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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #865

Action Comics #865

Scheduled to arrive in stores: May 28, 2008

Cover date: July 2008

"The Terrible Toyman"

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Jesus Merino
Inker: Jesus Merino

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Toyman holds Jimmy Olsen hostage after escaping from his newest prison, Arkham Asylum. He explains that he wants Jimmy to know that he's never hurt a child, that he'd never do what people thought he did to Adam Grant. He describes a life with a loving wife who was hit by a car, and the way that his toys were stolen by a weapons manufacturer who used his good faith as a way to steal money.

Toyman indicates his lack of culpability by indicating that the things that killed people were his designs gone awry, and that his talent, to create versions of himself that even fool Superman, was only intended to make children happy. Schott shows Jimmy a wall featuring older continuity versions of himself, like the one that killed Adam Grant, and the one from Superman/Batman.

Toyman says that he trusts Jimmy because he is sixteen. Jimmy indicates that he's twenty-two, and tries to make an escape, hitting the signal watch.

Batman arrives first, to claim Toyman for Arkham. Superman also arrives, and leaves Toyman to Batman, rescuing Jimmy from an army of Superman toys.

Toyman recalls that his wife, who he was so beloved of, was actually a machine, as Jimmy recalls that he never had a wife.

Cat Grant, in Los Angeles, calls Perry and indicates she's ready to come back to the Daily Planet.

5Story - 5: As a reviewer, I seek avenues of attack. Angles. It's not the pretty part of the job, but it's something that comes natural over time. Sometimes, when the story is good enough to override the obvious flaws that every story has, you ignore the bad. Sometimes you see the bad, and realize that while other people pick at it, it's actually a distinctive choice, a matter of opinion, that can either make a story great or ruin it for you.

For some people, for instance, you'd be ticked as hell that Superman appears on one page of this story. That's one less than Batman, and about fifteen less than the Toyman.

As a reviewer who was recently so critical of a story that featured the Legion with Superman almost as a guest star, you might think I'd be among those critics.

I'm not. In fact, this is about as close to a perfect Superman story (non-event) as you can get. Why?

It reconciles continuity even as editorial refuses to (the same editorial that scheduled a story with this basic outline not two months before this story, ridiculously, an awful version of this story). There are about eighty different Toyman stories out there. Geoff saw this, and rather than saying, "Ah, mine's better. Let's just throw him in the mix!" per Superman Confidential, he took the time to explain his new Toyman, and reconcile that with the old ones. So you don't buy that Toyman robots could fool Supes? Well, that's fine, but it's still good storytelling, because he connected A to B when he didn't have to. Johns is masterful with this.

It's character-based instead of plot-based. This one's obvious.

It realizes what nine-tenths of all Superman writers tend to not realize, to their own detriment. Superman is not defined by his own characterization outside of outside circumstances. We all know he's going to do the exact right moral thing. He's Superman. Superman is defined by the villains he fights. Zod defines Superman because he shows what would happen when Superman fights a dastardly version of himself. Lex Luthor defines Superman by showing what would happen when a man who believes he is morally righteous (Lex) like Superman conflicts with what is right and good. The Toyman defines Superman because he believes in idealism and children, but his own selfishness gets in the way. Superman counters this with his belief in idealism that shows that what would initially be a sympathetic revenge (Schott's) is, in actually, clinically insane. This story emphasizes that, and explores Superman's definition: His villains.

It's why the Flash run is so well regarded, and it makes me sick, because it's the sort of stuff I would like to write if I ever get a shot at Superman and he's doing it better than I ever could. This humbles a reviewer, and reviewers are royal bastards of hubris.

There are issues, such as, if the Superman/Batman Toyman appears here, then is the Superman/Batman continuity canon when it's been explicitly stated that it's not? WTF? There's also the issue that Toyman would know about the Batcave and secret identities from the "Japanese" McGuiness Toyman's earned trust with Superman and Batman. But these can slide, as I see it. I think a bigger issue is not if Toyman knows Superman's identity, but why nothing has been done with the fact that Jimmy knows it and yet has not reconciled that character-wise.

All in all, stunning.

5Art - 5: A bit dark for a Superman comic, but the storyline is dark, and this art fits with the work. Strong in character, good action, and lots of detail including some great effects make this work really, really shine.

4Cover Art - 4: When I first saw this, I rolled my eyes. First, I thought they were just going to ignore and ret-con the last Toyman appearance, which was, I believe, Rucka's, which I'm partial to, and second, it looked like the cheesy, old-style Toyman.

Looking now, having read the story, I enjoy the piece. Isn't that odd? I have to knock a point for Toyman not looking like he did in the story, but the image, in that it reminds me of the story it precedes, now pleases me.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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