Action Comics #27 came out this week and it continues an impressive early run on the book by creators Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder. In just three short months, this book has jumped to the coveted 'top of the pile' slot, the first book I read the week it comes out, a sign of how much I am enjoying the book.
One of the biggest things that is evident is that Pak has an understanding of who Superman is. There is an easy feel to this Superman. He is a kind man, someone who wants to help, someone who protects his friends and the downtrodden, and someone who will bruise his knuckles if needed.
But there is also a modern feel to this Superman as well. He isn't infallible. He isn't sugary sweet or (gasp) a big blue schoolboy. I like this Superman a lot and I haven't always been able to say that since the inception of the New 52.
But the words are only half of the comics genre and the art on this book is wonderful. Aaron Kuder does the bulk of the book and just shines. His pages take place in an underground world filled with monsters and it just feels real. The opening pages are a Smallville flashback done by Worlds' Finest artist RB Silva and is beautiful. And Mike Hawthorne does a section in the Fortress and his art is straightforward but works fine. But Kuder's work is just jaw-dropping fantastic.
The opening scenes, before we get to the subterranean action, set the stage wonderfully and show just who this Superman is. Last issue, Superman rescued a giant electric dragon which quickly morphed down to a Nightcrawler-like young boy. In dragon form, everyone was attacking this being. Now Superman feels a sort of kinship to 'Baka'.
We flashback to Smallville when a young Clark is trying to fly, climbing a huge tree till he is hundreds of feet up, only to fall and remain unharmed. Suddenly super-hearing kicks in and for the first time Clark sees some fear in the eyes of the Kents, hears them call him 'not human' and things change forever. But the Kents respond with love, giving Clark his blankie, and hugging him close. It is a quick but powerful lesson - being different doesn't make you a monster.
Silva's art and use of smaller circle panels brings a sort of 'voyeur' feel to the scene, something it should have. And the Kent cat is names Streaky! I doubt Supergirl will have a cat anytime soon so I'll take it.
And it seems the writers that 'get' Superman realize how much the Smallville roots have defined Superman. Since the new 52, which writers have used Smallville flashbacks to move the story? Pak, Snyder, Morrison, Fisch. Those are the best Superman writers since the reboot.
Back in the Fortress, Superman looks at his new young friend and hopes to befriend him, help him control his shape-changes. Unfortunately, Baka's powers prove to be too much for his cage in the intergalactic zoo and he quickly scampers around the Fortress. There is something more to this Baka as he responds to a recreation of Clark's Smallville bedroom and pictures of family. Baka seems to be learning ... and quickly.
Still, it is this part of this scene that I loved as Pak 'reinvents' this Superman. He is trusting, seeing the good in all beings and hoping for the best. He brought this 'monster' into his home. It is risky ... but it is what Superman would do. And that is different from Batman.
And yet this easy internal monologue makes me think that Pak also has Superman and Batman as best friends.
Lana meanwhile is investigating the underground world she has discovered. And Pak has really created a new Lana, one who is an action hero. She is an electrical engineer ... but she wants to be so much more. She won't live a sheltered life. She'll take risks and explore. Part of that might be how much Clark has rubbed off on her.
When told by Clark she 'isn't an archeologist' (an obvious tip of the hat to her family's Silver Age roots), she straps on her modified electric gun and heads into mystery.
This is one of those wonderful panels that show how powerful comics are. Kuder have done a close-up here. But including the long stairway, the sides in complete darkness, adds to the creepiness and mysteriousness of this new world. She is going deep underground, into the darkness, with nothing but a lantern. Great use of space.
The exploration leads her to a floating orb radiating energy. And suddenly she is immersed into the adventure.
These words struck me though. Surely the other time Lana felt the whole world tilting on its axis involves Clark - the first time he revealed his powers? The first time he flew her somewhere? Hopefully we find out!
It is a bit of a reboot but I have to say I love this Lana. While walking in this cavern, a slew of giant monsters descend on her. She is part April O'Neil and part Lara Croft. She has this compulsion to jump headfirst into danger but always to help. Whether it is trying to save a sinking ship or saving miners, she does it as a hero.
Plus, I think she is still carrying a little torch for Clark. She wants him to notice her acts of daring-do.
I love that first panel. There is such a kineticism here. I can feel her muscles tightening, her pony tail flying.
Luckily Superman arrives to help save her before she is crushed.
The dialogue here crackles. These are two old friends who immediately pick up where they left off. There is no awkwardness here. And there does feel to be some playful tension here. Lana questions Superman's decision to save 'Baka', let alone bring him back to the site.
And I love that she calls him Clark. Because that is who he is to her, regardless of his clothes.
The monster army suddenly appears to have a leader. This armored guy with whip, sword, and chains grabs Baka by the scruff of the neck, tosses him aside, and then seems to bring about the transformation to electric dragon. And that doesn't make Superman happy.
Rather than ask any questions, recognizing a bully when he sees one, and defending his new friend Baka, Superman decides to take matters into his own hands. He'll punch first and talk later.
Maybe this was a little fast. But it felt right. In the height of the action, seeing his new friend throttled and chained by this man I think Superman would act.
I have said in the past that big moments deserve big art.
While a brawl against Kirby-esque monsters in a cave might not be a standard 'Anj' big moment, it certainly was thrilling. And Kuder's art brings it to life. I loved this splash page as it evoked a classic Superman feel, clutching Lana as he lands an uppercut against some huge creature. But it also felt fresh because Lana isn't helpless, firing her lightning gun as well.
Just a beautiful piece of art.
Maybe that punch was premature. Even if he manhandled Baka, Uruk says that he is actually the good guy here, defending the world of 'the sun' with his monsters.
It is a nice little twist and shows how a quick fist, even if super, isn't always the best answer. It might not absolve him from how he treats his monsters, how he treated Baka, but it does mean we need to learn more.
But this whole area ... the 'Imperial Subterranea' is just lovely with its glowing pink energy, glyphs, rocky crags, and giant monsters.
And Uruk might be right. Because with the 'seal' broken and Superman bashing monsters, suddenly an unsavory group of underworlders are free and their Queen wants the surface world to kneel before her.
I just have nothing but good things to say about this comic right now. The main story of this subterranean world is great with some old school giant monsters, some political intrigue (the Ghost Soldier is still lurking), and some new characters. The back story of Smallville memories and Superman identifying with Baka was charming. And the artwork is just gorgeous.
It is rare for me to finish a comic these days and wish the next issue was out right then. But that is where I am right now. This is Superman. Hoping we see Lois and Kara in this book soon.