Action Comics #41 came out this week, the first released issue of 'The Truth', the latest big story to take over the Superman comics.
And I will admit that I came into this issue with a sense of dread. So much of what we know about this arc made me concerned. Lois revealing Superman's secret identity. Superman being depowered. Superman looking brutal in advanced images, with his crew cut and bloody fists. None of it sounded right or looked right.
So there I was with Action Comics #41 in my hands, ready to dislike it and continue what seems to be an ongoing rant about how DC is slowly destroying Superman.
Instead, creators Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder (with colors by Morey and Hi-Fi) ends up being a brilliant issue and very good 'first issue' in this arc. Because, despite the bloody fists on the cover, this was a very good Superman comic, riffing on his earliest stories and showing how even depowered he can be a symbol of hope.
And no big surprise, the art by Kuder is just mesmerizing. We get big moments and small moments and nice page construction and panel layouts. Simply beautiful.
Now there are some things that are a bit wonky. While this is the first released issue in the arc, it is apparently the third chapter. There are editorial references to Superman #41 (which hasn't been released) and Superman #42 (which comes out over a month from now). As a result, we are sort of dropped into this world where Superman has already been outed, is depowered, and seems to be on the run. For an arc this big and promoted, I would have hoped for something more streamlined.
And, of course, there isn't even a mention of Lois in the book.
But those things were speed bumps in an excellent book, steamrolling us into 'The Truth'.
We start out with a shirtless and seemingly battered Superman wandering the wilderness in Alaska of all places. How did we get here? What is going on? Well, it looks like things get pear-shaped in Superman #41, hence the flashback panel.
What we do know is that this is a much more human Superman. He is achy. He is thrilled to be in a warm convenience store. He savors a microwave burrito because he is hungry. I have read plenty of stories where Superman is depowered. I can't recall hearing him speak so 'down to Earth' before.
And, at least initially, he eschews the S-shield. Maybe he doesn't know if he wants to be recognized.
One customer comments that he 'forgot his sunscreen' which makes me think he is a bit red from the sunbath we know he takes in the Superman/Wonder Woman book.
We also learn that Superman can't really fly anymore. He needs to get from point A to point B the old fashioned way. So we see him buy a used motorcycle. Again, the bike was initially part of my worries for this story. Putting a bloody fisted Superman on a motorbike stinks of 'street level grimness'.
After purchase, the biker he bought the motorcycle recognizes Clark as Superman. And just like that he wants to make a mark for himself as the guy who 'kicked Superman's ass!'
This is definitely going to be part of this story. Exposed and depowered, everyone is going to want to beat the Champ when he is down. But depowered isn't non-powered. Superman is able to thrash these goons.
There was just a whiff of the Donner Superman 2 diner scene or the drunk trucker in Man of Steel.
With his vegetable t-shirt torn, Superman goes back and buys the S-shield t-shirt. Given we are at a different power level, the Fleischer Studio look is perfect.
Here is one of those great comic pages that Kuder gives us. I love us tracking Superman across the States back to Metropolis. The inset panels showing his trip across the country cluing us in on what the world is like. There is one anti-Superman sentiment.
This could have been a series of panels with caption boxes telling us where Superman is but this map approach is fresh and dynamic.
Finally back in Metropolis, we hear about Superman's reality since his exposure. His credit cards are cancelled. He's been fired. He is named in lawsuits.
You know what this sounds like? Daredevil's "Born Again" by Frank Miller. In that arc, Matt is outed as Daredevil and the Kingpin destroys Murdock's personal life. That story is lauded and is the foundation of much of what has happened to Daredevil since.
Here, I don't necessarily think there is one villain behind all this. It is a more cynical world than it was back in Born Again. The whole world might be like that biker in Alaska, wanting to take a pop-shot at a hero to bring him low.
And things get worse, the police have cordoned off Clark's neighborhood, are analyzing it for alien germs, and are ready to arrest Superman, even brandishing guns at him.
But before a fight with the police can happen, the head cop gets a radio communication to let Clark through.
You know, up to this point, even with the great art and the interesting human voice of Superman, I still wasn't sure where this was going. This is a pretty dark moment.
Clark turns the corner, runs into Jimmy, and discovers that his neighborhood has embraced the idea that they were Superman's home, making it a nightly mini-carnival. They are proud that Superman lived there. He's a hero.
And then all the kids come up and ask him if he is really depowered so he becomes a human playground apparatus.
Hard to be called dark and grim when Superman's smiling widely while kids are laughing and swinging from his arms. There is a sort of Populist feel to this, a sort of working class activism here. He is a hero of the people.
If that wasn't a sort of throwback feel, Pak one-ups it by introducing another L.L. character.
We meet Lee Lambert, a firefighter from the 202 who lived in the area.
She seems to walk a fine line. She loves the city. She doesn't seem outright anti-Superman. But she also says that many people are living in fear, afraid that the area will be leveled by someone looking for revenge.
In the end, I think she is going to be some sort of sounding board for the two sides of this argument. She'll see the good he can do. She'll see the backlash of his actions. And I hope in the end, she will be won over by his acts and inspiration.
But you know what I'd like? If Lois is forced to the sidelines, I'd love to see her be a love interest.
While talking, her walkie-talkie goes off. There is an incident going on nearby. And without any pause, Superman does what he is supposed to do. He runs to help.
This is a great panel showing Clark streaking to aid the police despite his being weaker, despite the cops brandishing their guns at him. I love it.
He leaps to the rescue ... not flies. Again, the Fleischer 'S' resonates.
Over on the docks, their is a massive shadow demon flinging around shipping storage bins. Here is where we learn that this isn't Superman's first run in with one of these demons. He fights them for the first time next month in Superman #42. Ugh ... that did sort of drag me out of the story.
But this splash page drew me right back in. Big moments deserve big art. So seeing this Superman, working on a sort of Gold Age power level, leap in and punch out this thing was just perfect.
It shows who he is as Superman. He isn't the invulnerable hero from a few months ago. This could be dangerous. He is definitely putting himself in harm's way. But he doesn't blink. He does what's right.
Finally, we get a little sense of the bigger evil in the background. That angry cop, Sergeant Binghamton, is communicating with someone. It seems as if this person sent the demon here, a way to get a gauge on the power level of this new Superman.
Shadow Demons, dirty cops, laughing kids, a new LL character and a heroic Superman all dressed up in beautiful art with great layouts. I don't know if I could ask for much more, especially in a storyline I was quite nervous about.
I have a lot of faith in Pak and Kuder. I have loved their time on Action. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they pulled this off. Now all I need is some good Lois!