Back in Action

Authors: Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Len Wein and Gerry Conway
Artists: Pete Woods, José Luis García-López and Steve Mitchell
Titan Books
RRP: £8.99, $14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 432 6
ISBN-10: 1 84576 432 3
Available 23 February 2007

Having been absent for a year, the Man of Steel has returned to protect his adopted planet. But is he the real deal? Friends such as the Teen Titans think so, but the public, the press and even the US Army aren't so sure. Either way, Earth needs his help again as an alien auctioneer and his robot servants set about stealing churches, statues, bridges, islands - even metahumans! Rendered powerless, can Superman - with the help of Nightwing, Firestorm, Livewire, Aquaman and many other heroes and villains - stop this cosmic fire sale before they're all sold to the highest bidder...?

Given that the last time he disappeared from and then returned to the DC universe (the comic version, that is, not the movies), he was temporarily replaced by four impostors (in the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline of the early 1990s), it's hardly surprising that some folks are sceptical that the re-energised Man of Steel might be a fake. After all, once bitten, twice shy. However, in the three-part Back in Action, which first appeared in the pages of Action Comics #841-843 and which follows on from the graphic novel Up, Up and Away!, Superman gets the opportunity to prove his credentials.

Pete Woods continues to fulfil the artwork chores, though this time without the assistance of Renato Guedes. There is some impressive use of airbrush effects to create the impression of bright light, as seen on the glowing parts of Firestorm's costume, though fine line details sometimes look rather uneven, especially when depicting artificial structures such as buildings and machinery.

Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza's storyline is richly populated by guest characters from other DC titles. Though there are some very familiar faces, such as the Teen Titans, Nightwing and (the new) Aquaman, the emphasis is very much on more offbeat and less well-known creations, like Skyrocket, Blue Jay and Veteran. If you're looking at any of these names and thinking, "Who?", then don't worry - I did the same thing!

The authors throw in a little mystery for development in future volumes - evidence of another Kryptonian living on Earth - and have fun with the Auctioneer's mercantile set-up - his robots refer to his prisoner's containment units as packaging. Perhaps this volume should have been entitled Back in Auction! However, some of the merchant's initial dialogue exchanges with his systems and bidders are somewhat hard to follow.

As I said, this story is just three episodes long, so to fill out the collection, Busiek has also selected three previous unconventional Super-team-ups from the late 1970s and early '80s. Featuring the Metal Men, Deadman and an earlier incarnation of Firestorm, these stories (from DC Comics Presents #4, 17 and 24) are more than mere fillers, boasting dynamic and detailed art by José Luis García-López, whose work has all too often been restricted to promotional material and comic covers rather than their interiors. These tales are also notable for their repeated visits to the Earth's molten core, evidently a subject of some fascination for the writers (Gerry Conway and Len Wein) at the time.

This volume is not the epic experience that Up, Up and Away! was, but it's still nice to see the Man of Steel back in action.

Richard McGinlay

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