Action Comics #815 (2004)

Action Comics #815 (July, 2004)
“Superman vs. Gog: End Times”
Writer – Chuck Austen
Penciller – Ivan Reis
Inker – Marc Campos
Colors – Guy Major
Letters – Comicraft
Associate Editor – Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $2.50

It’s been… nearly a year, but we’re about to check back in with the Chuck Austen run on Action Comics.  At the time, this was when my Superman-fandom (insofar as being compelled to buy new issues) kinda waned.  Though, it was also a time when my finances hit a bit of a crunch… so, my dropping off might have just been out of necessity… hard to remember being so far removed.

Now, the last time we talked about Austen, I made it pretty clear… fella was never my favorite writer, but I didn’t really fall into that “frothing rage” camp either.  Let’s read his second issue here and see if we can move the needle… in either direction!

We open in Smallville, where Teen Titans Superboy, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash are walking the sleepy streets.  Bart thinks the town is pretty lame… but cannot fully opine, because just then something crashes down to the street!  At that same time in Metropolis, Clark Kent is dealing with his recent demotion.  He calls Lois and is rather displeased to find out she knew all about his shift down the Planet’s ladder and didn’t warn him!  We find out that he’s been replaced by Jack Ryder… who we might know better as, The Creeper.

Jack goes to shake Clark’s hand… before telling him he needs to vacate his work area before his workmen arrive with his belongings.  Clark stares a hole in him… well, uh, not literally.  Just then, he hears Superboy calling for help… and so, it’s up, up, and away.

In Smallville, we can see that “the thing that fell” was actually a man in some shiny… horny armor.  In case you missed the cover, this fella be Gog.  No, not that Gog.  He actually looks more like Magog… but it’s not him either, ya dig?  Anyhoo, he holds Superboy up by the throat… and is pleased to find that Superman has already been called in.

Gog decides to just beat the holy hell out of the Boy of Steel for awhile, until Superman finally arrives.

Superman and Gog tussle for a bit until the latter levels the former… sending him flying into a tree.  The Titans run up to check on Superman… and are immediately given jobs to ensure the safety of the Smallvillians.  I think this was a really well written scene… really illustrates the hierarchy of the DC pantheon.  The Teen Titans don’t question Superman’s requests… and get right right to work.

Then… back to fightin’.  And… unfortunately, back to quippin’.  Like seriously, Superman starts mocking Gog’s threats.  That’s something Spider-Man might do… but, Superman?  I don’t see him instigating such a massive threat, especially in his hometown… where his parents and friends live.  I dunno, that just seems like tossing some unnecessary gasoline on an already out of control fire.  Well, he did the same thing last issue… only then it was Metropolis, and he was sassing Darkseid!  Woof.

They fight some more… and Superman decides to mock Gog’s fashion sense.  Yep.  He then smashes the baddies head into the ground before giving him his “options”.  This is pretty cringy, folks.

The issue wraps up with Gog recovering, outta nowhere… and jabbing Superman in the gut with his spear… rod… thing.  The next issue blurb warns that next time… things get worse.  Heaven help us (I kid, I kid… sorta).

Just like with the last issue, this Austen script doesn’t really fall apart until after the staples.  Up until there, we had scenes of Clark Kent dealing with his demotion… and Superman directing traffic with the Teen Titans.  Nothing bad… actually, there were a few good lines in there.

Then… the staples.  For folks who only read comics digitally, I should probably explain… comics, the physical ones, are stapled together.  Ahem.  Once we hit those staples here, the script goes completely wonky… and Superman turns into a quipping twit.  I mean, he’s mocking Gog’s lines… as if he’s Spider-Man or something.  This really doesn’t feel like Superman.  I mean, you might be able to get away with Superboy talking this way… but not the big guy.

Last issue, Austen had Superman sassing freaking Darkseid… so it stands to reason that this is just how he thinks Superman is supposed to act?  I mean, it’s been forever since I’ve read this… so, for all I know it might be revealed that his “new attitude” is a result of his being frustrated with events from his civilian life… but honestly, I don’t have enough faith in Austen’s ability to be subtle to rest and kind of hope in that idea.

Speaking of subtlety… I recall back in the early-mid 2000’s, people really ran with the notion that through Mr. Austen’s writing you could deduce that he had a lot of… er, issues, with the fairer sex.  I suppose if I were to get out the yarn and thumbtacks and start connecting the dots on the forensics wall of my Palatial Christate, I might be able to come back with something…

Here we have Lois withholding information from Clark… and being painted rather poorly for it.  Clark comes across like a trusting goof… while Lois, with all the power and information comes across as condescending and dismissive.  Not a good look for Lois, and while she’s always been career-focused, I’m not sure I see her keeping something like a demotion from Clark.  I’d actually see her putting her own position on the line to ensure Clark keeps his.

This might just be me thinking too hard… or giving in to the Chuck Austen hive mind, circa 2001-2004, but it might still be a subject worth discussing.  I want to make it clear… I don’t hate Austen’s work.  Some of his Marvel (X-Men/War Machine) work was rough… like really rough, but it wasn’t completely without its charm.  I think if someone were to “discover” this run on Action today, with no prior knowledge of Austen’s reputation… they’d just find it a middling issue, bag it, board it… toss it in a longbox and not give it a second thought.

Overall… a pretty weak issue, however one I couldn’t insist you avoid picking up.  The art is still spectacular and… I feel, in hindsight, this is a pretty fascinating era for the character to observe.  We’re out of the initial “Berganza” run (Seagle/Casey/Kelly/Loeb/Schultz)… into the earliest days of the Didio DC… and on our way to Infinite Crisis.  There are a lot of plates spinning at the same time… it’s pretty interesting watching to see which ones start hitting the floor first.  This issue is available digitally.

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