REVIEW: Action Comics #894

By Charles Webb

After much fanfare, Neil Gaiman’s iconic version of Death finally pays a visit to the DCU—and if it were anyone but Paul Cornell handling the writing chores with the character, I might be worried.

It’s the fifth issue of The Black Ring storyline, with Lex Luthor still on the hunt for the titular bauble, but getting sidelined after taking one to the back of the dome last issue. So he’s dead—enter Death. It’s essentially a character piece, forcing Luthor to stare down his own mortality, and in typical Luthor fashion, he’s looking to conquer or somehow overcome his circumstances. I don’t mean to leave you with the wrong impression: Lex doesn’t try to duke it out with one of the absolute abstracts, but he does try to reason his way out of death.

The structure of the issue is cleverly predicated on Lex barreling through the stages of grief, with Death acting as a balanced, understanding counterpoint to Lex’s shock, outrage, and incredulity. We learn that Lex is, unsurprisingly, an atheist. I say “unsurprising,” not as some assessment of his character but based on the personality that’s been crafted for him over the years. He will not abide any power greater than himself, in spite of being confronted with aliens and demigods. It’s interesting that he frames it in moral terms: asserting that any god would have to have an objective view of the universe, and there is no scientific evidence that such a point of view exists.

What’s even more interesting is that Death, for her appearance on the cover and all the hullaballoo about the celebrated Vertigo character making her second bow in the DCU (I believe she was in an JLA story under Morrison), she acts mostly as a sounding board for Lex. Again, it’s a character study more than anything else. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that Lex gets over his case of death by the end of the issue, but Cornell articulates a plausible case for how Lex would react to the actual event.

Pete Woods is on art with colors by Rob Leigh, and this is, I’m sure, one of those issues that challenge an artist to focus on acting more than anything else. What could have devolved into a series of talking heads moves between “real” space and a sort of cosmic tableau for Lex and Death to continue their conversation. Death has gray eyes—that’s a fascinating detail. There’s one little nagging element about Leigh’s coloring, which somehow hardens the characters to a degree where their skin, on occasion takes on the texture of marble. It’s not often, and it specifically occurs during instances of “hot” light sources. But for the most part it works well with Woods’ art to realize what is, for the most part, an intimate story.

The backup feature with Jimmy Olsen is cute. It’s great to see the character actually serving some kind of purpose in the DCU and the punchline about the true reason for an advance species’ visit to Metropolis is actually pretty clever. However, fun and clever are really all I have to say about it. I like it, but I think DC should perhaps commit to giving this story and this writer a higher page count to give his plots room to breathe.

Update: Reader Zack points out that this is one of several appearances by Death in the DCU, including an appearance in The Legion of Superheroes v4 #38, and miscellaneous appearances in titles like Lobo and Ambush Bug. It was in fact her big brother, Dream in the JLA appearance referenced in the review.

Check out a preview of Action Comics #894!


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