Best Shots Review: ACTION COMICS #976 Bolsters Uncertain Story With Iconic Imagery

Action Comics #975
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Action Comics #976
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, Trevor Scott and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

“Right now everything is so bizarre that it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t.”

“Superman Reborn” has been a bit of a frustrating crossover, putting the mystery of Action Comics’ unpowered Clark Kent ahead of Superman’s charming family drama. With the big bad Mr. Mxyzptlk out of the way, both creative teams have gotten to the business of what exactly this reveal means for the characters and the world at large. The slow but purposeful refocusing by DC on their Trinity character pillars has strengthened the line across the board, but we’ve gotten only incrementally closer to finding out any answers about the larger mysteries of “Rebirth.” Dan Jurgens and Doug Mahnke do a good job of picking up seamlessly from where Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason left off in the last issue. But the conclusion feels a bit punchless. This arc seems to serve the larger goals of the line, but it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about it considering we don’t know what the larger repercussions are at this time.

What really stands out about this book is just how good it looks. Mahnke and the rest of the art team are on top of their game from page one. This is a book full of iconic imagery and it takes a special talent to have that weigh on their shoulders. Mahnke answers the call, though - giving this conclusion the scale necessary to make the book feel really big and important. Plus Mahnke’s almost over-expressive facial work does wonders to convey the creepiness and deviousness of Mxy’s entire being. (I’m pretty sure the man draws the most unnerving teeth in the game today.) And usually having a team of inkers can drag a book down but Mendoza, Alamy and Scott’s work is seamless. They do a great job of dialing up or dialing back as the script calls for narrative calls for it. Wil Quintana’s colors are a great echo for the script as a whole as well. There’s a lot of red and blue energies swirling around and until we reach a resolution, Quintana isn’t afraid to lean into washes of purple over the proceedings before giving us color palette with more clarity toward the end of the book. This is how you use colors to reinforce the narrative arc.

But what is the story here? Well, some spoilers ahead. The blue energy that we saw under pre-Flashpoint Clark’s hand in Superman #1 was a reference to the intrinsic energy of his being. As we’ve learned, red energy represents the "New 52" versions of Lois and Clark. Jon has to utilize both over the course the arc to fight Mxy, and in the end, the two energies merge to create complete versions of Lois and Clark. With their histories and memories merged, we have two more characters besides Mxy, Mr. Oz and Psycho Pirate that have a full understanding of the events of the "New 52" and the current continuity. (Of course, that’s not to say that Lois and Clark understand why things are the way they are.)

Jurgens’ plotting leaves a bit to be desired, because the action feels a little bit arbitrary when compared to the conclusion. We don’t really have great context for the red and blue energy. We don’t really know why those energies affect Mxy, especially since earlier in the arc he says that he manipulated all of his past encounters with Superman. This could be another one of his games. Mxy is such an unreliable character that the opening words of the issue (at the top of this review) ring true for the whole thing, and it kind of undercuts the dramatic tension. We just don’t know what any of this means. That said it’s at least a fairly entertaining issue. Jon has quickly become a formidable little character in his own right and one that writers have consistently been able to do good work with.

Action Comics #976 feels like it has really large implications for “Rebirth” as it moves forward, but it’s hard to entirely see the writing on the wall. This crossover has definitely existed to move certain pieces into place and it might frustrate some readers that there’s very little clarity as to whether or not what we’re seeing is as real as it seems. But the art team does a really good job of upping the stakes and overall, “Superman Reborn” puts the Superman family in an interesting place. We’ll just have to wait and see if the creative teams on these titles can deliver on this mounting uncertainty.

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