It is the first issue in some time that I closed the book and said to myself 'now that was a Superman story'. And that makes me very very happy.
New creative team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder hit the ground running with their first present-day storyline with a fast-paced story that brings Lana Lang into the fold and introduces a new military hero/super-villain to the Superman world. I have to say I really love this feisty Lana, someone who already seems better suited for Superman than Diana.
But there is also a number of nods to old-school comic and Superman bits from the classic 'monsters dwell below the surface' plotline to some Pa Kent wisdom to a classic take on the Fortress of Solitude. While these all have the sheen of comic tropes, Pak and Kuder keep them feeling modern and fresh.
Aaron Kuder's style is great as well. There is a great kinetic feel to the action sequences. There is a Rockwell feel to the Smallville flashbacks. And his page layouts are solid. There are plenty of beautiful splash pages in the book. But I didn't feel cheated from content because other pages have smaller inset panels, bulking up the story on those pages. Fantastic.
As I said, I love this new Lana. We learned last issue that she is an electrical engineer. But I don't think she is doing mundane wiring housing developments. In Action Comics #25, she is on a cargo boat. Here she is on a team in Venezuela, drilling to find a new geothermal energy source. Of course, this being comics, that drilling unleashes a massive monster. Think Jack Kirby Mole Man sort of monster. That's a pretty high compliment.
This isn't the whining Lana from the 80s, hoping to capture Superman's heart. She is pretty tough, picking up a machine gun and firing at the monster. It is such a great moment that I didn't even question why security guards at a dig site are packing such ordnance.
While the yellow jump-suit seems to be the uniform for the dig site, it gives Lana a little 'April O'Neil' feel and a little Kill Bill 'The Bride' feel. It adds to the action hero nature of this scene. If she were in the Atomic Robo universe, she would be an Action Scientist.
But despite wielding that M-16 assault rifle, there is also a sort of small-town girl friendliness to her. I love that third panel, a slight smile with a dimple that floors Superman. I think we all know that those 'first loves' never really leave, do they. Superman's response to seeing her is great. That kind of goofy smile on his face, as if the memories of her flood him. Kuder is able to give us so much with their expressions.
Suddenly Superman is back to being the awkward kid from Smallville, distracted by her to the point the monster chews on him for a while and still smitten enough to try to impress her with feats of strength. It is a brief interaction in the middle of a fight with a monster but it says so much.
Maybe he is nervous around Lana but he misses the monster with the truck he throws at it. (In a nice character moment, Lana curses off-screen that he destroyed her truck).
Surprisingly, the monster decides to 'play fetch' with the truck and seems to be trying to communicate with Superman. It isn't a monster; it just doesn't know the damage it is doing, the fear it is inducing.
It leads to a flashback to the first time a young Clark released his heat vision, burning crops and frightening Pa Kent. Despite that, Pa didn't run. He stayed and cared. I love me some Pa Kent wisdom.
Suddenly Superman doesn't want to destroy this monster but try to understand it and limit the damage. Unfortunately the military isn't as compassionate. Missile-firing drones and 'The Ghost Soldier' come to kill it.
Given the setting, I have to assume this is Venezuelan military that Superman is fighting and not American.
I like the look of this Ghost Soldier, an all-business sleek look complete with knives. I don't know if Iquite understand the fire tornado look but it works here.
I also like how Kuder makes the S-shield huge on Superman's chest. That is how it should look.
The Ghost Soldier has a Kitty Pryde-like phase ability, using it to phase a knife into Superman chest and carve up Superman's face. That power is also a great defense against Superman as well.
The Soldier seems to be there only to delay Superman so the drones can kill the monster and Superman won't let that happen. In a nice bit of physics, Superman assumes that someone in an intangible form might have the properties of a gas such that extreme cold can slow him down.
Maybe that is an explanation of the flame motif, keeping him hot and moving.
Remember when I said that this felt like a Superman story. It is small moments like this.
When I first read it I immediately thought the innocents were the workers on the drill site. But then on reread I realized he could be talking about the monster, an innocent thing released into our world.
In reality, Superman means both. And he needs to save both. There really is no choice, is there?
We get so much from the art too. That moment of concentration with eyes closed followed by a steely look of conviction in the second.
And just like that, Superman grabs the monster and flies off.
As for Lana, she decides to go down to the deepest section of the drill area to see if she can see what went on. She stumbles upon evidence of another culture.
For me, it reminded me of those good old stories when Lana's archaeologist father ended up coming across something that was the springboard for a story. So an 'old school' feel modernized.
And it also feels that the early crush lingering feelings are in Lana too. She is doing this so she has an excuse to call Clark. That also feels like classic Lana too!
Everyone assumed that Superman threw the monster into the sun. And that irks Superman. I like that, a pleasant piece of characterization in one almost throw-away line.
Instead he brought the thing to the intergalactic zoo area of his Fortress!! Old school but new and fresh.
Then sentiment is nice too. Pa Kent could have panicked when Clark's eyes went ablaze but he didn't. Clark wasn't some rabid destructive monster either.
As always, I thought this splash page worked wonderfully. For one, it really brings the few words into focus. Second it brings the scope of the zoo into view.
And then a nice twist. Once it calms and falls asleep, it becomes something much more humanoid - a mix of Avatar and Nightcrawler.
Is this a Hulk-like being, intelligent until angered by the drill and then monster-ized out to stop Lana from destroying his world? Is it an animal in this form who can become that beast? Is it something in our atmosphere that triggers the transformation?
Nice cliff-hanger! And yet, this also felt like a complete story and not a small part of a story made for a trade.
I have nothing but praise for this book. The story, the characterization, the action, the art. It all worked. It felt like a classic Superman story but also one perfect for 2013. We are only two issues in but I think Pak and Kuder 'get' Superman and that means we readers are probably in for a treat.
Overall grade: A+