Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Action Comics #42

We are now one month into The Truth, the latest attempt by DC to reinvent Superman by having him depowered and his secret identity revealed. After reading a month's worth of issues, I have to say I am a bit perplexed. We have four Superman titles, showing us four different aspects of this story. The books aren't happening simultaneously which means one title is referring to books yet to be released. The books aren't written consistently, Superman acting like a folk hero in Action and like Daredevil or the Punisher others. We haven't even seen the inciting event of this mega-arc: Lois' reveal of Clark Kent being Superman. And all this leads to me being a rather perplexed reader.

The whole thing kicked off with last month's Action Comics #41, a book which actually gave me some hope that maybe something good would come out of this seismic upheaval of the Superman mythos.

Action Comics #42 came out this week, now tagged with the word Justice. I suppose this is a way for DC to show the readers that they understand the foundation of Superman and his cause ... Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And I will admit that this book was a decent read, again showing us Superman as folk hero, as inspirational community leader, as seeker of Justice even if that means standing up to a corrupt police force. This book especially resonated given recent events here in the States, images of civil unrest, marching police officers, peaceful demonstrations and not-so-peaceful demonstrations.

I suppose this makes compiling for trades an easier job. You can put the Action issues together. They read one way. You can put Superman/Wonder Woman together; they read completely differently. But it is this uneven feel to the entire event that gives me pause. How can I feel good about Action and this Superman willing to sacrifice himself to protect the citizens of Kentville when over in Batman/Wonder Woman he is contemplating going dark and using explosives?

I know I am going to sound like a broken record. But the art by Aaron Kuder on this book is just beautiful. His work definitely elevates this title. And Tomeau Moery's use of color here really pops.

Last issue we saw that Clark's neighborhood has been dubbed 'Kentville' and is a place where fans and supporters of Superman congregate. There is a street fair feel to the place. Lee Lambert, a member of the Metropolis Fire Department, has become something of a civil leader for the place.

We also learned that the Metropolis Police Department, or at least a segment of it, is working to discredit Superman and beat down any support for the Man of Steel. Officer Binghampton is the leader of that group, getting orders over his radio and looking to incite violence.

Clearly these two groups can't easily co-exist. The question is how will this confrontation unfold.

The fuse of this combustible situation is lit on the first page. The shielded riot troops begin to march on Kentville, calling it an unlawful assembly. And Lee Lambert's attempt to calm things down and use diplomacy is simply yelled over.

Unfortunately, this looks like last month's CNN. And this panel by Kuder beautifully shows the problem here. On one side are soldiers. On the other, old folks and people in pajamas.

Superman isn't on scene because he is battling a shadow demon over on the waterfront.

We learn that 3 weeks from now when Superman #42 is released we'll hear more about these demons. Luckily for me, in this week, Pak gives some exposition, letting me know they are unliving constructs allowing Superman to use 'lethal' force.

This is a brutal Superman, throwing a steel I-beam into this thing's eye. We have heard in other portions of The Truth that Superman is relishing his decreased powers because he gets to 'cut loose'. He seems to have embraced a bloodier style of combat. So hearing him say that it is fun to enucleate this thing's eye is something for me to pay attention to.

The fight is choreographed beautifully by Kuder, a leaping Superman breaking panel borders. And the colors feel natural for a battle zone that is on fire.

I like that Clark falls back on some Smallville shenanigans to ultimate defeat the thing, riding it like rodeo rider, using an anchor chain as a rein, and destroying it in a gas tanker explosion.

But the real beauty here is Kuder's art on the beast. It feels like a roiling, shifting oil slick. But it is composed of shadows, people's shadows! So if you look closely, you see it is comprised of human shapes and arms, reaching and clawing.


But the real action is happening at the rally.

As usually happens at these sorts of things, an accident ramps up the tensions. A police officer accidentally fires a tear gas canister towards the crowd, only to have it batted away by a more pro-active citizen named Dante.

Dante's defense against this unintentional attack is twisted by Binghampton as the excuse he needs to escalate. If the citizens are going to 'assault' the officers, they have no choice but to move in.

Again, the art just complements the story here. We hear Binghampton's words about resisting arrest, assault, and using chemical weapons. But we see the crowd in the reflection of his glasses, a bunch of ordinary people just standing around. This is Binghampton's point of view, but he sees it very differently than what we see.

It shows the disconnect perfectly.

And faced with the oncoming police force, the 'protestors' (remember, they were simply outside Clark's apartment, celebrating Superman) have to decide how to react.

Lee says they need to sit and be still. It has to be a peaceful interaction. The police cannot do anything to them without provocation.

Dante wants to stand up and defend himself.

It is the classic conundrum for these sorts of things. It is the sad story played out on our television sets recently. Because Dante feels that the die has been cast. People are going to be hurt regardless of the people's response.

Luckily, Superman shows up, anchor chains in tow, and separates the sides.

Big moments need big art and Superman being this defender deserves this splash. The symbolism of his positioning, arms out, isn't lost.

But then we hear Superman talk like Superman. He reminds the police how he has helped them, even individually talking to some of the officers, calling them by name. And he reminds Dante about how he helped him too. Dante sits. And the cops seem to calm a bit.

He's Superman. He's here to help.

But Binghampton isn't hearing it.

He is sick of Superman. And he is going to make sure that this powder keg explodes.

Binghampton is going to beat Superman until the crowd does something stupid. And when Superman finally breaks, Binghampton will have his justification for violence.

A heavily armored SWAT team (reminding me of the trigger happy SWAT team in Batman Year One). And, following Binghampton's orders, they start beating on Superman. And Superman, as he said he would, takes it. To add fuel to the fire, Binghampton fires tear gas into the civilians.

It quickly escalates into a war zone.

Cops beating up Superman.
Cops beating up civilians.
Civilians attacking cops.
Cops beating up other cops trying to stop the insanity.

It only takes a spark to ignite the wildfire.

It is crazy. And people are getting hurt. For no clear reason. But throughout we see Jimmy there, snapping pictures.

I have to applaud Pak for showing this unwind in front of me in a way that made me sad, made me cringe, made me remember.

And Superman?
He is here to help.
He can't just sit there and watch people getting hurt. He has to stop this.
And so he springs into action, punching Binghampton.

But that's just what Binghampton wants. He says 'finally' knowing that the picture on the news will be Superman punching a police officer. It is the money shot to vilify Superman and make it easier to bring him to some sort of warped justice, as we hit that word on the cover again.

This was another excellent read as Pak gives the big action of the shadow demon but mixes in this very real street scene. I am usually against seeing Superman fight the police and the military. But it is clear here that Pak is painting a certain subset of the law as being corrupt. We see some cops trying to stop the madness of their counterparts. And I want to see a Superman who stands up for the victims, for those who need a crusader to bring them justice.

I don't know if I want *this* Superman for the long haul. I still really miss Lois. But I have to say, this is an entertaining comic. This is a compelling Superman. This has great art.

I can't say this about all the Super-books. I can't say this about all of The Truth. But people should be reading this book. Action Comics is a very good comic with a Superman I can believe in.

Overall grade: A-


Martin Gray said...

Yes indeed, it was very well done for what it was. I just don't want Superman to be in these situations. I want Metropolis to be a shining place where the threats come from outside. After a month of these stories I need a palate cleanser, maybe those Julie Schwartz-edited stories that appeared between the end of Crisis and the Byrne revamp - gimme the whimsy of Schaffenberger and Giffen, Rozakis and Bender and co. And hopefully soon, we'll have Pak and Kuder given free reign to tell stories of Superman in a World Without Stunts.

Anj said...

I think you're right on the money Mart. I would rather have some good old Superman stories where Metropolis is the city of the future, a contrast to Gotham. Where Superman is recognized as an inspiration and the city aspires to be like him. That the cops work with Superman and vice versa.

Yes, this comic is a mirror to real life. But I sometimes like to escape real life via comics!

Anonymous said...

Really didn't like the part with throwing the metal into that thing's eye. Not even myself that like to see gore things would have the courage to do it, it doesn't ring true to me that I kinder soul such as Superman would enjoy it. That thing alive or not.

I really don't see the point in it.

Anonymous said...

When I picked DC comics at my local comic shop I received a Daily Planet front page mockup with the Lois Lane story on revealing Superman's secret identity. It also had an ad for club appearances of Black Canary.