Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Action Comics #43


Ever since the team of Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder took over Action Comics, I have felt that it has been the most consistently well done of the super-books. You could tell from their earliest issues that these two clicked as creators complementing each other. So it comes as no surprise to me that they have been producing the best part of The Truth, a story that overall hasn't grabbed me.

Action Comics #43 really recaptured the optimism I had in this book from a couple of issues ago, a populist hero, protecting the people, and inspiring. We got a whiff of a possible romance. We saw a very human hero. And we got a Superman who was fighting with ... not against ... the police.

Aaron Kuder has become one of my favorite artists for his impressively detailed and expressive work. But in this issue his breakdowns are what shine. We have 4 single page splashes and one double page. But on other pages he uses small inset panels so well that I did not feel cheated on story. And his work on monsters and demons is truly terrifying.

The cover dress is Alienation, an interesting follow up to Truth and Justice. Not the American Way. It works. Superman feels alone. Clark has been outed as an alien. And alienation could be read as Alien Nation, a riff on a phrase about the American Nation.


Last issue ended with Superman slugging bad cop Binghampton. Last month I cringed.

Luckily, thankfully, Binghampton turns out to be a shadow demon. Superman is off the hook for punching out a police officer. 

One thing I like about this sequence is Kuder's use of smaller panels and nearly covered faces. It adds a sense of chaos and speed to the scene. I felt like I was there, as a spectator, looking all around in the brawl and catching only bits of things.

And lastly, Binghampton and his segmental face is horrific.


The melee continues with Binghampton absorbing energy from the outed weapons the police have and attacking the citizens as well as Clark. 

With Superman depowered, this fight with Binghampton seems to be an even battle. We see Superman being battered and questioning whether he can win. What is great is that we see the others step up to also help with the fight.

Here Lee Lambert grabs a bat and joins the fight. A fire fighter. A woman and person of color. Brave and compassionate.

With the unwritten 'no relationship with Lois' editorial edict still in place and with Lana now out of the picture and with Steel, Lee might just be the biggest woman in Superman's life moving forward.

And it isn't just Lee and the citizens of 'Super-Town' that help Superman.

The police officers also join in, just as shocked to realize that Binghampton is a demon.

I don't know if I am used to seeing this but here a police officer rescues Superman! It is a somewhat reversal of the norm. But it also shows that there are heroes all around us. With Superman out of the way. the police open fire on the demon and drive it away.

It is a weird battle with Superman minimally effective. It shows just how much things have changed. And I liked that the 'normal' people are just as involved in the fight.

Again you get a sense of the dynamic page layouts for art here.


Throughout the fight, we see Jimmy in the background snapping pictures. And here the mayor of Metropolis, another woman of color (hurray), is looking at Jimmy's social media and seeing all the images of this confrontation. From the police in riot gear wielding huge rifles, to Superman punching Binghampton, to the horror that erupts after, this tells a story of people rising up together.

This is a publicity nightmare for the establishment and the mayor knows it.

Again, I love this page. This is sort of a splash page. Jimmy on the top with his camera really sets the tone for the page. The scattered overlayed varied panel size of Jimmy's pics sort of felt like the mayor was swiping through photos on her tablet. Bigger ones maybe she paused on longer. And the word balloons going vertically back and forth carry the eye down the page with the photos.

Lee seems to be veering towards love interest in a way. She embodies a lot of the gumption and strength of Lois. Which again makes me wonder why people aren't just using Lois.

Here she calls Superman 'Clark', a sort of soft opening, a way to show that she understands who he is. He even says that Clark is his 'real name'. I have always said that it is the Clark part of this character that defines him for me. The Super part just means he can help in a different way.

With his life in turmoil, this small moment of Lee calling him Clark is probably emotionally powerful for him. In a moment that speaks volumes, he gives her one of the scraps of his cape (which we know he cherishes) to use as a bandage.

I have always said that big moments need big art.

Clark returns to his apartment to find it completely trashed. And this fear of aliens is hit home by the graffiti. Even a picture of him as a boy with the Kents is marred, the tiny Clark scratched out.

The shot of the entire apartment, the word dominating the shot, Superman a small piece of it, works to drive home the sentiment. After the 'Clark' moment with Lee, playing up the humanity, we are slapped in the face with this xenophobia.

And it you want another powerful big moment, you get another a couple of pages later. This book was a sort of visual feast with great story. But this moment was my favorite.

Clark calls 'super-town' together and begins a speech. He talks about how his presence might bring threats to the area. He talks about how people could be hurt. He talks about how he isn't powerful enough to protect everyone ...

I thought for sure he was going to say that he was leaving. I thought for sure that was going to happen. And I was going to be disappointed.

I turned the page.

And boom ...

We get a two page spread where instead of leaving, Clark galvanizes the crowd. They are all Superman. They all have to protect each other. They have to stick together. It has an almost religious, 'sermon on the mount' feel to it.

And again, big moments need big art. This is an inspirational Superman. This is Pak giving me what I need in this story. And this is Kuder making it feel real.


Now obviously not everyone is pro-Superman. Officer Petrozulli, one of the officers involved in the street protest fight, one who doesn't seem to like Superman, is brought before the Mayor. It turns out that the Mayor is calling this officer in not to chastise her but to try to bring her into the shadowy force fighting Superman.

This is another image that speaks volumes. The Mayor's aide looks like he is being consumed by shadows. That light in the center is the door closing. But it looks as if the Mayor is closing off the light, squeezing it, crushing it between her fingers.

So the reveal that the Mayor is evil would have been enough of a ka-pow moment. But this creepy image just makes it that much more terrifying.

She might not like Superman. But Petrozulli doesn't like demons either.

She runs from the office only to see Superman, flanked by other police officers, ready to attack the demons.

So nice cliffhanger moment with an action pose of Superman readying to fight. And Superman's sentiment, that they all are in this fight together, works well given the gun-wielding cops behind him.

Whew.

Let's start out by saying once again that I don't know if I am behind The Truth as a whole. But this take on a populist hero, an almost folk hero rather than a god-like being, who is fighting prejudice and tyranny and the dark ... literally ... is engaging.

And as a comic, as a mix of pictures and words working together, this is superb. There is some sort of creative resonance happening here between Pak and Kuder as this thing just crackles.

If you are going to get any of The Truth, it should be this title.

Overall grade: A

12 comments:

Martin Gray said...

Nice review, sir. Definitely, this is the best Superman book, the creative synergy is spectacular. I loved the reveal of the Mayor's evil, a nice collaboration between pencil, ink and colour artists.

Now, with all this going on near Clark's apartment, there's no way Lois wouldn't have rushed down. Guess she's out of town...

mayak46 said...

Great review. Thank You.

I agree, Pak's book is the best of the bunch. Maybe when the Superman title catches up to present day it'll be more compelling? I don't know.

I'm really really happy to see a broader section of humanity drawn in to these stories in the form of more people of color showing up.

I didn't get a romantic vibe between Clark and Lee but it's early still.

Martin: Yes, you'd think Lois would be on the front lines but I don't know what the restrictions are around her in this title?

Godzylla said...

This is definitely the best of the Superman books right now; I'd love to see what they could do with the editorial edicts lifted.

However, I did not like Superman's initial altercation with Binghampton. If he had been human, that blow would probably have killed him, and he admits - openly - that he had no idea it was a shadow creature. Not good. That's even worse than losing his temper in a public fight with a cop (crooked or not).

I didn't see a romantic connection with Lee, either (hi, Mayak46!), but I can see the reasoning as he's hooked up with most LLs through the years, excepting the Luthors (Lex & Lena, for anyone not aware of or forgetting his innocent, psychic sister). It wouldn't bother me, though, if we got away from the insipid WW relationship. (This may be a shared universe but it makes as much sense as 'shipping Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter.)

The images are lovely and the storytelling fantastically dynamic. It's a great looking book.

Godzylla said...

Ooops, lost my train of thought ranting about the S/WW coupling. :)

I meant to add that Lee could be a way to move the status quo from WW to accepting a relationship with a normal human is possible, then back to Lois, where his true feeling lie (and has still been acknowledged occasionally, even under the we-don't-like-or-understand-Superman regime). It could be a good arc, but I don't expect them to go that way.

Veronica said...

I see what your line of thinking. Sure a romance with Lee could be much better than with wonder woman, but the risk is transforming lee on another carly cooper.
I saw no chemistry between lee and clark, could be nice only a friendship for a change.

the issue let me down, it's not what it should be for me. it should take on social issues, not use another shadow monsters that came out of nowhere

Jay said...

I'm not seeing Lee as a romantic interest either. Unless Pak is trying to plant seeds for way into the future (which wouldn't be too bad, it would mean he's planning on staying for a long time which is a very good thing). I think she's just planned to be big supporting cast member and ally in a Metropolis that really lost a lot of its characterization post-Jurgens and the triangle era. Which is a good thing too because I miss all of that terribly. But Diana and Clark aren't going anywhere any time soon as a couple, so I don't think any writer has any authority to do anything there with anyone else Which again is a good thing for me as I love Superman and Wonder Woman together.

But yeah this issue as a whole was fantastic. I liked that he owned up that he hit Binghampton without knowing he was a shadow demon. He didn't let himself off the hook. He knows he made a mistake, and only chance dictated he didn't have to pay for it. Same with the cops who were following Binghampton and ready to follow his orders, potentially doing harm against innocent citizens. None of them come out perfect in this whole thing. And now they're working together on the same side, flaws and all because their hearts are at the end of the day in the right place. Good message.

And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we're gonna find out in the next issue of SM/WW that even the president is a shadow.

Veronica said...

" But Diana and Clark aren't going anywhere any time soon as a couple, so I don't think any writer has any authority to do anything there with anyone else Which again is a good thing for me as I love Superman and Wonder Woman together. "

i'm not so sure. Johns is clearly building into wonder woman and steve trevor, if snyder get to write wonder woman that he is hinting for a long time I don't think he will want to write the couple. It just depends how long Dc want to hold up a big writer from doing wonder woman and freeing superman writers from editorial mandates that are hurting the sales

Jay said...

I dunno if one line of text which has yet to be followed up upon in any way is indicative of Johns clearly leading up to anything, honestly. And if Snyder were to ever get his shot with WW's solo, he doesn't have to write the relationship there anyway. It has its own title, so beyond simply not contradicting it, writers' hands aren't tied. And the relationship isn't hurting Superman's sales. This is simply just the level of which readers are interested in Superman to this point. That's the hard reality. I hope it changes soon and he sees a resurgence in popularity, but that's just the way it is and its not the fault of anything on the romantic end or anything on the reboot end (indeed, he's still doing better than he was pre-Flashpoint anyway).

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I have to say, reading this issue I sort of forgot that Diana and Clark were a couple. So interesting that I saw something there that others didn't.

We did see Supes tell Diana that he didn't love her anymore in that 8 page preview of SM/WW. I don't know if/when that'll get resolved. But if they do end their relationship, it would probably mean the end of the book which is a 35K selling book. So maybe not anytime soon.

Thanks again!

Uncle Screensaver said...

It would be nice to see Superman/ Wonder Woman as a comic book where they are best friends as in Pre-Flashpoint, when their relationship wasn't just bad fan fiction, and Wonder Woman wasn't "Superman's Girl Friend Wonder Woman." Then again, it's a Xena rip off in "DCYou", not Wonder Woman. Superman is basically dead to, in my mind.

I like how in all this, Kara doesn't show up to find out what's up with her cousin. But then, she's either de-powered as well, or as in Convergence, running scared of the Red Lanterns (Lobdell apparently never read that arc) - perhaps that's why she "bolted" from Justice League United. :P

Uncle Screensaver said...

too*

Anonymous said...

Speaking of important characters missing in this arc, where's Krypto in all of this?