Action Comics #31 kept the Superman Doomed ball rolling, the first chapter of the arc released the same day as the prologue.
As I said yesterday, the prologue issue was better than anticipated. There was this undercurrent throughout the book looking at how this battle with Doomsday would change the Man of Steel. What would he become if he killed Doomsday? Would he still be a good man? Or would he be changed?
Well, Doomsday was killed. And we learn here that Superman has changed. Not just ethically, or personally, but also physically. We are out of the metaphor and into the literal. And now, infected with the Doomsday Plague and a sudden desire to lash out, Superman has to deal with the fallout.
Writer Greg Pak has been doing great stuff on Action since he took over and he continues to shine here. This issue is a wonderfully simmering pot as we see Superman trusting people and fighting the dark urges inside him to slowly succumbing a bit. It really works well showing us who Superman is and how this is changing him.
Aaron Kuder does the bulk of the art and his work is perfect for this book. I completely love this cover. There is the classic heroic pose of Clark ripping off his shirt. But he is surrounded by Doomsday, as if the virus is enveloping him, choking him. Can the hero emerge from this? Nice.
Rafa Sandoval and Cam Stewart chip in on some pages and keep the book moving along.
One thing I like is the opening 'recap' page, the front page of the Daily Planet. We get a snippet of an article which lets the reader know what happened before. But I love the phony hyperlinks an the ads.
I don't necessarily like these pages. For me it feels like a wasted page. And I only get 20 an issue these days. So if you are going to do it, please make it something engaging like this.
Yes, I would love for Lois to be a bigger part of Superman's life. Yes, I don't think he should be with Diana. But, at least, I have Lana. As I have said before, I preferred Lana to Lois in my salad days of youth.
So in some ways I was sad about this interaction. To see Lois, even a Brainiac-possessed Lois, say that Diana is impressive as Wonder Woman flies to a weakened Superman ... well it reminds me of what is wrong with the New 52.
The expressive work of Kuder is so wonderful though. Lana keeps saying she has no feelings for Clark anymore. But I think she might be protesting too much. Or maybe it is just that you never lose all your feelings for your first love. So this flat smirk by Lana, a sort of acknowledgment that Diana is simply out of her league and probably better for Clark, speaks volumes.
Superman is plagued by Doomsday though. He keeps having fevered visions of losing control, lashing out, and killing. In this instance, we see a whole montage of him battering and presumably killing Luthor. It is chilling.
Knowing he can't be brought in by the League and quarantined. And he doesn't trust Luthor, nor should he. Diana gives him the nod. He should leave. So he streaks away.
But here is the key to this. He notes how, despite her sensing the rage inside him, she still believes in him. This faith in friends, this ability to lean on people for help, is intrinsic to Superman.
And Batman believes in him too (although this friendship doesn't seem to be universally shown in the New 52). Superman tells Batman that something is wrong. And Batman knows. He is already investigating.
This showcasing of the friendship of the Trinity is great for the lead-in. In this story I am sure we will see it tested or even dissolved. This set-up scene will make that scene more powerful.
We next see Superman in the Arctic, in a trench of downed trees. I assume that he simply passed out on his way to the Fortress and collapsed. Krypto happens to be around to rouse him. And a simple lick from his pooch lets Superman know he isn't too far gone.
It is an interesting scene. We see Krypto running with wolves and downing a deer for food. That shot of a wolf killing a deer is visceral. I wonder if it was added to again add to this feeling of bestial fury or an animalistic loss of control in Superman.
At first I thought this licking scene might be crucial for the ending of this book. Does this mean Krypto is infected with the Doomsday virus now? Will he be the cure? But I am probably overthinking it.
But maybe Krypto is a bit premature. When Superman sees hunters in a plane shoot a wolf, he loses all control, ripping the plane apart while getting a face full of machine gun.
This isn't a delirium. This happened.
I don't know if I like this overall. We haven't really had a beloved and inspirational Superman since the new 52. Making him a madman isn't going to help.
But I do think that the idea of someone trying to defeat internal demons, to control violent urges, is a story that can be mined.
While Superman holes up in his Fortress, the world reacts to the Doomsday fight.
John Henry Irons was harmed in his battle with Doomsday in the prologue. To help contain that cellular decay, he takes a bath in 'organic steel'. I suppose it is a much needed upgrade for Steel. He was still in his clunky outfit from early Morrison Action issues. I am glad to see this sleek look over the W.W. Denslow Tin Man look he was sporting.
Senator Lane wants Steel to try to bring Superman in. I do like that Pak seems to have a healthy respect for Morrison's run on this title as he references it all the time. Actually, I love that. Irons won't join in as he did before.
More interesting is that Irons' lab is also a prison - holding Metallo and the Atomic Skull. I guess we have just seen the gun in the first act. We'll see it shot in the third act when these two are let loose to fight Superman.
But again, this is Steel trusting Superman, believing in him.
And we see Lana believing him too. She has such faith in Superman that she decides to remove her Hazmat suit in Smallville. Superman wouldn't leave an area if it was dangerous. It shows the level of belief she has in Superman. That is contrast to Lois who is shocked in the background and remains in her protective gear.
I love this Lana.
I feel sad for how low Lois has fallen.
But despite this faith from others, Lana knows that Superman needs to believe in himself. And that isn't easy. His DNA is changing. His body is changing. The Fortress won't let him in. And now Krypto is growling at him ...
And despite knowing that he should be running to his friends for help, Superman instead heads to Metropolis to be alone ... as Clark.
So this was a very good issue, filling in this slot of the arc perfectly. After the wild, fast-paced, action-packed Superman: Doomed, I needed something of a pause, a chance to take a breath. We know that the thread is this battle changing Superman - both mentally and physically. By taking the time to show us the support Superman has around him, to show him fighting off these urges as best he can, Pak builds suspense. Can Superman remain Superman?
And then to have the book end with the first signs of transformation, the first signs of his support system turning on him, the first signs of becoming introverted and stewing in his own juices, we get a hook for the next part. The whole arc can't simply be things being smashed. I need to see the characterization that informs me about why I should care about the fights.
Plus we start to see some of the pieces on the game board. Bruce. Diana. Steel. Metallo. Atomic Skull. Lex. There is a depth here, things circling around Superman and his change.
That is what a second chapter should do.
So again, another chapter of Doomed better than expected. Although given the creative team on Action right now I shouldn't be surprised.
Overall grade: B+/B