rather belabor it in my writing. Using “fun” as a descriptor can sometimes seem dismissive, but to me it’s a truly high compliment. Even serious stories should have a sense of fun to them, and the best comic books do. There’s a noticeable difference in the work of creators that can appreciate the inherent ridiculousness of their subject matter, and those that can’t.

It’s been fascinating to watch Alan Moore fade further and further into irrelevance over the years in conjunction with his output becoming more and more self-serious. His greatest works, Swamp Thing, Watchmen and V for Vendetta among them, are all “gritty” stories but they’re told with a light touch and dark humor. Yes, Watchmen is unnerving and difficult, but it’s also self-aware. Contrast that to the relentless suffering of Neonomicon, and, well, what is there to say? I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

To bring this back to Superman, “Doomed” was a story arc that never really took off despite a potentially interesting premise. In the end it’s leaden down by its excessive length, the necessity of breaking up the story across multiple tie-ins and months, and the grimness of the whole affair. Action Comics 40 is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: an issue unburdened by concern for continuity or larger editorial ramifications. It’s purely a palate cleanser and as such can successfully run wild. That doesn’t work for every story, but the best issues are usually somewhere in the middle.

In our discussion of The Multiversity Guidebook, I mentioned my excitement at the prospect of a limited series focusing on Bizarro World’s greatest heroes. Sure, there’s always the possibility that a little bit of Bizarro World goes a long way and that the new series will wear out its welcome fast, but I think there’s a lot of potential here for fun.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

3 comments on “Action Comics 40

  1. Man, I cannot express how much I love Superman saying that a cube planet is physically impossible. That’s something I’ve always wanted to scream about – like, even if square is the opposite of round, there’s still gravity, right? But it’s also cool to see Supes gradually get the hang of everything and just finally accept that he doesn’t know why things work this way in Bizarro World – they just do.Which means I can relax too! Thanks Supes!

  2. MARK! I also laughed out loud at “lamentation.” It’s like Pak just went to the thesaurus to find antonyms for “celebration” and was like “yeah, why the fuck not?” That might be the funniest way to right this bizarrologue.

  3. Of course Bizarro gets an un-gritty de-boot. I couldn’t be happier — I much prefer him as an utterly nonsensical opposite character than as a frankenstein monster. Superman: The Animated Series managed to strike a nice balance between the two, but I’m so fond of the absurdity of Bizarro World, I can’t help but be thrilled at this full reversal.

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