Action Comics #37 came out this week and continued to showcase the great work that writer Greg Pak, artist Aaron Kuder, and colorist Wil Quintana are bringing to this title. I have said before how this team was thriving on this book until Doomed kind of slowed things down. Now, freed from the mega-event, this team is just soaring.
One thing that strikes me after reading this issue was how Pak is bringing a sort of pulp feel to the book. The first big arc was Superman discovering a subterranean world. The next arc involved fighting ghost soldiers. Now this arc is pure horror. While Superman and even Unchained are going the science fiction super-villain path, Pak is bringing something both retro and modern to the book.
And Kuder is doing amazing work here. From the cover to the last page, Kuder brings an energy to this book that sings. I love this cover, the multiple Super-men and the primary Superman's expression showing the warped nature of Smallville. And his expression of pure frustration is fantastic. Add to that the softer penciled feel to the flashback scenes and the Lovecraftian monsters in the climax and you have something beautiful.
I don't always praise the colorists in my reviews (and shame on me for not) but Quintana's work here deserves mention. Panels feel hazy as the greenish fog permeates the book. And the wide palate, from muddy horror tones to bright extra-dimensional hues pop off the page.
Pak does have his favorites including the Hiro version of Toyman. I have said it before. I wonder if there is some transference of his love for Marvel's Amadeus Cho onto Hiro. Of course, Cho was something much more serious than Hiro who is all 'freaking cool' youthful exuberence.
I do like the page construction here. The panels behind Hiro show Superman in his eternal Smallville teleportation loop, blipping out of his hometown for a moment before being teleported back in. And by putting Hiro outside the panels, he is looking at the progression just like we are.
Flying back into Smallville, Superman lands in a corn field where citizens with glowing eyes watch him pass out.
We slip into a memory of Clark and Lana in the third grade. I absolutely love how Kuder slips into a penciled, toned look for this scene. We see simpler times between Clark and Lana. And check out the shag haircut on Clark!
Their fun at recess is interrupted. The corn field near the school is ablaze.
Clark tries to use his super-breath to blow out the fire but instead feeds the fire. And then he heads into the fire to try to save someone trapped. We never see if he is successful because the memory ends ... albeit with that spectral image behind Clark. Was that there that day? Or is this inserted by whatever is causing the fog?
I like how Pak does look back to the formative years for Clark as he discovers his powers. Burning the cornfield at home and getting Pa's love is a moment revisited. "Don't punch down" is a mantra we have heard Clark say. Here we see him try his super-breath early on. We don't often see Clark learning to be Superman. These are appreciated.
And something evil in the corn? Is it "He Who Walks Behind the Rows"?
Superman awakens in John Henry and Lana's home. And Superman is nursing one bad headache.
The three decide they need to investigate further. And they all find it odd that the town is so calm despite this inability to leave, the rising corpses, and the fog. Even I find it odd. And I don't know if I would so easily explain it away by saying that they have lived through a lot and they know Superman is on the job. The heroes should be a bit more rattled by this calm.
Now one thing that I haven't been too keen on is Lana's icy response to Clark not saving the Lana's parents from dying. It seems too extreme. Here, she flatly agrees that the town is happy because Superman is there. The font being small helps imply that she doesn't believe it herself.
I hope this part of Lana ends with this arc. She is stronger than this.
And the eerie calm of the Smallville citizens is really highlighted. This small talk should be screaming 'concerning' to Superman. The 'sharp hearing' ... the 'grating' on his brain ... all this should be very suspicious.
Look at these last panels to see the 'haze' effect by Quintana. Perfect.
Meanwhile, Hiro is still on the outskirts of town. And whatever is inside doesn't like him running in and out of the fog and being teleported.
Ahhh ... tentacle monsters ... is there anything more horrible? This gives it a nice little Cthulhu patina!
But it is the art on this panel that makes me post it. I love this perspective. Hiro's hand is just so far in the foreground, it feels like he is reaching for us. But despite that extreme perspective, it doesn't feel stretched or anatomically wrong. Great stuff.
Meanwhile, Superman, Steel, and Lana (armed with a shotgun style taser) head to the epicenter of the Smallville crisis, the field where Superman fought Doomsday. It was here that Doomsday ripped his way out of the Phantom Zone ... so maybe dimensional rifts are weak.
There does seem to be some sort of portal in the Smallville sky above that spot. But before Superman can investigate up close, the 'peaceful' Smallville citizens show up and telepathically attack him. Certainly the 'no' thought balloons are reminiscent of Phantom Zone villains telepathy of yore.
Steel and Lana try to stop the Smallvillians (the title is Smallvillains which is slick) to no avail.
At first I thought these must be humans possessed by Phantom Zone villains. But this panel, where they label Superman a Kryptonian makes me think these are something else from somewhere else.
With Blaze showing up in Supergirl, and Lord Satanus being seen in Batman/Superman, could this be something else demonic?
Now last month I thought the slime monster animating Lana's parents was gross and disturbing.
Kuder blows the doors off that panel with this splash. Superman pulls Hiro out of the portal in the sky but ends up opening the maw to all manners of monsters. Suddenly this isn't a ghost story. This is a more elder gods craziness or Pokemon on Venom.
And suddenly this felt less like The Fog and more like The Mist. That's okay! What a great hook for next issue!
I wish that DC would be trumpeting this book more. It is just great. Pak has always brought an classic sort of feel to his Superman. His stories are fantastic and original. Outside of this bitterness, I have loved his Lana. And Kuder's art is just amazing. This is entertaining and meaty ... I get enough story and art here.