Comics Time: Action Comics #870

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Action Comics #870

Geoff Johns, writer

Gary Frank, artist

DC Comics, October 2008

32 pages

$2.99

This issue got a lot of attention for (to paraphrase the advertising cliché) killing Pa Kent again, for the first time. I suppose that’s notable, but the Kents were one part of the Superman mythos I never really saw as integral to the whole once they took li’l Kal-El out of the rocketship. (For me the much bigger change to the Superman gestalt came earlier in the arc, when Brainiac revealed that Krypton’s destruction was his doing.) What I took from this issue instead is further appreciation for Geoff Johns’s growth as a writer, and further reinforcement that that growth has been spurred by his close working relationship with Grant Morrison. The multi-page sequence that leads up to Pa Kent’s death is largely silent and rapidly edited, as we follow the separate, desperate actions of Pa, Ma, Superman, Supergirl, Brainiac, Lois Lane, the staff of the Daily Planet, and Brainiac’s missiles, one after the other. It’s the kind of disorienting juxtaposition you find throughout contemporary Morrisonia, if not quite pared down to his level of contextual minimalism (or reliant on his seemingly boundless faith in the intelligence of his audience) then certainly more daring and less ham-fisted than what you’d see in a comparable scene by the vast majority of other popular superhero writers today. The effect both ratchets up the thrill level and heightens the emotional impact–we know we’re seeing something important, but we’re also seeing something exciting. In the context of a superhero comic, it’s basically how death should be done: not by playing to the rafters or the gutters, but by trying to make it pop as brightly as anything else in a superhero comic, if to different effect. In this sense Gary Frank is just the artist for this gig–a kindred spirit to Frank Quitely, replacing Quitely’s Euroisms with a bug-eyed, held-in ferocity that suggests American superhero artists gone slightly psychotic. If you enjoy Superman, this is a run I recommend.