Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Supermonth: Forgotten Favorites III

I like Joe Kelly a lot. In fact, I think he's one of the most underrated writers in mainstream comic books. His run on JLA had a few missteps toward the end, but it was easily as good as Waid's tenure. To Superboy, he brought a great sense of humor (and consequently had one of the few readable "Last Laugh" tie-ins) as well as some striking emotional content. Even his run on Supergirl had the seeds of brilliance, which is particularly amazing considering what he was given to work with. His Superman/Batman Annual[s] have been top-notch, and I doubt that I even need to mention Deadpool.

His run on Action Comics was more of a mixed bag. Kelly came onto the title during one major Superman overhaul, which also gave us Jeph Loeb's "Superman" and Mark Millar (and subsequently J.M. DeMatteis) on "Adventures of Superman." The book was consistently good up through "Our Worlds At War" (more or less) and surprisingly enough, through "Last Laugh."

The turn for the worse happened around the same time as the next major Superman overhaul, which gave us Joe Casey's tone-deaf pacifist Superman over in "Adventures" and Steven T. Seagle's utter crap in "Superman." Surprisingly, at that time, the only decent Superman comic was the one being written by Chuck Austen. It was a dark era.

But throughout, despite following the rest of the series' drop in quality, Kelly managed to give us some great stories; among them were Action Comics #775, Emperor Joker, and this one:

It tickles!"O Captain, My Captain."

August 2000
Action Comics #768

Let me lay it out here at the beginning: This comic is fun. Impulse fun. It's clever, it's witty, and it even gets touching toward the end. It's quite probably the best Superman/Captain Marvel team-up book I've ever read. And Cap doesn't appear in full until the third act.

The book starts with Lois investigating Superman's recent poisoning (in the "Critical Condition" storyline, which is likely to show up in one of these retrospective review posts), and finally getting upset that overprotective Clark has been shadowing her. As she's telling him off, he excuses himself to attend to some kind of hubbub downtown. Superman arrives to find Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. CM3 causing a bit of a scene in an attempt to find him.

See, it seems the Shazam power has gone a bit wonky. CM3's got the speed and strength, but he can't turn them off. Mary's got the "Power of Zeus," which is, as Freddy notes, fairly ill-defined. She's mostly just babbling incomprehensible gibberish.
What do you do with a drunken sailor?

And Cap? Well, the world's mightiest mortal has been reduced to the world's mightiest mandible:
I decided not to include the panel where Mary Marvel sings Olivia Newton-John's 'Physical.' Yes, seriously.
'
Marvel's disembodied chin led the wonder twins to find Superman's help. They have a conversation along the way back to Fawcett about the differences between Billy and Superman, but it's cut a bit short by one of those fantastic scenes that you can only see in comics:
Yes, that's Farrah St. in Fawcett City.
Giant. Glowing. Frog.

I could leave it right there, you know. You really ought to be convinced at this point. But I'll continue, just to drive the point home.

We have a one-page cutaway as Lois's investigation has brought her into the waiting arms of four killer robots. Guess she's re-thinking the whole "don't follow me around, Clark" thing.

Superman goes after the frog, but isn't really making any progress. Mary tries to explain something, but she's speaking in pop culture-ese, so she's no help. Finally, Superman puts two and two together and realizes that Cap's chin is a perfect fit. He slips on Marvel's big red mouth and, well, you can guess, right?
Logo speak!
Ah, it's like the Amalgam Age of Comics never ended.

The rest of the issue is relatively calm, as Captain Marvel speaks with the Egyptian frog goddess about calling off her attacks--dissecting the city (and the Shazam powers) like children dissect frogs. Superman and Cap separate and chat a bit about their newfound respect for one another.

It's a great story, whimsical but wrapped around one of those classic "respect the environment" morals (and some closure to Lois and Clark's troubles). It's full of great character interactions and a plot so bizarre that it'd make Grant Morrison swallow his gum. The art's the biggest weakness; Duncan Rouleau's art tended to be particularly inconsistent, and this issue is no exception. Panels like the ones I've shared somewhat make up for the weaker bits. It's an utter travesty that this issue has never been collected--especially since the arcs directly before and after have gotten the trade paperback treatment.

Go out and treat yourself to Action Comics #768, readers. You won't regret it.

1 comment:

Julia said...

I like him too but I really started thinking how the chain of superman writers has functioned all these years.