Action Comics #38 came out this week and is brilliant. I suppose I could end the review there.
But it is worth a closer look for many reasons, so settle in for my usual style.
I have complimented the creative team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder since they came on board this book. Sure, Doomed was something of a speed bump. But when left to their own devices, the two have shined, with art/story complementing each other perfectly, all while bringing a more classic feel to Superman.
As I said in my review for last issue, one thing which has made this run spectacular is the strange locales and themes of the stories. From subterranean kingdoms to ghost armies to this pure horror set up, Pak is putting Superman in weird situations. While it means we are away from the Planet and Metropolis, the stories feel fresh. Superman isn't used to this sort of stuff. And I'm not used to Superman dealing with this stuff. It has kept me riveted.
These arcs have allowed Kuder to stretch his legs a bit, with wildly imaginative character design. Add to that creative panel designs and artistically this is a complete win!
Specifically, this issue ramped up the horror significantly. This issue creeped me out. From the visuals to the words, this is Lovecraft meets Cronenberg meets Dali. Throw in the revenant Kents and the destruction of the Kent homestead and you have physical and psychological terror!
To quickly recap, Smallville is bathed in a fog which is keeping everyone in the town while not letting anyone enter. Superman, inside, is struck by a mix of oddly peaceful townsfolk and slime monsters and zombies.
The book takes a bit of a leap from last issue where Superman was in costume and facing off against a monster possessing Hiro. This issue starts with Clark waking up in a corn field. It is a jarring leap from a cliffhanger to non-resolution. But this Smallville is such an nightmarish place who knows what is real or not.
And Kuder does such a wonderful job relaying that to us as readers. Awake, Clark hears Lana screaming for help and races to save her from the Kent farm, which is ablaze. I rarely post a whole page but this one works perfectly.
The first panel is Lana up close, stretching for Clark, her hands warped and fingers stretched, impossible anatomy emphasizing how hard she is reaching. Then we have three panels of Clark being unable to get there because the hall keeps elongating. Clark shrinks in size and importance in the panels. We have all had those nightmares.
And then we get the last panel with Lana small and engulfed, as if she is rapidly pulled away from us. Those bookend panels of Lana with the Clark sequence in the middle is perfect.
And it followed up by this fantastic splash of Superman screaming Lana so loudly that the word overlays the face. This isn't a word bubble. This is primal.
Look at the prior page though. The entire sequence is of people getting progressively smaller. So as a reader we are sort of set up to be even more thrown by this extreme closeup. This is the sort of true art that makes this title a must read, top of the pile book.
Inside the Kent house, Clark hears voices which turn out to be the Kents, raised from the dead and attacking Clark's resolve.
Yeesh, these things are frightening. Decaying, sunken eyes floating in sockets, in their burial clothes ... brrrr.
Their words are terrifying as well. These aren't the Kents. Attacking Clark, saying they were frightened of him, secretive around him ... this is a psychological attack on Superman while he is surrounded by the nightmarish landscape.
One thing Pak as done is brought back this classic sense of Superman as a good person, raised right and taught to help people. So I love how he simply dismisses these words as attacks. But the beauty is the subtle change in those lies text boxes. The first one, small font and Superman symbol. The next, no Superman symbol, bigger font - this is Clark responding, not the superhero. And then the last one, bigger font again, as if Clark's resolve is growing.
Still the Kents are saying things only the 'real' Kents would know.
Before he can truly wrap his head around this, Lana reappears, the Cthulhu-like monster from last issue draped on her.
This is beautiful in its ghoulishness.
Attacking the monster seems to hurt Lana who again fades away. And with Lana gone, the puppet strings are cut, the Kents drop to the ground.
Things get even wonkier.
Speeding around to investigate, Superman runs into Steel, Hiro, and the Smallville elders.
First off, most people - including Superman - seem to have one of these monsters attached to their backs, like some sort of psychic leech. (You can't tell me that this thing isn't based on Lovecraft.) And these things feed on fear. I suppose making Smallville into a disturbing place makes it a buffet.
And the Smallville folks who are calm? Well, last issue I thought they were part of the problem. Turns out they might be part of the solution. These good townfolk have been blessed with psionic powers by Brainiac. Realizing that a rift is open from the Phantom Zone, that these beasties have crawled through, they used their new powers to isolate Smallville.
I suppose I am the trusting sort. I think they are telling me the truth.
These fear demons are seductive creatures though. They make their victims, those they possess, feel pleasure when they are terrified. The victims want to feel more fear, feeding these nightmares.
Look at this page!
I love the rendition of Lana here. She looks elated, sitting on a throne while wallowing in pleasure. But she also looks unnatural, her head lolled back as if spineless, a blank stare on her face. And she is surrounded by the most bizarre squid-like things I have seen. That's just unsettling.
Okay, I think you can tell I liked this issue.
Horror needs to be ... well ... horrific if it is going to work. And this book, from the monsters to the acceptance by the victims, is horrifying. And throwing Superman into this mix, a place he is going to be as unsure of himself as normal people gives this a fresh feeling. If this was DC Comics Presents, the Spectre would guest star. Instead, Superman is all on his own.
Pak and Kuder continue to bring it. Wonderful issue.