Action Comics #44 came out this week, the next chapter in 'The Truth', this one with the cover dress of 'Lies'. And, as has been the case for some time now, this was a very good issue. Action, under to guidance of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder, has been the jewel of the super-books. Even depowered, this is a Superman I could get behind, an inspirational figure who can change people's outlook even if he can't change the courses of mighty rivers.
Last issue ended with the realization that the shadow demons that have been plaguing Superman are entrenched in Metropolis, taking root in police officers, citizens, and even the Mayor. Battling their darkness is Superman, rallying the people behind a populist sentiment that everyone needs to be a hero, everyone needs to help everyone else. This issue continues that theme with Clark leading the people into battle, fighting fear and anger.
But the biggest thing for me is that we finally are getting a sort of peek behind the curtain of this arc. There are larger pieces on the chessboard here, villains working behind the scene to destroy Superman. And that makes me think there is some plan for this arc, more than I felt before.
As usual, penciler Aaron Kuder and colorist Tomeu Morey shine here. The page layouts are dynamic, the inky demons are frightening, and the art leaps off the page. We even get a bonus of a couple of Howard Porter pages.
Last issue ended with a battle in City Hall. The Mayor revealed herself as a shadow creature. This issue opens with that melee spilling out onto the street.
Finally we have a name for the shadow demon leader. The Mayor calls herself Wrath. And it becomes very clear that she feeds on anger. It also seems she can emit rage, turning people into her shadow lackeys, fueled by wrath.
One of my concerns early in this story is how much Superman kept saying that he was feeling angry, that he wanted to smash something, that it took all his control to keep calm. Suddenly we have an answer for all those feelings. Everyone here is being manipulated, even if subtly.
Wrath ratchets things up, making the anti-Superman faction go mad. They upend a police van and basically riot in the streets.
That top panel of the people flaking skin away and morphing into shadows is just fantastic. Kuder has brought a sort of eerie, creepy horror feel to this book in lots of issues. This is horrifying.
And yet, the following panel of Lee Lambert leading people into the fray to help rescue the police officers is a brilliant counterpoint. That is brilliant.
Now knowing that Wrath is manipulating people, Lee and these people remaining pure is even more commendable. These are good people. And they believe in Superman.
And then, another great moment.
With Superman lying battered on the ground and with Wrath moving in, Officer Petruzzelli unloads her shotgun in the shadow demon leader. Wrath pummels Petruzzelli, nearly killing the officer.
It is a heroic self-sacrifice. She has no chance against Wrath. But to save Superman, she puts herself in danger. This is an even bigger deal given that she was part of the anti-Superman faction just last issue. Has he inspired her?
I also like that this is an admirable representation of a police officer. We don't see that too often in comics these days.
And then, a twist I am still trying to wrap my head around.
Lee, who has been probably the most upstanding and consistently good character in this arc, succumbs to Wrath, sporting a shadowy arm of anger. Things look bleak when her eyes go blank and she demolishes some buildings.
Growling and monstrous, I worried that Lee, a character I was really growing to like, would be turning evil.
But then it turns out that she was running through the buildings, clearing a path for some of the trapped citizens.
I don't know if I quite like the fact that Wrath and her troops simply fade away. Wrath says she has gotten all the things she needs from Clark. And just like that, she's gone. It is a bit of a letdown. It seems pretty clear that Wrath has the upper hand here. To semi-retreat seems wrong.
Meanwhile, all the shadowy goop leaves with Wrath except the part that Lee has absorbed. She retains the shadow and it's power. And she doesn't want Superman to try to cure her. It 'feels right'. Suddenly we have a new hero in town.
I don't know how I feel about this. I liked the idea of Lee, a 'normal person', being a new character in Superman's life. I even wondered if she might be the next love interest if the Diana relationship dissolves. I sort of liked her as an everyday hero, a fire fighter. I don't know if she 'needed' powers.
Realizing that the neighborhood truly won't be safe with him around, Superman decides to leave. He can't risk these people.
Again, this is a moment I am trying to wrap my head around. I thought the whole point of this mini-arc was that people need to stand up for each other. I thought this was supposed to show that Superman can live there because everyone will support each other. I thought that scene from last issue of his speaking to the throngs showed this could be 'Super-town'.
So isn't Superman walking away (even if Lee is now there as a super-defender) sort of a step backwards. Won't these people that just risked their lives for him feel sort of abandoned? And yet, buildings were toppled and people almost died. Isn't it noble for him to walk away, leaving the comfort of home, forced to be alone. Isn't that sacrifice as well?
I am still thinking about this. What did you guys think?
The issue ends with something of a revelation.
Wrath, who has to deal with some lecherous jerks as she walks through Metropolis, enters a dingy motel room which seems to have a tesseract within. And there are four doors. And there are four villains. Is this some new Superman Revenge Squad? Is Hordr behind one of those doors? Is there some bigger plan here that will explain why Wrath left? And talking about looking into the future as well as someone waiting two thousand years ... very interesting!
Howard Porter provides these pages and they look bright and powerful.
So Superman rallies the people. People are ready to follow him. A new hero emerges. And we learn about the villainous group pulling the strings. That's good.
Lee gaining Shadow powers. Wrath leaving for no good reason. Superman leaving the neighborhood that he just convinced that they should rally around each other. I am kind of scratching my head.
Still, overall I liked this issue. The story flowed nicely. The art is superior. And it remains the best of the super-books.
Overall grade: B