What has surprised me about re-reading ACW for likeIy the first time since I first bought them 25 years ago how readable it is. Sure it's an anthology series and I have a long history of difficulty with anthology Comics, but its a rare long-form anthology where (almost) all parts are regular features.
This issue has an exception for the series, featuring a one-off Phantom Stranger story that carries on after that notable Mike Mignola-illustrated mini series with Kyle Baker subbing in. I couldn't make it past halfway through the second issue of that mini and this story is as direly dull. But, hey, if you're going to have a dry and boring story why not have it illustrated by exciting young artists.
The Deadman arc has been a tedious body-jumping adventure. Mike Baron took this story everywhere, to hell and back, aliens, angels and demons, but still it's been, frankly, exhausting and a little ridiculous to read (I perked up most during Boston's trip through hell with D.B. Cooper, which was strangely familiar, with some minor similarities to the Oni Press series The Secret History of D.B. Cooper.) The Deadman feature runs two more issues and returns in #618 (by Marty Pasko this time). So unlike Showcase in the '90's this anthology really is a series of regular, rotating features.
Last month Black Canary took over for Blackhawk (he'll be back too) and her story here is a very small one at street-level as Dinah plans to hire an at-risk young woman in her flower shop (remember when Dinah had a flower shop?) only she turns up at her place bruised after defending her brother from some guys he owes money to. So its time to let the Canary fly. After burning her tacky 80's Justice League costume last issue, she puts on her rather modest new duds which look more like Bond villainess than superhero. As a young lad this story really bored me but Sharon Wright's (who?) script is sharply dialogued and mature if not exactly fresh. Randy DuBurke is a quintessential 80's artist for me, he was never a superstar but in him I see style and cleanliness, the prototype for Jamie McKelvie.
The Superman story that runs through every issue suffers from being only two pages each week. lt's taken 10 issues to get to the crux of the story about a cult people worshipping Supes as a god... compared all the Christ allusions in Man of Steel its a little tame and feels old fashioned with Curt Swan on art.
Then there's Green Lantern... James Owsley is out, Peter David is in. David's writing is a bit less focussed than it is these days (largely from taking over someone else's story) but it feels like David's work, in his sense of humour and his exploration of the character's concepts... particularly Hal's fearlessness. Does he have a psychological disorder? I prefer galaxy-spanning GL but this works okay too.
Finally, there's the Secret Six. This was my favourite part of ACW 25 years ago and it still is today. The original Six in the 60's was a spin on the adventure/spy series like Mission Impossible at the time and this is a very '80's-modern update. A group of differently handicapped but disparately talented individuals are each given an apparatus to overcome their disability but in return they are at the service of Mockingbird, and Charlie's Angels -style must execute his mission plan to expose corrupt corporations across America... It's a bit of a stretch to have this crew suddenly start performing amateur espionage hour, but its not like they're perfect at their new roles and seeing them adapt and improvise is where the fun and excitement is. Plus there's the whole "did Mockingbird murder the original Six?" mystery. Fascinating, well executed stuff from Martin Pasko with great visual storytelling from Dan Spiegle. This should be on TV.