Action Comics #958 reinforces my long held assertion that the character of Doomsday is the comics embodiment of the law of diminishing returns. The character first appeared as the architect of Superman’s destruction in the classic “Death of Superman” storyline, and he was amazing in that story. An unstoppable force, with no backstory, no character, no purpose other than to be an unstoppable engine of destruction that would force comics’ most powerful character to lay down his life. It was a perfect appearance, and one that should never have been repeated.
But, hey, this is comics. So, Doomsday has returned time and time again, each time becoming less interesting and less effective. Once you kill Superman in your debut story, which you can’t do twice, everything else you do is bound to both be a let down and reduce the impact of the character. Doomsday, at least the New 52 version, reared his ugly head within the last year or so in the Superman titles, and true to form since his debut, he wasn’t very compelling. Now, writer Dan Jurgens, who co-created the character way back in 1992, is at the helm of “Action Comics,” and even he can’t manage to make me get excited about Doomsday.
That’s too bad because almost everything else in the issue works really well. The idea to replace the problematic New 52 Superman with the classic pre-Flashpoint Superman has been a novel solution. And hiring an experienced Super-hand like Jurgens works well, because he captures the character of this version effortlessly. This Superman feels more dynamic, more inspiring and more active than his predecessor, and the clarity he has is both a strength and a weakness. Jurgens illustrates this by having the impetus for this Superman stepping out of the shadows being Lex Luthor donning an armoured suit and S-Shield, calling himself Superman and declaring himself the fallen Superman’s successor. Of course, this would be the one thing that would make this Kal-El go public. And while Lex Luthor will always be a villain, the Luthor of the New 52 is a far less black and white villain than the one this Superman is used to. By putting them at odds, it also reveals that the strong moral certainty of Superman can just as easily turn into a failing to come to grips with moral nuance. To Superman, it’s impossible to comprehend how Lex Luthor could both be an amoral person and still possess a sincere desire to do some good. That’s an intriguing relationship, and we get to see Jurgens explore this through their shared battle against Doomsday.
We also get the intriguing mystery of the presence of Clark Kent, wholly separate from Superman and back at the Daily Planet as if nothing has happened. Jurgens plays this development totally straight, without tipping a hand in any direction. The scenes with Clark here are simply written as if the Clark we know is on the scene, and everyone else (personified through Jimmy Olsen) are the ones whose minds are blown by this fact. It brings a crazy element to the issue that is by far the most captivating mystery I want to learn more about.
I’m not as huge a fan of the art by Patrick Zircher. The layouts sometimes seem a little cluttered and ill-defined, with the action not progressing as clearly as it should. There’s a sequence involving a collapsing monorail line that looks rushed and sketchy rather than impressive. And I didn’t really get a sense of dynamism from the art, as things felt a little stiff to me.
On the whole, Action Comics #958 has a lot going for it, particularly when it comes to the aspects that look to be part of the long-term overarching storyline. I just felt the main action narrative was warmed over from previous, better stories and that the art, which really could have made this all-action issue come alive, didn’t elevate a familiar battle against Doomsday. However the Luthor/Superman stuff, combined with the mysteries and engaging tone established here were enough to push the issue into the positive column for me, and that’s why I’m giving the book a qualified 7/10.