Action Comics #45 came out this week, yet another chapter in the depowered, angry Superman trying to uncover the forces behind his current predicament. The cover continues the trend of this arc, placing one word writ large to highlight the theme. Here it is 'Injustice' and frankly I think it is the best word to grace the covers in this story so far.
Because what is happening to Superman is an injustice.
The book is co-plotted by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder, the usual writer/plotter/artist team of this book. And throughout 'The Truth', these two have been a sort of light at the end of a tunnel, showing a still heroic, still good Superman trying to inspire. I have held up Action Comics as the jewel of the super-books.
Unfortunately, the overall arc compels Superman to continue to sink deeper and deeper in to darkness, to succumb to anger, and to lash out. Yes, in this book, Superman does good. And yes, I know that Superman is being influenced by Wrath.
But I am rapidly losing interest in this story. If you are going to deconstruct a character orradically change an established character, you better give me a fantastic story. When you give me an average story, or a confusing story, or an ill-conceived story, it just isn't going to fly.
(Allow me a moment to show you that I can deal with change and I am not always a grumpy old man. Alan Moore makes Swamp Thing a plant elemental, not a mutated man. He makes him a plant elemental. Radically different. Excellent. I was on board. Make Supergirl bitter, angry, and a high school killer and write it poorly. I'm out.Make her a Red Lantern and write it well and as a redemption, I'm in.)
Scott Kolins is on art here and does a nice job of mixing splash pages with pages with many inset panels. I am just not a big Kolins fan.
The book starts out well enough. We see a news report of Superman saving families and refugees from a hurricane. We hear that Superman is depowered, exposed, and only accepted by 23% of the country but he is still Superman.
Hooray. Thank you Greg Pak for shining the light and showing it to us on the first page. And it is a well constructed page by Kolins, the light shining down and Superman raging against the storm.
But that optimism is squelched pretty early. Clark is in a diner in Alabama and we get to see more of the response of the average Joe. The waitress tries to defend Superman. The cook derides Superman. They almost come to blows. And we see that Perry has gone on a tirade against his colleague diminishing the good he has done.
Clark thinks it is all the cloying influence of Wrath. Everyone seems quick to anger, even him. He douses the diner fight by using heat vision to activate the sprinkler system. I didn't realize he still had heat vision.
Clark talks about how hard it has been for him to control his own anger. He knows he has to find and defeat Wrath.
He has set up a mobile headquarters to review all the recent events of his life.
I actually like this sort of characterization of Superman. He is actually doing some detective work here. We know Clark is a smart guy. I am glad this wasn't him getting the information from Batman or another hero. All too often these days we hear Clark say 'I'm not a detective like Batman. I can pick things up and put them down.' Clark is an investigative reporter. He should be able to do this.
But then Hiro shows up. The Toyman has somehow tracked Supes to Alabama and comes in to try to help him.
Of course, Superman's reaction these days is anger. He yells at Hiro for hunting him down. He doesn't want Hiro around because he doesn't want anyone else hurt. So he roughly tosses Hiro out and blows up this backwoods CSI lab.
Yes ... I KNOW WRATH IS EFFECTING HIM!
But I want my Superman to be better than this, stronger than this. Why not explain to Hiro why he is sending him away. Why do this 'scorched Earth' strategy of destroying all this work?
And did this deserve a splash?
Meanwhile, back near Clark's apartment, we see that Lee Lambert is no longer the local hero, local leader.
She is shunned because of her 'Wrath infection'.
Because hey, it's the DC Universe. We can't have someone be accepted as a hero and recognized for their good works. We need to be cynical and grim.
Yes ... I KNOW WRATH IS PROBABLY EFFECTING THEM!
But can't we have an uplifting moment?
We do see what Clark has uncovered. In the guise of Archie Clayton, all slouched and fitted with a Waynetech facial distorter, he works for a laundering company. I like this description, how simple body language can fool people ... like glasses and poor posture.
Clark knows that Wrath in her Metropolis Mayor identity has been heading to Lyfegene, a biological technology company in Alabama. And his tours getting laundry have uncovered a secret lab that he needs to break in to.
While I don't mind Clark doing some investigating, Pak and Kuder make a bit of a jump. They tell us that Clark hacked an electric eye on the company grounds that when broken by a Lyfegene vehicle turns off all the power in the facility. How the heck did that happen? Give me one panel where he plans this. It felt all too easy. This is the villains' headquarters. How could it get shut down so easily.
Regardless, it works. Superman breaks into the lab and sees the Supremacists guarding the place. Evil scientists are working on people clearly effected by Wrath.
It is a creepy panel, people in stocks with inky tendrils, being poked and prodded. This did deserve a splash.
Clark goes ballistic, wading in and trying to free everyone while bashing the bad guys.
But then he runs into Lee, whose arm has turned all Tetsuo, large and horrific.
And that seems to accelerate whatever is happening in Clark. He goes all Wrath-Doomsday. Yet another story where Superman becomes something monstrous. Yet another splash page in this issue.
This issue was up and down. There are nice moments like the opening splash. I like seeing Clark use his investigative skills to track down and infiltrate Wrath's base. And I don't mind hearing the internal struggle he is having to keep his ire in check.
But I don't like when he gives in to the anger, chastising Hiro, blowing up his lab, and becoming this beast. While I can buy Clark doing the detective work, I don't know if this current Superman can hack an electric eye and disable a whole power system.
Frankly I think this is just going on too long. 5 months, 3 titles. And none of it has been particularly well done. And now Action, the one place where I thought I could find a more uplifting take on this new reality has instead gone dark.
AND YES ... I KNOW WRATH IS EFFECTING HIM!
But this isn't Superman to me.
Look, maybe this will turn around. Maybe when it is all done the world will embrace Superman again. That somehow his goodness will trump the cynicism of the world. But I haven't seen anything that makes me think it is going in that direction.