Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder were firing on all cylinders on Action Comics, bringing in Lana Lang, sending us to subterranean kingdoms, fighting ghost armies, and showing a more classic Superman - a hero who believed in the sanctity of life and didn't punch down.
Then Superman:Doomed happened. Suddenly we were stuck in an uneven, confusing mega-arc. The feel of this book and this team was sort of diluted in the big story being told. And even the friendship with Lana, which for me was just wonderful, was upended by Doomed. Suddenly Lana is angry at Clark, questioning everything he has done (despite being inspired by him to be great herself).
But Doomed is behind us. Action Comics #36 is the beginning of a new arc. The fallout of Doomed is still here. But this issue felt more like the early issues of this team's run. It helps that Kuder does all the art, giving it his smooth artistic feel throughout.
And, in what I think is a great choice, Pak and Kuder move away from the heavy science fiction of Doomed and instead stick Superman in a horror story. It is the right sort of palate cleanser to move away from the crossover and start fresh ... and dark.
We still have this bitter Lana, the one off note for me. But this book is riveting and visually disturbing.
The book starts out with Lana being haunted by dreams of her parents rising from the dead as zombies.
As usual, Kuder knocks it out of the park with this image. The parents aren't just zombies. They're warped, stretched as well. Lana is nearly engulfed by their huge hands. There is a great sort of claustrophobic feel to the image as they loom over her.
Of course, she wakes from this nightmare into her new idyllic life ... or what should be idyllic. She is back home in Smallville. She and John Henry Irons are in love, living together in her old home. She is a world-saving hero. But all of that is tarnished by her grief.
And she clearly still carries that chip on her shoulder about Superman not being able to save her folks. I still don't understand it. If anything, she should lean on Clark who has had to deal with not being able to save his own family! (I still wonder if this is transference. She blames herself for not being there but is transferring that blame to Clark.)
But Lana's dream turns out to be a prophetic vision.
Smallville suddenly gets engulfed in a dense fog, colored like pea soup. And then the horror starts.
Lana's parents indeed claw themselves out of the grave. The dead are rising.
Again, panel composition works so good here.
The screams of terror from Smallville are loud enough to get Superman's attention. But the fog seems to be preventing people from entering or leaving the area. When Superman enters the mist, he finds himself teleported miles away.
It is clear that the Hiro Toyman is a favorite of Greg Pak (maybe a sillier Amadeus Cho?). He has appeared in plenty of Pak's stories and is here again. With the mist mystery, Superman calls on Hiro to do some information gathering.
In an nice wrinkle, Hiro's satellites simply don't pick up Smallville. It is as if it isn't there.
Certainly that adds to the sort of mystical, supernatural, terror aspect of the story.
But here is the most horrifying image.
In the graveyard, Lana is confronted by her dead parents. But her parents are basically puppets in the tentacles of this mucus-covered monster. It looks like a human being ridden by an odd sort of tadpole looking thing. The green colors, the dripping slime, the bubbly olive word balloon with warped font - it all works.
Just what the heck is going on here??
Luckily, Hiro is able to figure out a way to get Superman through the mist. By divebombing at the lowest point of the fog's oscillation, Superman is able to get in. And when in, he streaks to the slime-beast.
I like how Pak handles this scene and Superman's monologue. This is horrible. But it is also an affront to the memory of the Lang's. And it is painful to Lana. This is personal. This is not the time to ask questions. This is the time to act ... to end the pain ... to end this indignity done to the Lang's.
And Kuder makes it oh so ugly beautiful. The ooze flying off this thing when punched is disgusting ... mesmerizing. There aren't any sound effect words here but they are in my head. They are all wet-sounding, gruesome words like 'slish'.
But I also wonder if this is also a bit of an over-reaction by Clark because Lana has shut him out. Is he trying to make amends here? Is this his response because of how Lana has been responding to him?
Lana is broken though.
There is this maintained anger at Clark. You see in in the tight lipped a d furrowed brow look in the first panel.
But it shatters into this nauseated look in the second. She is sick, emotionally. And finally there is a crack in this anger. She hates what she feels.
I am hoping that this is some growth by Lana. Admitting there is more to this than just anger and disappointment at Clark has to be the first step.
But that emotional breakthrough by Lana doesn't change the Hell that Smallville has become.
And in a reversal of fortune, Superman is now trapped inside. The trick of timing the oscillation of the fog field doesn't work anymore. And while Superman doesn't seem to be scared, he is snared. Even pouring on the speed does nothing as he loops through Smallville over and over again.
I liked the bottom panel as it shows just how insane this trap is, Superman looking at him self streaking in front. That relays the speed of Superman and the nature of this field. Nice visual by Kuder.
And it is starting to look worse and worse. The whole town seems to be possessed or infected or controlled.
I don't know where this arc is going but this is a very good opening chapter. It is terrifying. It has great monstrous visuals. It has good character moments. And it has a very good hook of a cliffhanger. I have to assume, given Lana's 'immunity', that something leaked in when the Smallville folks were in their Brainiac coma. But this seems more demonic than technological. I hope that this does go the way of the horror story and not have it be aliens of some sort.
So thank you Doomed for wrapping up. And thank you Pak and Kuder for picking up where you left off.