Action Comics #28 came out this week and was another unbelievably entertaining issue. Creative team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder are firing on all cylinders, a near perfect melange of words and art.
This team has reinvigorated this book in just 4 short issues, bringing back Lana Lang and staying away from such current Superman bits like Shay Veritas, Clarkcatropolis, and Psionics. In that way, it feels separate from the New 52 and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the Pak/Kuder issues have really felt like a Silver Age adventure, albeit with some current comics sensibilities.
Pak continues to shine with his character work. Obviously Lana as action scientist is the most obvious new wrinkle. But we are slowly seeing the Clark/Lana deepen a bit. While there is an easiness between them built on their years growing up together, they have been apart for some time. Things change. Beyond Clark and Lana, we also are beginning to see some layers of characterization with others like the Ghost Soldier and even the subterranean characters. It is welcome to see nuanced characterization like this.
And Kuder just knocks it out of the park on this issue, adding a wild layer of detail to the underground kingdom whether it is their buildings, clothing, or animals. But it was a splash page at the end of the issue that really struck me as being a great page layout as well as showing the fine art.
Last issue ended with the sealed off portion of the subterranean kingdom being split open. Ukur, the underground dweller who fought Superman to a standstill seemed scared and so I thought we would be in for a battle with Mole Man style Kaiju.
Instead, Pak throws us a curveball. The dreaded monsters are ... cuddly little wide-eyed meerkat looking things. (They reminded me of Mort from the Madagascar movies.) Even Ukur seems stunned to see these cutie-pies. He remembers them as being very different - a surefire foreshadow if there ever was one. I like how Lana and Superman both have internal monologues about suppressing laughter.
This is a nice example of Kuder's work on details as every rock formation has texture, some carved. I also like how Baka semi-frames the panel.
But last issue also ended with the appearance of the Imperial Subterranea, who I assumed were the threat sealed off.
It turns out Ukur serves this group and thought them dead, sealing them inside accidentally. The group arrives on wild looking floating snails/jellyfish. This culture is a matriarchy, so Queen Kokya (man I could use a pronunciation guide for that one) assumes Lana is in charge, bypassing Superman.
I love Lana in this book so far. She wants to be on par with Superman, leaping into danger at the drop of a hat. She seems at times stunned by what she sees, especially the energy globes which dot this area. She wants to save the world and this energy source could do that. And despite being floored by what she sees, she also is as cool as a cucumber. I mean, she is riding on the head of a dragon, talking to an underworld Queen, and razzing Superman. And she looks as relaxed as if she were sitting on the beach.
Pak plays on that old romance feeling between Lana and Clark as well. It is clear that there is some tension here. There are the old feelings, and the exhilaration of this crazy adventure, adrenaline surging. I'm not ready to say Lana should replace Lois. But I can understand why there might be some sparks here.
I love how Ukur says the two smell like a mated pair.
The Queen invites Lana and her 'slave' into their kingdom to refresh themselves and discuss matters. Kuder really shines here, showing us the underground world's opulent suites, giving us a taste of their culture.
This scene as Lana and Clark wash up and catch up really crackles. They both are half-naked washing off the grime of the battle. And Lana can't help but sneak a peek at the 'World's Finest'.
But what I liked here was that feeling that time has passed between the two. While things might feel the same, they are different. For example, Superman never lied to Lana before but he did a couple of issues ago when he implied he was going to kill Baka. Is he the same Clark?
Despite this recognition of the span of time, Lana remains comfortable around the world's greatest super-hero, tossing a wet towel on him and flashing that winning smile.
Okay, confession time. As a young Anj, reading Superman comics, I always thought I would be more attracted to Lana than Lois. I was a Lana guy, even though I recognized Superman was better with Lois. And so I feel like Superman here. This is a new Lana, one I am meeting again for the first time, and I can see why Superman would love her in his youth.
But the fun, games, and peace of this visit end.
Those 'self-sustaining' energy globes are actually powered by the life essence of the meerkats. They are drained, painfully, to power this world.
It is more than Superman can take.
Hmmm ... is the meat industry on the surface world any different?
But before Superman can spring into action, he is temporarily made intangible by the Ghost Soldier. At first, the Soldier seemed like your standard 'American Military Villain', a common site in comics these days. But Pak gives us more insight. The Soldier removes his helmet, cutting off communications with his superiors. He discusses his heritage as a Native American. His 'long time' career makes me wonder just how long. The bottom line is that the Soldier isn't a 2-dimensional villain.
And, surprisingly, he brings a sort of 'Prime Directive' approach to his diplomacy. Does Superman have the right to start a fight here?
It is an interesting question. If Superman draws a line here, there are lots of lines he'll need to draw on the surface. That said, I like Superman's response from an idealistic viewpoint.
Despite this plea, Superman decides that he needs to save these creatures. He battles the Imperial Subterranea, bringing down some of the cavern.
And, despite his warning, the Ghost Soldier joins the fight.
I love Lana's look of concern when she learns Clark befriended the guy who stabbed him last issue. But that is what Superman does, befriends people and tries to show them the right way. It is a great back and forth between these old friends.
And then the splash page I love, vertical diagonal panels showing the heroes grab the creatures and escaping. But each panel is built on a similarly angled element. So Baka's tail leads to Superman's heat vision which goes to Superman's flight path, before straightening up with Baka again and Superman touching down.
And it shows Superman's optimism, as he talks about the disparate elements of this 'team' saving the day, bringing those meerkats into the sun.
I did mention that foreshadowing though. The creatures mutate into monsters in the sun (like Baka?). And the Ghost Soldier shows that while he isn't a pure villain, he isn't a pure hero either.
I have absolutely no complaints with this issue. Everything works. The action, the character interaction, the villains, the art. Everything builds on everything else. This was a dense read but it read fast. And when it was over, I wanted the next issue in my hand. That is the sign of a great comic.
Hopefully, when this arc is over and things mesh more with the New 52 continuity, that the magic of this book isn't dulled.