T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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Action Comics #961 is here! Writer Dan Jurgens, joined for this edition by penciller Stephen Segovia, brings readers the fifth chapter of Path of Doom and brings more adventurers into the mix. ComiConverses’s Superman reviewer, T. Kyle King, brings you his thoughts on the newest issue of DC Comics’ oldest superhero series.
Superman (the one who used to be dead, not the one who’s dead now), Lois Lane, Clark Kent (not the one who’s Superman), Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor (not the evil one… maybe), Jonathan Kent (the one who’s Superman’s son, not the one who’s Superman’s dad), and Superwoman (who’s also Lois Lane, but not the same Lois Lane as the first one) all are a part of the fight against Doomsday (not the one who killed the Superman who used to be dead… maybe)!
All right, listen, it’s complicated, so just try to keep up, O.K.?
(Mild spoilers follow!)
Action Comics #961 Synopsis:
Lex, left behind to guard Metropolis when Superman and Wonder Woman went off in pursuit of Doomsday, finds himself aided by the unseen Superwoman. Clark calls Luthor’s attention to the crashed vehicle from which the singleminded behemoth emerged, and the super-suited scientist is unable to explain the composition of the craft.
The Amazon Warrior and the Action Ace continue their titanic struggle with Doomsday in the isolation of the upstate wilderness. The ferocity of their battle prompts reactions from Mr. Oz, who sets a plan into motion, and from Jonathan, who angrily unleashes a burst of heat vision at the monster attacking his father. Superman asks Wonder Woman to get his family to safety, so Diana takes Lois and Jon to the Justice League Watchtower. As the Man of Steel resumes combat with his foe, Mr. Oz at long last puts his backstage machinations into action.
Action Comics #961 Analysis:
Due to DC Comics’ twice-monthly publication schedule for some of Rebirth’s biggest books, Path of Doom has featured three artists in five installments: Patrick Zircher for the first two chapters, Tyler Kirkham for the next couple, and, now, Segovia for Action Comics #961. Despite the addition of a new penciller — as well as inker Art Thibert and colorist Arif Prianto, neither of whose names appeared on the previous issue’s masthead — the series nevertheless manages to maintain a relatively consistent artistic signature. This is no small achievement, given the shifting contributors and DC’s departure from the regimented “house styles” that defined the looks of the Bronze Age (much to Jack Kirby’s chagrin) and the New 52.
While some of the facial features could be more clearly defined and a few of the inks could be a little less heavy, Path of Doom — Part Five effectively depicts the big picture, which is what is required for an issue featuring twelve pages of combat, two pages of damage control, three pages of getting innocent bystanders out of the way of the combat and the damage control, and three pages of conversation and kissing. Action Comics #961 calls for lots of flying fists, motion lines, and Rob Leigh-lettered guttural utterances ending in “AH!”, which the artistic team delivers.
This issue is more than merely muscular metahumans punching the increasingly osseously protuberant Doomsday, however. From the outset, Jurgens offers a number of nice character moments, beginning with letting Lex Luthor provide the opening exposition in his uniquely haughty and self-serving voice. Superwoman’s cameo is so brief that the reader almost literally could blink and miss it, but her heroism elicits the best lines from a young girl in a Superman comic since Connie Jo Gholson.
Diana swoops in to save Jonathan with the classic Wonder Woman maneuver of deflecting a projectile with her bracelet. Jon’s overflowing emotions explode in a blast of heat vision as he cries out, “You leave my dad alone!” (This raises real questions about how the timing of the events in Action Comics #961 dovetails with the occurrences in Peter J. Tomasi’s and Patrick Gleason’s Superman, but, right now, matters are moving too swiftly to worry over such minutiae.) The Man of Steel reciprocates his son’s protectiveness, trusts his Justice League teammate to safeguard his loved ones, and shares some tender moments with his family. Aside from the powerless Clark being a bit of a mopey one-note cipher, every character gets to display a bit of his or her essential self.
Twenty pages of character study unfolding in the midst of demigods socking monsters ought to be quite enough for one breathtaking issue, but, honestly, there were moments in Action Comics #961 when it felt as though the plotting was getting a little plodding. Between Luthor behaving like the most obnoxious spotlight-seeking superhero to hit Metropolis since Booster Gold, Clark reiterating his lack of powers without so much as a word of explanation, and Superman bashing Doomsday while his wife and son looked on and fretted, Path of Doom — Part Five threatened at times to become just a rerun of Path of Doom — Parts One Through Four. Then, though, Jurgens’s tale took a turn.
The new Superwoman and Superboy were not the only adventurers to get in on the act in this installment: Mr. Oz got involved, as well. Just when his running metacommentary from afar was becoming a tad tedious, he decided to stop doing the DC Universe’s best Uatu impersonation and ominously intoned: “Now is the time. Prepare the gate.” Mr. Oz recedes into the background for the next six and a half pages, until he is informed by a faceless yet no doubt meaningfully stylized minion that the gate is ready. The hooded mystery man gives the word, and, five pages later, Superman comes to the realization that “there’s something bigger at play.”
What that something is appeared less clear at the end of Action Comics #961 than it did at the beginning, and there undoubtedly is some misdirection at work here. Luthor finally pays attention to the downed ship, marveling at the apparent novelty of its composition and opining that “whoever orchestrated these events is far from finished.” The mastermind behind this might well be Lex, and the clearest view we have yet been given of Mr. Oz’s face did not reveal much resemblance to Adrian Veidt.
Was that a flaw in the artwork, were Mr. Oz’s facial features a deliberate diversion, or has the obvious Ozymandias explanation been a fake-out from the get-go? I don’t know, but, when Mr. Oz and his henchmen began unveiling a plan involving moving one of the combatants in the direction of this enigmatic gate, I couldn’t help but think of this:
We knew from the launch of Rebirth that Watchmen would have a role to play in the new DC Universe, and maybe — just maybe — Dan Jurgens is inching us in the direction of a huge reveal while taking the audience on a thrill ride of physical heroics involving iconic characters being true to their best selves. I’ve been disappointed before, of course, so I know the rug may be yanked out from under me, and perhaps Path of Doom will even lead to having my intrinsic field subtracted, but, after Action Comics #961, I am on board for the long haul.
Did Path of Doom — Part Five meet your expectations?
Do you think Mr. Oz is Ozymandias? What plans do you believe he has set into motion?
Jump into the discussion and ComiConverse with us about Action Comics #961 in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
This issue showcased hard-hitting action and quality characterization… and, just when it started to seem repetitive, it offered the promise of something novel.