Review: Action Comics #981

Kyle King Kyle King
Expert Contributor
June 16th, 2017

T. Kyle King is a lawyer, a former sports blogger, a panelist on the "Twin Peaks"-centric "Wrapped in Podcast", and a Superman guy.

Review: Action Comics #981
Comics
0
Price:
Visionary

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On June 16, 2017
Last modified:June 16, 2017

Summary:

Subtle touches, painstaking characterization, and hard-hitting action combined to make this forward-looking issue effective.

Price:
Visionary

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On June 16, 2017
Last modified:June 16, 2017

Summary:

Subtle touches, painstaking characterization, and hard-hitting action combined to make this forward-looking issue effective.

MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB

Action Comics #981 — sporting a cover that featured a clever homage — delivered the third chapter of the Revenge story arc. Written by Dan Jurgens with artwork by Jack Herbert, the latest issue brought General Zod into the mix. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King is here to examine this week’s issue.

Action Comics #981 Review:

Hampered by horrible hallucinations generated by the Black Vault surrounding Belle Reve, the Man of Steel is unable to prevent the Eradicator and Cyborg Superman from freeing General Zod. Will the Action Ace recover enough to recapture the Kryptonian villain, or will the effects of the experience prove permanent?

Action Comics #981 Synopsis:

The terrifying images assailing Superman persist until Rick Flag implodes the Black Vault to release Zod. Amanda Waller explains to the Metropolis Marvel that she intended to control the evil alien and use him as a weapon. Freed from Belle Reve, Zod has no interest in joining the Superman Revenge Squad, but Hank Henshaw persuades him to work with them in gaining access to the Phantom Zone.

Guided by the distinctive sound of Cyborg Superman’s unique mechanisms, the Man of Tomorrow chases down the fleeing threesome. When Kal-El, weakened by his ordeal in the Black Vault, proves incapable of defeating the trio alone, he hastily beats a strategic retreat. His clash with Cyborg Superman, the Eradicator, and Zod attracted attention, however: Kara Danvers in National City, Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and Kong Kenan in Shanghai all recognize that Superman needs their help. In Hamilton County, Clark Kent confesses to Lois Lane and their son, Jonathan, that the Black Vault has had a lasting impact.

Action Comics #981 Analysis:

What stands out about Herbert’s graphics in Revenge — Part III on the first pass through the issue is the forceful physicality of the story’s big pictures. Aerial impacts abound, crackling with kinetic energy on a grand canvas that relies heavily on perspective to give the imagery its scale. Subtlety sometimes suffers as a result; in the last three panels of the penultimate page of Action Comics #981, Lois inexplicably goes from kneeling in Clark’s immediate proximity to standing a few feet away, and Jon literally has no face. Re-reading this chapter after learning its surprise ending, though, fans will notice more nuanced depictions hinting at the forthcoming revelation.

Story continues below

Jurgens’s script likewise foreshadows the page-turn shocker at the conclusion of the tale in multiple tiny ways that appear glaringly obvious in retrospect yet easily might have slipped by all but the most attentive readers initially. Revenge — Part III requires a delicate balancing act involving not only the sprinkling of such clues, but also the integration of story developments involving the Suicide Squad and the presentation of plausible and consistent motivations to explain the bad guys’ actions. It is in this last objective that Action Comics #981 especially excels: Cyborg Superman, the Eradicator, and General Zod have an uneasy alliance, at best, but their incentives for cooperating are clear and their reasoning rings true in a way that may lay the groundwork for future fragmentation within the Superman Revenge Squad.

As effectively as Jurgens portrays the plainly villainous and morally ambiguous characters — each of whom is given his or her due in the belief that dubious behavior is justified — the author is remarkably economical in doing equal justice to the Superman Family. Supergirl, Superboy, the New Super-Man, Lex, and Lois collectively are visible in just eleven panels confined to a half-dozen pages, but the careful progression of relationships throughout Rebirth to set the stage for a group effort by all those heroes who wear “S”s on their chests enabled Jurgens to convey the sense of solidarity and dedication in a particularly constricted space. Such purposeful craftsmanship is made no less impressive by the fact that the writer displays this ability so regularly.

Because Action Comics #981 was able to accomplish its essential objectives with brevity without giving short shrift to key elements, Revenge — Part III was a success. This issue never felt rushed, despite the hefty workload the creative team had before it at the outset. Time was taken to allow each villain to express himself authentically in his own voice and to set the stage for the cliffhanger reveal at the end, while even those characters given limited “screen time” were portrayed sincerely and permitted to contribute. Perhaps less occurred in this installment than in the previous two chapters, but what happened mattered and was well crafted.

Were you blindsided by the surprise ending, or did you see it coming? ComiConverse about Action Comics #981 in the comments!

T. Kyle King is an Expert Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.

Action Comics #981

  • 5

Visionary

Subtle touches, painstaking characterization, and hard-hitting action combined to make this forward-looking issue effective.

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