Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Action Comics #37

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.

If you aren't reading this, you should be.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Honestly, Anj, while this is all very well written just bores me to tears. I'm just not interested in this at all. All I really want to read is a legit Superman story with Clark at the Daily Planet, in Metropolis, where Lois plays a legitimate role and actually has something to do for real that encompasses more than just a few odd pages here and there. This whole thing just holds no appeal to me. I'm sorry. I really am glad you are enjoying it. Sadly, after several years of going back and forth hoping thighs would interest in Superman is just dwindling. I don't think about comics as much anymore. I don't buy them as much. I miss the character a ton. But I'm just so bored with the entire direction and handling of the character. I will be watching Supergirl but I'm not sure how much longer I'm even going to follow the comics. Sorry. :/ --Shades

Martin Gray said...

Ah Anj, you're such a wise man, you're right about what a great book this is. We're getting a darkly dramatic Superman tale that nevertheless finds room for fun.

We only disagree in our reaction to the flashbacks, but what the heck, opinions vary.

I think Superman was indeed realising something was wrong with the townsfolk in those super-hearing panels ... That's the grating business.

I can't wait to se where this creative team takes Superman, Lana and John next. I like that Pak and Kuder have a couple of supporting characters who 'belong' to them, people they can move forward.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I am not Lana's biggest fan so I always feel wary when I talk about her character because of that bias I have. That said? The business about blaming Clark for her parents' death gave me Smallville the tv show flashbacks and Lana's anger at the meteor shower which was a direct result of Clark's arrival and Clark's fear and angst if she ever found that out. Sadly the show never addressed this, I hope Pak doesn't leave this loose end and we have resolution.

I enjoyed the childhood flashback and how it tied in to current events when Clark was worrying about his neighbors and their physical ailments and what would happen if he used his strength (clap to knock them unconscious). I liked after a momentary self doubt remembering the fire in the corn field he reminded himself he's a man now and found an alternative solution.

It's no secret that I don't care for the decisions made by those in charge post reboot. I wish they had left at least Martha Kent alive and I wish they'd allow more Lois. However, as minimal Lois seems to be more of an editorial decision than writers' choice (that Synder with his best selling clout was able to circumvent), it is what it is and all.

I'm looking forward to the next installment. I hope Steel has more to do next time too!

Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shades, Anj's review is very well written indeed and his reasons for liking the series are well supported. But I'm not a fan of what Pak is doing with Superman either. His plots are formulaic, his character moments are contradicted by actions which go against the core of Superman's character, the supporting cast are one note plot devices and honestly Action Comics is lacking vision and integrity in its Superman stories.

It's bad enough that fans of this new brooding version of Superman are popping up left and right thanks to Man of Steel and now this...Horrorville just isn't doing it for me. If Johns' Superman title fails, I'll be done with New 52 Superman completely and that'll be a major failure of the New 52 IMO.

Louis Seymour

Godzylla said...

As you and Martin have said, it's puzzling why DC isn't promoting this series more. Simply gorgeous to look at, for one thing, and Pak was a fine addition to their stable of writers.

I'm still not picking up any of the series, however, due to past editorial interferences across the line and not caring for the basic set up for much of the n52 (though I am getting Gotham Academy). The Pak/Kuder/Quintana Superman is the most likely place for me to start easing back in. :)

alex said...

Wow based on comment, the people who don't like Greg Pak Action Comics is because Superman is not on Metropolis and have romance with Lois. C'mon people, the real Superman fans love Superman no matter where he go, where the story take place. For example in silver age, Superman always have adventures, it is not always in Metropolis.

Anonymous said...

That's what the first guy said Alex, not me. I don't mind Superman having stories told outside of Metropolis but the way Pak is doing it is not pleasing me.

And I especially resent you saying that real Superman fans just lap up whatever's put in front of them. I've been a Superman fan all my life and a serious comic book reader for 7+ years. I don't appreciate someone else telling me I'm not a 'real' Superman fan of my all time favourite fictional character.


Jay said...

Superman and a Lovecraftian tale? Love it. I do agree though that Pak needs to resolve the issue between Lana and Clark. The subtle snark has gone on long enough now; let her confront him and get everything out on the table and have them resolve it.

But yeah, outside of Morrison's relaunch run, this has been the best Superman run period in a really long time, in all aspects. I like the Johns' Superman run thus far, don't get me wrong, but this is the money title.

Anonymous said...

@Alex, you are totally out of line. I've been reading comics for 20 years. I own every single Superman media property on DVD. Superman is, without question, my favorite male character to ever exist. And Lois Lane is my favorite female character.

I do not care for this direction. I've tried to give it a chance. I've tried to get on board. I'm just not there. And clearly, I'm not alone.

I am under no obligation to just read whatever is put in front of me and "like" it just because I love Superman. I'm also a woman and a feminist and I have every right to curb my enjoyment of comic books whenI feel that choices made at the top are damaging. No one is under any obligation to prove that they are a "Real" Superman fan by liking what Pak is doing here. He's a very good writer. And I'm glad it's working for some people. It doesn't work for me. I'm not interested in reading a book where Lana Lang is a lead character week in and week out. That will never hold my interest because I just don't find her very interesting or inspiring. And I'm bored with the continued return to Smallville.

I love Superman. But I'm apathetic about him in comics right now. I don't feel sad if I miss reading for a week or two. I don't think about the character as much as I used to. I just....don't care as much. And after 20 years of loving Superman as much as I do, that's sad for me to admit.---Shades

alex said...

Okay I am sorry for my comment. I admit it is too harsh

Well, I guess everyone have different opinion. As for me, I really enjoy what Greg Pak do to Superman story. It really something unique and still stay true to Superman character. Kind like what Grant Morrison did with Batman Incorporated (which some Batman fans like and some Batman fans don't like the idea)

Anj said...

Thanks for comments. This issue/arc/team seems to have struck a nerve.

Louis and Shades, I don't think anyone was attacking. We all love Superman even if the direction isn't perfect.

And I like that dissenting opinions can come here to chat without attacks. I think this place is for folks. I thank everyone for that.

Interesting takes on the flashbacks.

And I also hope that the Lana thing is wrapped up soon.