Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Classics: Action Comics #601

I admire it when comics companies try something original - even when the experiment fails.

With this issue of Action Comics, published in 1988, DC tried to create a 48-page weekly comic.

Impossible, you say? Well... yeah. But give them credit for courage.

The idea was to feature five 8-page stories in each issue, starring an assortment of characters - some well known, some not so much. And since Action has always starred Superman, they made him the only permanent feature - but only gave his a two-page, "Sunday Comics" format.

Even with top writer Roger Stern and classic artist Curt Swan handling the creative end, two pages just wasn't enough to get any story momentum going.

As for the other features, they ran the gamut from good to fair to truly awful.

The awful came from the most unexpected source - a Green Lantern story drawn by Gil Kane! The problem was the terrible characterization by writer Jim Owsley, making GL shallow and casually killing off a beloved character. Terrible.

Max Collins and Terry Beatty return with an adventure of the vigilante Wilddog - a surprisingly violent (but well-crafted) tale for this mainstream DC comic.

One of the delights is the return of the Secret Six, a team of spies not seen since its short-lived series in the '60s. Written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Dan Spiegle, it recaptured the fun of the original series.

Mike Baron and Dan Jurgens have fun in a story starring Deadman, who conducts a one-ghost war on drugs.

The final story is an offbeat bit of business with Blackhawk, though most of the story is a history lesson as a lead-in to the "new," sleazy Blackhawk. A surprising stumble for writer Mike Grell and artist Rick Burchett.

I wonder if the problem with this kind of series is because of the difficulty most modern writers seem to have with short stories. The 10-page story was the norm in the Silver Age and before, but most comics since then have been "feature length" - maybe most writers just lack the knack of crafting a story in a small space.

Maybe it was the lack of "big name" characters, or maybe readers just didn't want too follow a weekly comic.

Whatever the reason, this experiment only lasted 10 months, and then Action Comics went back to its old format. A shame it didn't work - but kudos to DC for giving it the ol' college try.

Grade: C



-> Ray said...

I absolutely LOVED Action Comics Weekly, so much so that I subscribed to it (although I'll admit that was mostly because it was the only affordable way for me to get it four times a month). I thought Blackhawk got better when Grell stopped writing it.

Chuck said...

I loved the idea of it, I loved most of the characters - but the execution just didn't work for me. But I still bought every issue for the good bits.

Billy Hogan said...

I was most disappointed with the Superman strip in the middle, although I loved the Curt Swan art, as always. My favorite feature was Blackhawk, and I only collected the issues that had a Blackhawk story. That led me to collect the short lived Blackhawk series that was published afterward, which I still enjoy.

Glen Davis said...

I really enjoyed Max Allan Collins's Wild Dog character, but DC couldn't seem to figure out what to do with it.

The Secret Six feature was pretty good, too. Both the first two incarnations of Secret Six should be collected.