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Action Comics #1009 review: Secret identities

Secret Identities! Spies! Spyral!

Brian Michael Bendis
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Action Comics‘ sweeping tale of espionage, identity and secret societies is back! Teamed with Steve Epting, Brad Anderson and Rob Leigh (substituting for Bendis’ usual and regular Action collaborator Josh Reed), Bendis’s Leviathan Rising, a lead-in to his summer Event Leviathan mini-series and event story, is dramatically affecting the DC Universe.

Opening on a dramatic splash, as is the tradition now in this new era, the story gets going right from where the previous issues left off. The reader is swarmed by a sea of information, much like Superman is, with Epting then pulling back from the splash to reveal a powerful Double-Page Spread. Leigh isn’t the usual letterer for this book and while this may be his first collaboration with this creative team on the title, he fits right in with the eerie, horror-esque title and credits.

Amanda Waller is now in Superman’s new Fortress of Solitude, kept safe from any and all attackers that may try to get at her. Following the events of the previous issues where in multiple organizations of the DC Universe, both good and bad, were systematically taken out, with only a jelly fish insignia made up of Kirby Krackle and blue energy remaining as a clue. Even the mysterious figure perpetrating these crimes is seen only as a giant with no face, no discernable identity, often and always covered in shadow.

Shadows are a key thing here, with Epting and Anderson working in perfect sync to cast the entire world of their story in it, without taking any of the color, pop or fun out of it. It’s never dull or visually uninteresting, but just foreboding enough to sell and capture, visually, the uncertainty, the intrigue, the mystery and potential horror that surrounds our characters. They employ some very interesting texture work, particularly during scenes where in The Question is present. Heavy shading is used on his facemask to the point that rather than being able to see it all, all we see is this patch of nothingness bubbled with the outline of a head. It’s creepy and unsettling, reminding the reader why The Question works at all on a visual level. Anderson bathes the book in striking blues, radiant golds and pitch blacks, making it look like no other story out there.

Leigh may not be Reed, but his ability to capture and perfectly bridge Bendis’s dialogue and storytelling with that of Epting and Anderson is still fantastic. His work keeps in line with Reed’s established aesthetic and approach for the arc, being so seamless that one may not even notice the shift for the issue, which is really impressive. 

Bendis and Epting also continue to be a terrific match here, with the latter’s visual storytelling prowess aiding and enhancing the former’s own skills. Bendis’s love of dialogue and character-interaction and fun moments is a great fit for Epting’s dynamic style, which screams with dynamic splash imagery and double-page spreads without ever losing the reader or the focus. Even the big spreads are always packed with character exchanges and mostly revolve around dialogue and interaction, allowing the story to punctuate moments or showcase how characters react in “big” situations rather than small ones, justifying the extremity of things on a visual level.

On a sheer narrative level, the basic story moves from each of the survivors of the strikes, with Waller suspecting that Leviathan is behind it. Superman tours the DC world at this point, facilitating the above movement, going from the distraught Director Bones to the now revealed to be injured and not dead Sam Lane, guarded by The Question. Even Alfred gets an appearance, before Superman heads off to an old base of Talia Al Ghul to find a note from Leviathan telling Superman they both want the same thing. Suspicions keep shifting, with Superman arriving back at the Fortress and deciding to investigate a still-surviving secret society: Spyral.

But the really, really fun part? He’s going to do it with Lois and not as Clark Kent, but as a bearded British operative of Spyral called Chaz. With Lois playing his partner, Andi, and establishing that these are old secret identities both have used and sat on for a while, the creative team has a whole lot of fun. Facilitated by Kryptonian technology that alters their looks or how they seem to others, the two are set to go undercover into the DC Spyworld.

Action Comics #1009 is the creative team letting loose and having fun with the toys, while peeling back and adding some extra layers to them. They’re clearly grinning and chuckling as they’re doing it, which is really evident in the pages and some of the reveals here. The notion of Superman having a secret persona as a curly dad-beard-sporting British super-spy who says ‘bloody’ with Lois playing the super-spy spouse is hilarious and ridiculous to the point of being a retro idea from The Silver Age. But it really works and there’s a delight and a charm that accompanies it and never feels jarring or out of place, just really amusing and entertaining. Ex-super-villainous skeleton spymasters, Agents of Spyral, a revamped Leviathan and Chaz — what more could one ask for from a Superman centered spy tale in the DC Universe?

Action Comics #1009
Is it good?
Bendis, Epting, Anderson and Leigh do great work here, delivering contemporary DC spy fiction with both stakes and hilarity fitting right in
Leigh's lettering work is so seamlessly spot on that it's almost impossible to notice a change, which is a remarkable achievement
Chaz is amazing and it's evident Bendis and his collaborators are having a ton of fun
Epting and Anderson continue to be a power combo, doing some fantastic work
The story's building rather nicely with some great momentum
The book balances its tone with meaningful stakes and almost Silver Age hilarity like Chaz perfectly
Could move a bit faster, but is still really strong
9
Great
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