Tuesday, October 26, 2010

They Don't Write 'Em Like This Any More: Action Comics #646

One of the rituals around which I organize my sad little life is my bi-weekly trip to the Graceland Shopping Center.  Every two weeks, as soon as my paycheck is deposited in my bank account, I head up there to buy two cartons of smokes, then go to the Half Price Books across the street to browse through their selection of old comic books.  On my most recent such excursion, I picked up a copy of Action Comics #646, published in 1989.
What's so special about this particular comic?
To be honest, absolutely nothing.
That's not to say that it's bad, because it isn't, not at all. In fact, it's really quite good.  It's just that there's really nothing especially noteworthy about it.  It's not an anniversary issue or a first or last issue, nor is it part of any major story line or company wide, universe changing crossover and no major character either debuts nor dies in it. 
For my part, I picked it up because it happened to be drawn, as well as plotted, by Keith Giffen with Roger Stern scripting. Those who've been reading this blog over the past 362 days most likely know by now of my undying and somewhat disturbing love for Giffen.
The story is called "Burial Ground," and features Superman fighting a giant slug from outer space in the Antarctic. Sure, there are a few panels recapping the last couple of issues by way of explaining just what Superman is doing down there, one page checking in on events in Metropolis which sets up the "Brainiac Trilogy" story beginning in the following issue, and an ominous hint of things to come even farther down the line in the issue's very last panel.  The bulk of the issue, however, is taken up by the Man of Steel slugging it out with a giant slug. Like I said, nothing especially special.
What it is, though, is an example of something you don't see a lot of in super-hero comics these days.  You don't need to have read the previous several decades worth of issues or have an encyclopedic of DC Universe history and continuity in order to understand what's going on in the story and enjoy it. Nor are you expected to buy thirty other comics in order to get the whole story.  While it evokes the lighter mood of the Silver Age Superman tales, it does so subtly without expecting the reader to have actually read or be familiar with those stories.  Also, unlike a lot of  super-hero comics put out recently, this is a comic I wouldn't have second thoughts about actually letting a kid read. "Burial Ground" is a completely self-contained and totally accessible single issue story that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Above all, Action Comics #646 is pure, simple, mindless fun. After all, mature, sophisticated and thought provoking comics are all well and good, and I enjoy reading them, but sometimes you just want to see Superman beating up a giant outer space slug.  Unfortunately, you just don't get enough of that in today's super-hero comics. 

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