Saturday, 15 November 2014

Superman: In the Name of Gog Review (Chuck Austen, JD Finn)


Chuck Austen is a name to be feared in comics. He wrote some of the worst superhero comics for Marvel and DC in the early to mid ‘00s before being blacklisted by both and eventually disappearing from comics altogether. You see his name on a book? You run away from it! 

Earlier in the year I read possibly the worst X-Men book ever, Austen’s The Draco, but, even though I knew it was going to be bad, I had to read his Action Comics run. This is the run where he not only alienated readers who boycotted the title, but retailers too who chose not to stock his comics. So I had to find out: was Chuck Austen’s brief stint on Action Comics the worst Superman has ever had? 

Well, no question it’s bad - REALLY bad. But considering Superman is one of those characters who seems to have far more crap comics than good, I’m not sure I could say Austen’s run is the worst I’ve read, though it’s down there. 

In the Name of Gog collects the second half of Austen’s run. The book opens with a storyline that has FILLER written all over it, featuring a character called Banshee (who looks like the female Shadowman!) who screams at stuff until Superman beats her with ice breath. Yawn. 

Next we meet a character called Preus, a former guard from Kandor, the bottled Kryptonian city. He wants to kill Superman for some reason, maybe because he’s nuts because Austen says so, so what better way than to recruit racist rednecks to help do this, right? After he’s done literally fucking who knows how many human women to death, he uses artificial kryptonite to weaken Superman. So the artificial kryptonite works on some Kryptonians but not all? Whatever, Preus is such a horrible one-dimensional character, I don’t want to dwell on him for too long.

We meet another filler character in Repo Man whose entire story is that he’s a small, skinny man and he wishes he were BIG. Preus gives him artificial kryptonite which apparently gives him the ability to Hulk out, which he does, and fights Superman and Superboy because he’s a tool. He changes back to normal for no other reason besides the page count nearing the end for that story. 

Austen resurrects the pointless and boring feud between Lois and Lana over Clark. Apparently this was something that enraged fans when this came out but for me it was just plain dull. It is quite pathetic and derogatory towards Lois and Lana’s characters though. 

Oh and Hawkman shows up too, confirming that whenever this dude makes an appearance, it’s a warning that the book you’re reading sucks. It’s the Hawkman stamp of crappiness! 

And that was it for Austen’s run: one failure compounding after another! DC tried to get him to write under a pseudonym once they realised having his name on the title was massively hurting sales figures (ironic considering Austen’s real name is Chuck Beckum) but he was rightfully insulted, and the two parted ways. Austen has never worked at DC since - this book was a career killer! 

And yet that’s not the end of this volume - there are still two more issues to go. A writer called JD Finn, someone who had never written a comic book before, or since, this book, stepped in to clean up Austen’s mess and clear the way for a new writer (I think it was the brilliant Kurt Busiek) to win the audience back. 

Who is JD Finn? Nobody knows but it’s likely a pseudonym perhaps for an editor or a writer or two who got roped in to do a serviceable job on the, ahem, “plot”. Having read these two issues and their ambitious yet disjointed time-jumping scenes, the only writer whose name popped out to me was Grant Morrison. Could Morrison be “JD Finn”? 

Gog “kills” Superman and manages to clone himself multiple times leading to a futuristic War of Gog where an army of Supermen, led by Doomsday no less, begin an epic fight across the stars. But Superman’s not dead, remaining Gog’s prisoner for years, becoming old with him, as their feud continues through the years and Gog’s mission to save his parents proves more and more futile. More time-travelling ensues, things jump backwards and forwards in a confusing sequence, and everything is put right by the end. Gog is defeated, Superman is alive, everything’s back to normal.

It certainly reads like some of Morrison’s comics (albeit the less successful ones)! 

So that was Chuck Austen’s Action Comics run: just terrible, as expected. Where is he these days? He’s a producer on an animated show called Steven Universe. Almost makes me want to watch it just to see if there’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, and brain-dead characters littering that kids’ show - but there probably isn’t! 

I’d like to say this is rock bottom for Superman comics but there are quite a few bad ones out there. It’s certainly bad though - avoid, unless you’re curious to see what all the fuss over Austen’s work was about!

Superman: In the Name of Gog

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